In 2014, Marcus Leach was on a flight home from his honeymoon in India. His wife was sleeping soundly in the seat next to him, but he was wide awake thinking about the one thing that constantly hovered in the back of his mind: He hated the way he looked.
While he lost a bit of weight for his wedding, Leach had already gained it all back during his month-long honeymoon.
The scale read 110 kilograms — his heaviest weight to date. Thirty years old at the time, Leach was consistently downing too much booze and junk food, like cake and chocolate. Regular workouts weren’t a part of his daily routine.
“It was in that moment, 29,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, that I just said enough was enough,” Leach told Men’s Health. “I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t dreamt of achieving a physique similar to those you see on the covers of various men’s fitness magazines, and yet for all of that dreaming, I was suddenly 30 and no closer to turning my dreams into a reality.”
From then on, Leach knew that his goals would take some serious commitment.
He started with food, cutting all the processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol from his diet. Instead of eating sugary cereals for breakfast, Leach started cooking meals that included protein, nuts, and vegetables.
Portions were key. Leach used to slam burritos filled to the brim, but now he now munches on toast topped with avocado, a scrambled egg, and roasted beetroot. Curry full of vegetables, herbs, and sauce is a new favorite at dinner.
“It’s all about being creative in the kitchen and enjoying the process, as well as the food,” he says. “Often people think that to get in great shape you need to sacrifice the love of food, which simply isn’t the case.” In fact, one recent study found that people who cook their meals at home were more likely to weight less and carry less excess body fat.
But Leach still leaves room for dessert. He makes treats like raspberry cheesecake and chocolate-orange truffles from natural ingredients and no processed sugars. “You really can have your cake and eat it, but only in moderation,” he says.
Next, Leach made it a mission to hit the gym four times a week. Burning fat and building muscle was the goal, so he incorporated upper- and lower-body splits, along with lots of ab exercises.
“I loved squatting, and still do to this day, as you can’t beat the feeling of a huge leg workout. I was also a fan of farmer’s walk and reverse sled drag, both brilliant for shredding fat,” he says. “I also grew to enjoy exercises I wasn’t brilliant at, such as dips and wide-grip chinups—the better I got at them the more rewarding they became.”
After nearly a year, Leach wanted to sweat beyond the gym. After reading a book about mountaineering called No Shortcuts to the Top, he was inspired to challenge himself even more.
“I loved the body I had created, but at the same time I was fascinated with seeing what else I could achieve. I thought, ‘Well if you can do that, what’s next?’ So I signed up to go on an expedition to climb Mont Blanc in the French Alps,” he says.
After climbing Mont Blanc, Leach decided to keep going and tackle the highest mountain in Europe—Mount Elbrus in Russia. And while he failed to make it to the summit the first time, he didn’t give up easily. He tried again, this time successful. Having crossed one goal off his list, he decided to push himself with another: try his hand at long-distance cycling.
In order to train for cycling, Leach still does core and leg work, like squats, Russian twists, and decline situps. But unlike the early stages of his fitness routine, he now completes more reps with less weight, switching his focus from bulking up to cutting down, so he can climb and ride up mountains easier.
The original goal was to look good shirtless, but now he’s focused on getting in the shape he needs to be in for the activities he does regularly, like cycling and climbing. Ultimately, Leach would like to ride 186 miles at a time on his bike, so he pedals through two-hour rides on weekdays (usually about 30 to 40 miles at a time) and longer rides (anywhere between 100 to 120 miles) on weekends.
All this milage on the bike has definitely paid off for Leach. Last year, he became one of less than 60 people in the world to complete the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and Vuelta a España races all in the same year.
“I rode the exact race routes as the professionals, just one day ahead with my wife and little boy as support crew,” he says.
Achieving this kind of success hasn’t been without its hardships, though.
“The main challenge since taking on bike races and mountaineering trips is how to handle and overcome failure because I haven’t always been successful, and that was hard to deal with at first. However, I knew that I would only fail if I quit,” Leach says. “I have a little 2-year-old son, and I want to inspire him and show him that there are no limits to what he can achieve in life.”
He always based his decisions off of one question: What would a champion do? “The biggest hurdle people face in life is themselves and what they tell themselves. With the right mindset anything is possible—there are no limits,“ he says.
Now 34 years old, he currently weighs 89 kilograms, his body fat percentage is in the single digits, and he’s totally transformed his abs by consistently doing a variety of exercises like hanging leg raises, decline situps, Russian twists, reverse crunches, and weighted knee lifts.
“Losing the weight really gave me a huge deal of confidence in the way that I looked. When I saw the difference of 11 months hard work and training, I was delighted,“ he says. “That one decision to get fit just over four years ago has given me a life as an adventure athlete, writer, and speaker.“
You don’t need to climb the highest peak in Europe to get in shape, but Leach believes his success stems from finding activities that made him feel fulfilled.
“Life is for living, not existing,“ he says. “By deciding to live a healthier, more active lifestyle and focusing on your own goals, you can be so much happier. It’s not about comparing yourself to other people, but rather being the best version of yourself."