Last October Lynn Valley’s Heather McDonald kicked off a year-long challenge to get herself in the Guinness Book of World Records – one pedal at a time. As she approaches the halfway mark she is on pace to not only beat the record but also her original goal. 

I think I can, I think I can.

In 2021 McDonald decided to give spin class a try. She had low expectations: she had never done one, she wasn’t sure she could balance on a bike but was pleased it was stationary and she hated cardio.

“The classes were really hard and it really sucked,” she said. “But the more you go, the easier it gets. I was like wow – I am doing this! The studio was offering challenges and to stay motivated I gave one a try. Completing a goal felt really good.” 

That first year on the bike there was a big learning curve. 

“Anyone can do this. I literally hid in the back corner for six months. I could not find the beat. If people were up I was down. If they raised their right hand, I raised my left. It’s hard so everyone is focused on what they are doing and no one cares what you are up to. You just get better with time. Take it slow. It’s dark, you control how hard the bike is and you start where you are and get better.”

More than physical achievements, McDonald said she had a mindset shift and felt her self-confidence grow. 

“I was in my 40s and doing something new and it felt good,” she explained. “I went from a year before hating cardio to doing spin to thinking about other goals. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I looked up the record, sent off my application and planned to wait six to eight weeks to hear back.” 

She didn’t get time to second guess herself. Less than two weeks after filling on the form,  Guinness had accepted her plan to break the record for the most spin classes in a year. McDonald had another barrier she had to consider. Was she manic? She lives with bipolar disorder – a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

“I didn’t tell anyone I was applying – I just did it. My first thought was am I manic?  Am I stable? This was so out of character that I checked in. I gave it time and applied and six months later I was intentionally planning and I was like – you’re good. [An athlete] is who you are now.”

As McDonald works through the attempt she wants to challenge the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. 

“I feel like as a society we are accepting of depression and anxiety – which is great but people hear bipolar and [gasp]. I would like to help get acceptance for more mental health. It’s part of who you are and does not define who you are.” 

As a busy working parent, her bipolar is far from the biggest challenge as she approaches the halfway mark of this year-long effort. 

“I work full time, I watch my nutrition, I have a teenager. Time management is the biggest challenge and sleep.” 

Working the plan

March 15 will be the six-month mark and McDonald is well past the pace she needs to hit 600 classes. The current world record is 585. 

“My goal is 14 a week. I did do 20 in one week and I won’t be doing that again. I thought it would be more about spin classes and less about clerical,” laughed McDonald. “The process is quite tedious. You have to record two to three minutes of each session which can be frustrating because the studio is dark and I had to figure out how to do it without disturbing other riders or the class. There is a logbook that has to be documented and signed by someone who works at the studio after every class. There will have to be two independent witnesses that watch the videos and look at the logbook and verify I did it. They want still photos as well. So, I will have to upload the 600 videos to their website for verification.”

With such an audacious plan, McDonald wanted to undertake the world record attempt at her home gym: Spin Society.  

“Instructors were super for it and so positive. The owner – I think – thought I was a lunatic and had practical concerns. They had questions about whether I was seeing a nutritionist, how I was preparing for it, was I listening to my body. They didn’t want me to be injured during a class.” 

Concerns address, it’s the same energy and support that got her through her first class at Spin Society that is carrying her through.

“I think what makes it about spin – whether or not it’s about a world record is the atmosphere. It’s the instructors, the other riders, the energy,” she said. “Spin can be a slog – good music makes such a difference.  Part of pushing through is using other people’s energy and excitement about how I am doing to cheer me on.”

She wrapped her 300th class – the halfway point – in the third week of February. Reflecting on how far she has come, McDonald is proud of another reflection. 

“Our generation – in our 40s – were raised on such horrible body image and expectations you were supposed to look a very certain way. I am riding next to 20-year-olds who are struggling in one class and it’s my fourth – it has helped me reframe how strong my body is and appreciate what my body does for me. I am strong.

Follow along with McDonald on Instagram as she continues towards her world record.

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