Anxiety Is The SoundTrack of My Life

Jan 14, 2021

Lindsay Goldman talks anxiety, negative self-talk, and letting go.

Sometime in late 2010, I collected enough results to earn the designation “Pro” for cross country racing on my USA Cycling license, a tribute less to riding prowess and more to the shallow pool of racers. Exhibit A: I received credit for winning a race in which I was the only competitor in my field. Crushing dominance it was not. 

On the contrary, my trail riding is a testament to awkwardness, a shining example of over applying brakes and underapplying skill while hemorrhaging watts left and right. I had the good sense in 2011 to leave off-road racing behind and transition to a more successful career as a professional road racer, but still enjoy adventures on dirt as a way to keep training fresh. 

Equipped with a Factor ViSTA and bulletproof Black Inc. wheels, I head out with my husband onto gravel roads and dusty singletrack in the Arizona desert every few weekends.

But, this is not a story about finding joy in casual off-road exploration. While I love cycling more than the average rider, I still live perpetually in the trap of making every ride a competition, with myself, other people, or both in hopes of being the best (the best what? no idea). I’m in it to win it even on the easiest days. Recovery spin? I’m going to rest so much harder than you. Group ride? I will gutter my own spouse on the way to victory. Failed to execute on a training ride? I’m a worthless sack of flat tires.

It’s a terribly unhealthy approach to cycling. I have learned to live with this.

I started my off-season, a meaningless designation when there was no actual season this year, but one I nonetheless embraced by planning a long, slow gravel ride with my husband Josh. I loaded up the ViSTA with snacks and water and we set out for the trails, ripping over rocky and sandy singletrack for hours through the Scottsdale desert. Easy like Sunday morning.

What followed was thirty minutes of riding in pouting solitude punctuated with helpful self-talk like, “You suck at this,” and “Why are you slower than anybody ever on trails,” and “You should relax and go faster because Josh is winning.””

But it had been weeks since my last trail ride, my skills were rusty as ever, and within moments of launching onto the winding downhill singletrack, Josh was a dot on the horizon. He flew comfortably through the sandy turns while I skidded and swerved, haphazardly dodging cacti and rocks while growing increasingly frustrated at my struggles. The sixth time he paused to wait for me to catch up, I snapped, “You don’t have to wait for me. I know where I’m going.”

(Marital bliss knows no bounds on shared training rides.)

What followed was thirty minutes of riding in pouting solitude punctuated with helpful self-talk like, “You suck at this,” and “Why are you slower than anybody ever on trails,” and “You should relax and go faster because Josh is winning.” Josh wasn’t even competing; he was just enjoying a bike ride. Meanwhile I was marinating in self-loathing while literally being passed by septuagenarians wearing beer-themed jerseys riding flat pedals.

When we regrouped at the bottom of the long descent, I launched into a tirade about how I’m so bad at trails, it’s embarrassing and discouraging, it makes me feel like a loser, I’m not riding hard enough for this to be quality training, blah blah blah. Josh listened patiently and tried to offer words of encouragement (“try to enjoy it! It’s supposed to be a fun day!”) before finally saying aloud what we both already know: “You’re just nervous. It’s your personality and how you ride.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. A well-meaning ex once told me, “Anxiety is your lifestyle,” and I felt so understood. I worry about everything all the time, and riding is no exception. I worry about getting dropped on climbs, not being fast enough, crashing during a sprint, falling over on a descent, not hitting my goals in training, eating too much, eating too little. Anything. Everything. If anxiety registered on Strava, I’d have all the KOMs. 

“The first day I ever took the ViSTA out on trails, I was too excited to be anxious or worried about training goals. I just wanted to ride, and it was so ridiculously fun that I literally whooped with joy several times, even as Josh dropped me or I skidded around awkwardly.”

This day felt like a metaphor for my entire approach to life. I set out to do something enjoyable yet made it miserable by stressing, pushing, and self-criticizing. But why? Who cares if I’m slow on trails? Kate Courtney is the one going to the Olympics, not me. And it’s the off season, so if my heart rate isn’t ‘in the zone’ for one day, it’s not going to cost me a race in six months. How many rides have been wasted by fretting about what could happen, or beating myself up for failures that only seemed monumental out of fear they signified bigger things? How many things in life would I have enjoyed more by just letting them be enjoyable? 

The first day I ever took the Vista out on trails, I was too excited to be anxious or worried about training goals. I just wanted to ride, and it was so ridiculously fun that I literally whooped with joy several times, even as Josh dropped me or I skidded around awkwardly. I want that feeling again, and to be the kind of person who can have those moments and not mess them up. That seems to be the most worthwhile training goal of all.

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