Occupation: Senior digital technology manager for a signage company
Hometown: Manchester, Maryland
Start Weight: 236 lbs.
End Weight: 170 lbs.
Time Cycling: 20+ years
Bikes have always been part of my life. But in the late nineties, when I started mountain biking with a co-worker in some of the Maryland state parks three, four, sometimes five times a week, I really got hooked.
I’ve always been active and married a woman who is a physical therapist, who also loves the outdoors—we camp, hike, and bike frequently. So I’ve generally been in decent shape, though my weight hasn’t always reflected that.
My weight crept up in adulthood, hovering between 195 and 215 pounds. Much of that was because I had a garbage diet, just eating whatever was around for convenience. Having young kids who are picky eaters means I ate far too many chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and pizza.
I would try to reel it in here and there. I ride motorcycles on a race track, which is a surprisingly physical activity, and I grew tired of my knees being sore and being winded halfway through a session. Even back in 2009, I was thinking, “You really need to get back in shape.”
Right after my first daughter was born in 2013, I actually started doing triathlons and being more careful about my diet, and I got in pretty solid shape.
Then in 2016, my second daughter was born at 27 weeks, two and a half months premature. She’s perfectly healthy now, but at the time, my focus was completely on her, my wife, and my family’s needs.
There was a lot of malaise and depression that came along with it; exercise was not a priority, and I really fell out of routine.
When my daughter improved, I was completely out of the habit of exercising, and my wife and I were realizing that having two children was exponentially harder than having one! We were struggling to get into any semblance of a health routine, and over those years my weight hit its highest point.
In May 2019 I learned at my routine physical that I was prediabetic with bad cholesterol levels and creeping high blood pressure. I thought, “I should probably eat better and get back to doing this thing I enjoy!”
So I got into gravel riding, since many of the best roads for cycling in my area also happen to be dirt. That June I decided to sign up and train for unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley, which is a hilly gravel event in central Pennsylvania in mid-October.
But then I crashed my motorcycle at the track and broke my shoulder, and I couldn’t do much of anything for a couple of months. I needed another goal. I’d been listening to the Mid-Atlantic Gravel, Travel & Dirt podcast, and the hosts were talking about signing up for the Croatan Buck Fifty, which is a 135-mile gravel race on the coast of North Carolina on March 14, 2020.
I decided to go for it. That gave me six months to get ready—over the winter—but I thought that was fine. I really wanted to do it, but I was in no shape to do it, and it would motivate me to get on the right track again.
I started riding the North Central Railroad Trail with a friend who’s a pretty big dude himself, and who also wanted to be riding more. The trail is approximately 40 miles that you think is flat, but really about half of it is an insidious, leg-burning 1 percent grade.
We’d ride that every weekend and sometimes a few times a week, increasing our mileage. It often meant a 6 a.m. wake-up and riding in the dark to allow the time for a longer ride. It also meant relying on a supportive partner that was willing to carry more of the childcare burden while I made time for my health. I returned the favor during her weekly group fitness classes.
It wasn’t easy, because sometimes it was really cold. But honestly listening to that podcast and a feeling of obligation to my riding partner to put in the work each week kept me driven, motivated, and focused enough to train through the winter.
That meant getting on my bike many mornings that were well below freezing, fighting frozen water bottles, ice in my beard, and numb fingers and toes. It takes a lot of motivation to climb onto a bicycle and ride 80 miles when it is 17 degrees out.
But those guys talking about the race and the prospect of riding alongside them into such a grueling challenge (and not wanting to make an ass out of myself) kept me pedaling.
The diet part just followed naturally. Once I started exercising more, I got tired of having to carry around more weight. I started eating better and using my diet to make my riding life a lot easier.
I started using MyFitnessPal, which is an app that lets you plug in your goal weight and how many pounds you’d like to lose a week, up to two pounds a week—you can’t plug in four pounds a week and live off celery stalks—and it gives your daily calorie goals.
Basically I look at eating as a bank account. You need to balance exercise and good food choices (deposits) with going “off the wagon” (withdrawals). I try to eat whole foods and healthy options, but the reality is that every now and then you’re going to be at a birthday party and eat the cake. Or you’re going to have a few beers with friends or eat some pizza or burgers or chicken wings—and I sure did my share of that over these past eight months.
I was sometimes crushing 3,000 calories in a single meal, so I just had to get over the notion that the completely jacked portion sizes which we’re used to are appropriate. It took about two weeks for my body to get used to eating considerably less and not be kind of hungry all the time. But it did get used to it.
I didn’t figure my rides into my daily calorie goal, because that seemed like an easy way to overcompensate. I just aimed to eat 200 calories an hour to fuel myself when I was on the bike.
I’m a data junkie, so using my Garmin watch to track my calories and see progress over time motivates me. Using the data along with my body feedback—tuning into how I was feeling on the bike—also really helped me develop a more tangible understanding of the relationship between food and my energy levels and the ability to exercise. I could tell when I ate too much before a ride and didn’t feel good or when I didn’t eat enough in the hours after a hard ride and the next day my legs were like, “Bro, no.”
Come March, my goal race got canceled—on my birthday nonetheless—two days before it was supposed to happen because of the coronavirus. I was bummed, but at that point there was no turning back when it came to my health.
I always like to be clear that I would never tell anyone that they need to lose weight. You’re cool as hell exactly as you are. This was about me getting fit and healthy for me—and I can’t overstate how much better I feel. My joints feel better not having to carry around an extra 66 pounds, and the fitness gained from pushing myself mile after mile feels amazing. I can run with the kids until they fall over from exhaustion.
I haven’t gotten blood work done again yet, but my blood pressure is now good and my resting heart rate went from the low seventies to the high forties. I would have never imaged myself to be a high forties kind of guy!
I only kind of care how well my shirts fit—and my clothes fit better to the point of needing new clothes—but I really care about how well my heart works.
No one lives forever, but I might get a few extra good years out of this. And I’m ready to line up for the next gravel challenge. The next race that’s available? I’m gonna crush that shit.
You can follow Redmer’s journey here.
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