Advice from Someone Who’s Walked the Walk

02.17.2012 | 9:15 am

There’s something that’s always made me a little bit uncomfortable about my blog — the name of the blog itself. “Fat Cyclist.” Yeah, I generally have 15 – 30 pounds to lose. And when the blog started, I had closer to 50 to lose: Here’s my origingal “before” photo, just for some reminder-style humiliation:


I think it’s safe to say: that’s some serious pudge (and for what it’s worth, you can see that in this photo I’m not quite over the Bell’s Palsy yet). Oh, and also I had hair. And a wristwatch. And Ralph Lauren RLX bibshorts (really good shorts, actually — it’s too bad they got out of bike clothing).

The thing is though, that’s about as big as I have ever been. So when people who are quite a bit bigger find my blog and think they’ve found a place where a guy can answer their questions about how someone who has a hundred (or much more) pounds to lose can start biking, I don’t have much in the way of personal experience that can help.

Which, considering the name of my blog, is stupid.

So I’m going to fix that. All next week.

(Re) Meet Gary Brennan — The Man Who Lost 364 Pounds on His Bike

Last April, Gary Brennan — known to his friends as “Gaz” guest-posted on my blog, giving an overview of how he lost 364 pounds by cycling. Check out his “before” picture:


And — much more importantly — check out his “after” picture:


That, my friends, is a guy who has walked the walk.

Ask Gaz

So, all next week, Gaz is going to guest-post here. This is awesome for many, many reasons, including:

  1. He can give you “been there” advice on losing weight with cycling that you know works . . . because he’s living proof.
  2. It will give you inspiration and information for the weight loss challenge we’re going to kick off sometime shortly after next week.
  3. I will be unable to post myself next week, because of day-job work-type-stuff reasons.

What I’ve asked Gaz to do is read the comments in today’s post and then write posts next week giving you advice you can use.

It’ll be like this blog is actually useful. For a week.

A good first step would be for you to check out Gary’s story — the short version’s here on my blog, the longer, ongoing version is on his own blog.

Then ask him your questions here in the comments section.

Much thanks to Gaz for agreeing to do this; I think it’s going to be a really fantastic week of posts!


This One’s Gonna Take Some Work

02.16.2012 | 9:49 am

I find it really startling that I am not the only one around who tends to put weight on in the winter. And I find it equally astonishing that I am not the only one who needs some kind of external motivation.

So, it seems that we’re going back to the beginning: back to the original reason I started this blog. But this time I’m taking you with me.

I’m starting work, right now, on some kind of contest that we can use to do the following:

  • lose weight
  • motivate each other
  • win prizes
  • trash talk

But setting that infrastructure and the rules up is going to take some work, and it’s not ready. So, meanwhile, you can help me shape this contest by answering the questions I’m trying to answer myself:

  1. How would you like the competition matchup to work?
  2. How should we set up who competes against whom?
    • Each person competing, individually, against me
    • Each person competing against one other person each week
    • Two teams competing against each other
    • Some other interesting way
  3. Should the contest go for a certain period of time or until you reach your goal weight, or something else?
  4. There will be an entry fee. Specifically, to be in the competition you’ll have to make a donation to my Boston Marathon LiveStrong account. I’m thinking $50. Are you cool with that or would that be too much?
  5. Also, to play, you’ll need to put up a prize to go in the prize pool. I’m trying to decide whether that should be money or some cool item you will provide. Money’s easier, stuff is more fun. Got a strong opinion on this?
  6. Got any other ideas on how this game ought to be played?
  7. Would you be more interested in playing if there were a t-shirt and / or other swag?

For those of you who haven’t been with the blog too long, this is not the first time I’ve done a big group weight loss challenge. Check out the B7 Challenge from 2006 to get an idea of what this might (or might not) be like.

Even if you don’t have strong opinions on the 6 questions above, leave a comment if you’re interested in participating, to give me an idea of the scope of this project.

I Have My Reasons

02.15.2012 | 1:53 pm

I have a horrible, horrible secret, which I will reveal in just a moment. As soon as I can work up the courage.

I should warn you that what I am about to reveal is very, very shocking.

Are you ready? I don’t think I’m ready; I still need to collect myself. Find my center and stuff.

There. I’m ready.

The secret I have to reveal is the following: my weight is now 171.4 pounds.

Yes, I intentionally made that text light grey, so it wouldn’t jump out at you. And also because I am not super proud of the fact that I am up approximately 15 pounds from last year’s racing weight.

This is a problem, which I really want (and need) to fix, starting now. I have my reasons for the “starting now” part:

Crusher in the Tushar

On July 14, I’ll be racing the “Crusher in the Tushar,” a nearly new (this will be its second year) race that has a massive amount of climbing and descending. Some on pavement, some on dirt. I’ve talked with a couple people who have done it (Mark and Adam), and it sounds like I should absolutely positively not arrive there fat and out of shape.

Although I have to admit, my stories about epic rides are more entertaining when I ride fat and out of shape.

So maybe it would be OK if — for the sake of my “art” — I did this ride before working on losing the weight.

The Leadville 100

I just (as in “an hour ago” got my confirmation: The Hammer, The IT Guy, Kenny, Heather, and I are all in for The Leadville 100. This will be my 16th start (and hopefully, my fifteenth finish).

Last year, on my fifteenth try, I finally finished this race in under nine hours. I kind of would like to do that again.

But honestly, if I don’t finish it in under nine hours, nobody will be surprised. Especially me. So that’s not the real reason I need to lose all that weight.

The Breck Epic

Six days of mountain bike racing, starting the day after the Leadville 100? Why should I worry about being in shape for that?

Honestly, this is the race that I’m most afraid of. I have no experience with racing multiple days of anything, and seven days of racing is frankly a little bit incomprehensible to me. But I’m excited to try it.

The Park City P2P

OK, I’m not even registered for this, yet. Registration opens tonight, and it will fill up instantly. But if I can get in, I’m going to try it again. Even though this is the only race that has ever made me cry.

But you know what? This race isn’t the reason I need to get into shape, pronto, either.

One More Thing

The reason I absolutely positively must start losing weight and get into shape right now is…OK, actually I can’t reveal the reason. Seriously, I’m not allowed to.

But it’s a good reason, and I’ll be able to talk about it in a couple weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m going to start posting my weight again. And if I don’t make substantial progress, quickly, I’ll come up with an additional incentive (although considering the motivation I already have, I’m hoping that I won’t need to do a contest).

What is this motivation? Well, feel free to guess. Here are some (intentionally misleading but entirely true) hints to (fail to) help you out:

  • It is not a race
  • It is bike-related
  • My vanity is involved

Excuse me while I now go fix myself some eggs and avacadoes.

Everything, All At Once

02.14.2012 | 8:30 am

A Note from Fatty: I’m working on filling in the gaps of Susan’s and my story, to eventually be collected in my next book, Fight Like Susan. Yesterday’s installment can be found here.

On the drive to the hospital — the same hospital where three of our four children had been born — I told Susan the same thing I had told her countless times in the past couple weeks.

“Everything will be fine.”

I said it with an intentional sort of conviction. Sure, I understood the possibility that things wouldn’t be OK, but what value is there in dwelling on that kind of future? Just assume everything’s going to be good, all the time. Then, whenever something isn’t good, you fix that thing. And meanwhile, at least you haven’t been fretting over something you couldn’t have fixed anyway.

I wasn’t new to that kind of thinking. I had evolved this philosophy during Susan’s pregnancy with the twins. See, I had made the mistake of ordering all kinds of books about twin pregnancy and infant years. Then I had made the further mistake of reading all those books.

I’m pretty sure that the authors of all thsoe “twin pregnancy” books had gotten together to try to convince parents of twins that there is a 0% chance that the babies will be born healthy and normal.

The more I knew, the more my anxiety grew, until I finally made a decision: since I couldn’t affect the outcome, I would rather assume a good — no, great — outcome than know all the possible bad outcomes.

So, for the first time in my life, I threw away some books. I didn’t even give them away or donate them or anything; I didn’t want to be party to someone else freaking out the way I had.

And the twins had been fine. Happy. Healthy. Perfect. All the worrying had been useless.

So I said it again: “Everything will be fine.”

First Call

I sat with Susan while the surgeon talked with us about what he was going to do. None of it registered. I just kept thinking CANCER SURGERY JOB CANCER JOB BILLS SURGERY.

Everything’s going to be fine. Everything will be fine.

I asked Susan how she felt, and whether she was scared. “No, I just want this over with,” she said. “I want this out of me.”

They let me stay with Susan until she was asleep.

I went out to the waiting room and sat, but I couldn’t stand it, so I went back to my car, with the plan to drive around. As I got out to the parking lot I turned my phone back on (remember how you used to have to turn your phone off when in the hospital?).

There was a voicemail waiting.

I sat down in my car and called my voicemail number; it was the recruiter from Microsoft, asking me to call back. Knowing it could be either really good or really bad news, I called.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m hanging in there,” I replied — my stock response for the next several years (it’s not as dishonest as “fine,” but doesn’t force the person I’m talking with to listen to a long story.

“I have good news,” she said. “I’m calling to make you a verbal job offer.”

I’m probably not the world’s best negotiator; I immediately replied, “Awesome! I accept.” She laughed and then told me about the terms of the offer, which were so amazingly generous I wouldn’t have been able to find much to negotiate over anyway. They would pay to move us out, with professional packers and everything. They’d pay for a couple of househunting expeditions. They’d pay for three months of a house rental, and would even find a three bedroom house since we had four kids.

And they would be fine with my start date being six weeks down the road, to give Susan time to recover from her surgery.

Second Call

Having just accepted a job, I now needed to make a second call: one to notify my employer that I’d be leaving the company.

I was nervous about this call; I felt like I was critical to the magazine and that it would be a hard blow to them to have me leave. I expected Mitch Koulouris, my boss, to take it hard. I resolved to get straight to the point, though.

“I’ve been offered a position at Microsoft, I’m going to have to leave the magazine.”

“That’s wonderful, Elden. Congratulations.”


“It’s a tough time here; you don’t need that while you take care of your wife.”

“What about the magazine?” I asked, now — strangely — making the arguments I had worried he would be making.

“I’ll find another editor. Now tell me how Susan’s doing.”

“She’s in surgery right now. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, OK?”

Third Call (and Fourth, and Fifth…)

I went back into the hospital and found someone to tell me how Susan was doing. “She’s still in surgery; she will be for a while,” I was told.

So I went back out to my car and made a third phone call. This time, to a neighbor who is also a real estate agent.

“I’ve got to sell my house,” I told him.

Then I called my parents and Susan’s mom, letting them know that Susan was still in surgery, and that our lives were going to get even more hectic during the next few weeks.

Telling Susan

I went back into the waiting room to wait for the surgeon. He came in and told me everything had gone reasonably well. I went in to the recovery room and sat with Susan, waiting for her to wake up, so I could tell her everything.

She had one less breast. She still had cancer. She’d have to start chemo with a different doctor, in a different state, far from everyone we knew. I had a new job. We’d be moving while she recovered from surgery and we took care of four little kids, two of which were two years old.

I had done what I needed to do, but I still felt incredibly guilty. The truth is, even now, I still feel guilty about what I made Susan go through. At a time she should have been able to rest and recover, I made her go through three of the most stressful things a person can do, all at once: new job, big move, and cancer.

If I had known how bad things would be for her, maybe I would have turned down the job at Microsoft. Maybe I would have tried harder to find something local.

But I didn’t.

I took the job, thinking it was the right thing to do; the best way I could give her good treatment options. And, I told myself, everything will be fine.

So, once she was awake, I told her.

“Well, guess what I’ve been up to while you just laid around and slept all morning.”


02.13.2012 | 2:26 pm

A Note from Fatty: I’m working on telling the story that will eventually be in the book, Fight Like Susan. Click here to read the previous post in this series.

I felt a strange mixture of disgust and relief. Disgust with the company, and relief that I had found out what kind of people I would have been working for, before I had joined them and moved to New Jersey.

Mixed in with that was a pretty big chunk of fear. I had four children, a wife with cancer, and a job that wasn’t paying the bills today — and I honestly didn’t know if I would still have any job at all within a few months. Or weeks. Or days.

Then, on the first working day of the new year, I got a call from Microsoft.

“We think there’s a job here that fits you a lot better than the first one you interviewed for,” she said. “Could you fly down for a day of interviews?”

Not wanting to start down a dead-end road, I told her, “You should know my wife just got diagnosed with breast cancer.”

“I’m so sorry,” the recruiter replied. “We can do the interviews later if you need.”

“No,” I said, still thinking about how my hopes for a new job had just gone belly up and not wanting to start down a path that wouldn’t go anywhere. “I just wanted to make sure that this isn’t going to be something that affects whether you can hire me.”

“Of course not,” she replied. “Usually I don’t go into our benefits ’til we’ve made an offer, but when you’re here, let’s set aside some time to talk about our health coverage. I think you’l find that it’s the best there is. Anywhere.”

Inside Track

Within a week I was at Microsoft for one of their famous interview circuits, where the first person who interviews you takes you to the next person who interviews you, who takes you to the next, and so forth.

You can kind of tell how you’re doing as you’re interviewing, because at any point during the day of interviews the person you’re talking with can say, “Thank you for your time,” and that’s it. You’re done.

If you make it to the lunch hour interview (where a person interviews you while you eat in the cafeteria), you’re doing pretty well. If you make it to the end of the workday, you’re doing really well. And if you make it to the secret-bonus interview where you talk with someone a couple levels above who you’d be reporting to, you’re at least a finalist.

I managed to stay sharp throughout the day (not as easy to do as you might think when you’re being interviewed by 6-8 very precise thinkers). During the five or ten minutes between interviews I’d sit in the lobby, awkwardly conversing with the other person who was interviewing for that job that day.

I did not tell this person that I had an inside track — the person who was the hiring manager for this position (Matt Carter) had been my manager once before, in another company.

And I’m pretty sure that he had written the position with me in mind.

I got called into the secret-bonus interview, had a good conversation about mountain biking and how riding in Utah was different than Washington, and then the day was over.

Nothing to do but wait, now.

I went back to the hotel, drained, and ordered room service. I called Susan, told her how things had gone, and that I was about 70% sure I had gotten the job. But all I could talk about was the medical coverage.

“Everything’s covered at 100%,” I said. “You can go to any doctor you want. Get any prescriptions we need. We wouldn’t pay a dime for any of it.”

“No way,” Susan said.

Susan and I agreed that even with this possibility, we couldn’t put off her mastectomy. It needed to happen right away — later that week, in fact.

Next, I got a call from my friend / former manager, asking me how I felt the day had gone.

“Really great,” I said, truthfully. But Matt could tell something was up and asked what the problem was.

“Susan’s got breast cancer.”

“Oh shit.”

“I know.”

Then Matt said something that stuck with me, maybe because he honored the statement so literally in the coming years: “Tena and I will take care of you guys.”

In a way, it was my first glimpse into how incredibly generous people can be.

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