Words: Conan Marshall
Adventure athlete, speaker and writer Marcus Leach is a busy man. Having featured in various sports magazines, spoken to audiences of over 6000 people and cycled all over the world, there is no doubt Marcus has some interesting stories to tell. So much so that this compelling interview will take shape in two parts here at Dure. We take a look at his inspiring journey over the past four years.
Hi Marcus so your story starts in 2014...
Had I not made the decision I made in 2014 I wouldn’t be where I am now in my journey now.
At the start of 2014 I was overweight, unfit, I was generally in a place where I was unhappy with the way I looked and felt. I wanted to look and feel better for my wife. I had just recently turned thirty, we had been on our honey moon and I was on the flight on the way home and I just thought to myself, if I don’t make a conscious effort focusing on my health and fitness now it’s only going to get harder as time goes by, if I don’t do it now when am I going to start.
I wanted to get fit and for me to get fit, it meant I wanted to have a good physique. Call me egotistical, vain or whatever but I wanted to have a six pack. I had reached thirty and like a lot of men, I'd seen all those cover models the front of Men’s Health magazine. I would be lying if I said at some stage, I hadn’t dreamt of looking like that and that’s what I set my goal as, that was it. It took me 11 months of hard work in the gym. Focusing on my nutrition, I changed my lifestyle completely to achieve that goal.
I achieved it and had the physique at the end of it. What else it gave me was the belief to think, well hang on you’ve just done something huge here, you’ve gone from 24% body fat to 8.5% body fat and featured in Men’s Health magazine for the transformation, well what else can you do. There is more to life than just looking good with your top off.
From this point onwards what was your next way of challenging yourself?
It didn’t even start off with anything to do with these endurance races. It was very much, well what is the next baby step I could take, what’s the next thing that is just out of reach? At the time, it was when we were on holiday in France and we were in the alps and it was to cycle up Alp D’Heuz. I did that in the middle of December at the end of 2014.
Just as the first heavy snow of the season started to fall. I was the only cyclist on the mountain. I looked like Donkey Kong on the bike because I was 103 kilos, fresh from the gym, from a year of body building.
I had this attitude... I’m getting up this mountain I don’t care if it kills me, I'm getting to the top.
It took me an hour and a half to do it but I just sort of had this moment, wow I’m absolutely broken. Physically and mentally I'm just at my limit here, but I loved that, what can I do next.
Fast forward quickly to the last year and a half, what was the next step?
A year and a half after that, I basically spent a year and a half doing every major cycling sportive that you can do in Europe and the UK.
I did the La Marmotte, L'Étape du Tour and the Mallorca 312. Around this time, I did a couple of mountaineering expeditions. I went and climbed Mont Blanc in the French alps, I went to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus and fell in love with this life of adventure.
For me it wasn’t about competing against anyone else it was about challenging myself, and seeing how far I can push myself to find the limit of what’s possible.
I’ve got the mindset of when you’ve achieved a goal, you set a goal that’s slightly bigger, to force you to grow a little bit more every time, I have always believed that there is nothing out of reach as long as you are prepared to stretch for it, and that’s the attitude that I've taken with me over the past 4 years,
So I’d just completed all these major sportives and I went and did Haute Routem which is a 7 day amateur race in the alps. It was a race from Nice to Geneva, it was run like a mini Tour De France for amateur cyclists and every day was a mountain stage.
24,000 meters of climbing over 7 days, it was brutal. There was a time trial too, but I just loved it and at the end of it I just thought to myself, the next logical step for me is to do the entire Tour de France route.
I’ve grown up watching cycling as a boy, and I remember sitting up late a night watching the highlights of from the stages, before cycling was mainstream, I remember watching it and having that romantic image of maybe doing something like that myself.
I thought to myself well if I do that, the next step is to do the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta all together in the same season so that is what I did last year. I rode every single stage, every single kilometer of all the Grand Tours, one day in front of the professional peloton, that was 63 days of cycling and just under 11,000 km and it was incredible. They were the best months of my life, as I did it with my wife and my little boy in a motor home as my support crew. We set off on this mad 5,000-mile round trip, from our home in the UK.
During this incredible journey, there must of been countless ups and downs. Were there any factors that made the challenge even harder?
It wasn’t without its ups and downs, its heartache, its tears.
I rode the first two Grand Tours as part of an amateur team, raising money for cure leukemia and with a famous ex-England footballer. I was meant to ride the third one as part of a team but the goalposts for my fundraising targets got moved an event completely out of my control and I was told that I was no longer required as part of the team.
That was two weeks before the Vuelta started. I remember thinking, that’s my dream gone. The dream of cycling all three grand tours was gone, it was tough. I was facing up to the fact that it might not happen.
We put a plan together (me and my wife) and we did it on an absolute shoestring. We went with the motor home and set off for Spain as a family and did it.
In terms of the cycling, what were the hardest moments?
There were a couple of days that were horrendous. I remember stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia being…brutal.
It was the centenary of the Giro so they wanted to include a lot of the big climbs. There was the Queen stage at the start of the last week, which went over the Mortirolo climb, (Mortirolo Pass), which horrendous as it is, went straight up over the Stelvio pass which is the highest point on the race of over 2,800 meters. There was about 220km and 5,000 meters of climbing in the day and this was stage 16 of a Grand Tour. I wasn’t fresh at all.
That was the real test of mental and physical ability to be able to just switch off from the voice in my head that was screaming at me to stop and just push on.
At the same time it was spectacular, when cycling up through the top of the Stelvio there were still these huge snow walls that they had carved out between the snow it was breath-taking.
For every time it was hard I had to just look up to take a look at the views and think, how often is it that you get to do this?
The other day that was tough was the penultimate day of the Vuelta. Going up the Alto de l'Angliru climb which ranks as one of the hardest climbs I've ever done anywhere in the world. All you have to do is look at the pros cycling up it at 12/13kmp in the steep parts you know how tough it is.
Coming soon in part two, we look at Marcus's more recent extreme adventures...