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Ethan Suplee Downsizes
You may know Ethan Suplee from his work on the big screen, starring in movies American History X, Remember the Titans, Blow, or even more recently the hit television show, My Name is Earl. Rapha rode with Ethan in November and when the Downsize Offer was launched we decided it was time to talk to him about losing weight and his connection to the bicycle.
When and how did you first get into riding? What was it that brought you to the sport and what has kept you motivated to stick with it?
I’ve always loved riding bicycles. I can remember as a young kid, the enormous sense of freedom that came with stripping the training wheels. For a long time riding a bike meant trying to strap my 40lb beach cruiser triple onto the back of a car, driving for an hour to the bike path, riding for 15-20 minutes and then repeating the nightmare of the cheap generic rack/heavy bike combo to spend another hour to get home. And I’d have been proud of that time spent on the bike, I’d have looked at that with some sense of accomplishment.
I’d sometimes take my kids down to venice and we’d rent bikes, even though we owned better versions of the exact same bikes we were renting, man was I lazy…
Late in 2009 I decided that in 2010 I wanted to run a 5k. I was way overweight and thought that would be a good physical goal to set for myself for the year. I started working with a guy named Joe Abunassar, he’s the head of Impact Basketball and he competes in Ironman events. So I told him about my 2010 goal and he basically laughed in my face and said he’d have me running a 5k in a couple of weeks. He did. I got up to running 5 miles in about a month but then I started having issues with my knees and I couldn’t run everyday. Joe told me I should start riding a bike, that would help me lose weight and get my cardio up so I could run further and more often.
I’d never considered just walking out my front door and riding a bike, I’m literally surrounded by steep hills. But Joe assured me that if I went slow I could get up any hill.
So there I am dying on my beach cruiser in the granny gear going about 3 miles an hour up a 12% hill. I don’t know what happened exactly but when I got up there that first time it was like I’d done the impossible, I mean I didn’t FOR A SECOND think I’d make it at any point, I was almost in shock, it’s about a mile at 8% with some steeper areas. It seems so weird now, I ride that very same bit almost daily, but it has become like the first 1% of any given ride, that first time I was drenched with sweat, hyperventilating and in shock at my awesome sense of accomplishment.
I’d tell Joe about how I’d ridden 9 or 10 miles like I’d run some kind of marathon and he’d just tell me to keep at it. Eventually he told me I had to get a real bike, a road bike. This idea didn’t sit well with me, I was still really big and I didn’t think a narrow tired bike could support me and the seats seemed really phallic and uncomfortable, so there weren’t a lot of plus points. I guess the thing that Joe said that really sold me on it was that I’d be able to make it up hills easier and that I could go further on it than I could ever hope to ride my beach cruiser. That really got me.
He was right on all counts.
So, that was it. I haven’t really gone running since. Let’s be honest, running sucks. I remember playing baseball in school as a kid, I didn’t care for it much but there was a sense of excitement when you hit the ball and were racing toward a base, that part I enjoyed. For me, riding a bicycle is that same emotional state but constantly, there’s no waiting for the entire squad’s at-bat, there’s no standing in the outfield desperately hoping for a pop-fly to head your way, it’s just constantly heading for home-base, that triumph.
Do you have any cycling heros? From Pro Tour racers to anyone that you ride with on a daily basis.
When I was doing My Name Is Earl one of the writers was married to a guy named Don Witzel, Don was the first real ‘cyclist’ I ever knew. When I started riding he’‘d take me out to Malibu and hang with me as I slowly crawled up Latigo Canyon or Piuma, he never complained once, he never made me feel bad about being the world’s worst climber, he never seemed to be having any experience other than just enjoying riding his bike. Hell, Don talked his way into my first Cat 5 race, though he’s a 3, just so he could sit in with me and make sure I was ok. He’s a good friend and a true inspiration.
Another guy I look to for inspiration is named Hime Herbert, he introduced me to group rides and Jens Voigt. Don, Hime, and I, all ride for Team Helens and all the guys on our team are incredibly inspirational.
Cycling can also be about the gear. What kind of bike are you riding and what are three essentials that you always, hands down, take with you on the bike?
Right now I ride a Trek Madone and I always, hands down, bring water, a spare tube and c02. What do you bring?
Pretty much the same for me. An extra tube, tire levers and some kind of emergency food. Bonking is one of the things that I fear and am always worried about having to tackle. So, I seem to always bring some food with me.
What is your favorite piece of Rapha gear?
Over the winter it was the Merino Base Layers, I’ve never in my life experienced the cold like I did last winter on my bicycle. AND I LIVE in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA! So, while I know many hard men in Belgium will ride their bicycles naked through a snow drift as a warm-up, I am not that guy and apparently I don’t like the cold, this was something I was completely unaware of until I started riding a bike. Those Merino Base Layers allowed me to ride through the winter. They seemed to keep disappearing from my drawers and winding up on my sleeping wife…
Now that it’s a bit warmer I’m loving my Classic Jersey.
You live in Los Angeles and ride around that area. Have you done any riding elsewhere in the country?
All over California, it’s an amazing state to ride in. I went to Dallas last year for a few weeks work and did some riding around there. I didn’t love Dallas for riding though so whenever I had enough time I’d head out to Frisco, TX and ride on their velodrome.
I think the last time we talked you were going to Colorado (did I make that up?).
You totally made that up, but I’m down, so let’s go.
Do you take a bike with you when you travel?
I have, but not always, it depends on how long I’m going for and also where I’m going. I went to Nepal and Bhutan last year with the World Wildlife Fund and I thought about bringing my bike but it would’ve been a nightmare.
Along those lines what are your favorite rides around LA?
There are so many! I know you guys just did the gauntlet, that ride is great, Mulholland from PCH is great, Latigo Cyn is great, just PCH is great, or south to Palos Verdes is a great route, the Marina loop, Mandiville, there are great rides in the valley too, La Tuna Cyn, Simi Valley, Topanga, or sometimes I just make huge circles around the various mountains if I want to avoid climbing, but I’ve always got to climb about 800ft to get home, no matter which way I go, valley or the beach. The Sunday La Grange Nichols Cyn ride is one of my all time favorite group rides.
Now I know that you are aware of our Downsize Offer, so I am hoping, as a customer, if you can elaborate.
It’s a really great offer, especially for anyone just getting into it, I say that but I happen to know and ride with guys that have been racing for years who want to or are trying to fit into smaller kits, but for those who are just starting, like me, it’s an incredible offer and I hope you guys keep it around for a while.
Let’s face it, even the cheapest cycling gear is expensive and if you use it a lot you are going to get smaller and, for me at least, this happened quite rapidly. I went down three or four sizes in a year and my wife was not pleased that every few months I was buying all new gear. I kept telling her that she should be thankful I wasn’t getting too small for my bike!
You have lost quite a bit of weight recently. How long have you been actively working on this, and how much weight have you lost? Do you mind telling us what size you have dropped (or intend to drop) to?
I have lost A LOT of weight recently but I’ve been working at it a long time. I started dieting in 2002 and took off a bunch of weight and then put some back and then took it off again but I never had any type of activity I really enjoyed. For a while I was doing kick-boxing and jiu-jitsu but I didn’t really lose a lot of weight doing that. I basically got to a place, a weight, and wasn’t really having a lot of luck getting under it.
In the past year, with cycling, the weight has just peeled off, it’s been ridiculous. I have some dietary rules that I haven’t deviated from in almost 10 years but riding has shattered the plateau. I don’t eat sugar, ever, I consider it a gateway drug. If I’m on a long ride and need carbs and calories, there are gel’s that are sweetened with fruit juice. I don’t eat pasta or bread, I try to stay away from cheese (but I will admit I have relapses on that last front). I don’t eat fast food, ever. I like bonk breakers because off all the bars out there, they seem the healthiest.
It’s really bizarre but for like eight years I ate very little carbohydrates, next to none, but I wasn’t really an active person. Anyway, I’ve had to put carbs back into my diet in a big way, I just can’t ride hard without them. But I limit my carbohydrate intake to ONLY before or during rides. Fruit, non-starchy vegetables and lean proteins I eat freely.
I know when we rode together in November you were telling Slate and I a little bit about it, but what made you decide to take on weight-loss with such a fervor? And then cycling?
I think the sound of my feet pedaling might hypnotize me. Does it hypnotize you? You’ve probably been doing it forever…what keeps you at it?
I think the thing that really keeps me at it is a combination of the amazing people that I have met through cycling as well as the places that I have seen, that cycling has allowed me to see. Plus, that hypnotizing of the feet gets me every time.
Is cycling the only way in which you work towards losing weight?
Yeah, mostly, I found recently and entirely by accident that I was able to do a pull-up, never been able to do those before, so I installed a bar above the door that leads into my office (bike room) and try to do a few every time I walk in or out of there.
When I travel I’ll try to find a spinning class in whatever city I’m in, I go to a spinning class here whenever I don’t have enough time to ride, if I can’t find a spinning class and find myself in some weird city I will resort to a tread-mill but I still hate running, it just sucks.
I can only guess that this has not always been the easiest road (pun intended), can you tell me about some of the obstacles that have gotten in your way? There is the perception that all cyclists are “skinny” or that you have to wear spandex to be a “cyclist”. When you were coming at this from the other end did you feel pressure to conform to that? I’m glad that you didn’t, but what has helped you to buck that mentality? Can you take me through a typical day in the life of Ethan Suplee before and after, because, like those weight loss infomercials you have made quite a radical transformation (I’ve seen those calves).
Ahhh, my calves, yes, my mighty calves. I’ve never been proud of any part of my body, but I worked hard for those beasts and let’s be honest, calves are small, I have cows.
It’s still not easy! My two favorite cycling quotes are “It never get’s easier, you just go faster” -Lemond and “Shut up legs” -Voigt. I went from riding a beach cruiser in sweats to not being able to imagine riding in anything but lycra and shaving my legs more religiously than my wife does! It only really took falling one time to convince me of the benefits of shaving my legs and it’s just more comfortable to ride in lycra. The “skinny” cyclist thing is funny because I ride with some truly “skinny” people who are far more obsessed with what they consume than I am.
There have been some real obstacles though, I had a bad crash last October, I shattered my helmet and the area above my right eyebrow was torn open, the muscle that controls that part of my face was severed and there were a few days where the doctors weren’t sure if I’d regain use of my right eyebrow. This could seem trivial but I need my face for work! It’s all fine now but that crash kinda scared the shit out of me, it didn’t stop me from riding, stitches and all, but it was scary.
I have a wife and kids and jobs and friends and a whole slew of other responsibilities that I have to work into my life where I’ve discovered I could happily ride my bike from sun up to sun down…
Weeks I work, riding is pretty much out, it’s just not really possible when I’m working a 14 hour day to fit in a ride, so I’ve got to really watch what I eat while I’m at work. If I’m working on location and I don’t have a wife and kids waiting for me back at the hotel I’ll go to the gym and be miserable on the treadmill. A normal week though, I’ll ride my bike Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Monday and Wednesday I’ll take my kids to school and then go for double spin sessions. Before I rode it was probably exactly the same but I would be sitting on my ass all the time I wasn’t riding.
How has this sudden weight loss affected your work?
Well, I just did a pilot where I played a cop, they didn’t seem to mind the weight loss at all…
You have made quite an interesting and illustrious career by playing some of the more lovable big-guy roles. Will your focus shift to different types of characters because of this?
Well, here’s the thing, I’m still a big dude. I’m well over 200 pounds. I just had a body scan and I’m now 15% body fat which the doctors claim is well within the zone of “healthy” but I know if I keep riding more will come off. I don’t think I’ll ever be “skinny” but I do desperately want to go uphill faster.
One last one for you. Did you ever see the sailboat? (Sorry I couldn’t resist. One of my favorite movies of all time.)
You dumb bastard, it was a schooner the whole time.