As a runner, the majority of my nerves before races were rooted in the fear of underperforming or failing; and failing most often meant simply not hitting times or beating my competition. Yet, as I have begun my journey into the cycling world, failure has brought on a whole other meaning. Failure may now mean crashing, injuries, or a trip to the hospital. Although seemingly just as dangerous as many other things we do in life, the risk of cycling is ever present in my anxious brain.
It’s quite an interesting parallel, really. These past two years have been some of the most difficult and anxious of my life. Many times, despite my best attempts to ignore it, I find the anxiety carrying over to my time on the bike. I find myself fearing the downhills, imagining the worst case scenarios as I fly down the roads at 50 mph. Maybe my wheels will fly off my bike or maybe a car will take a turn too tight and hit me. Maybe my brakes will fail. Maybe I’ll go flying into the pavement, ending up the hospital. And racing? It brings even more anxiety. My first cycling race, I crossed the finish line in a panic, my whole body shaking, close to tears after being held captive in an hour of the most terrifying riding I have ever experienced. Yet, I still ride my bike. I still race. Why? Or more realistically- how?
I have been juggling this question on and off throughout the past couple of months. Some days I ride and feel invincible, and others, I half-heartedly mask my panic at every sharp turn and downhill. Without me realizing it, cycling has rapidly transformed into a manner of confronting my brain and the constant anxieties that course throughout. It forces me to approach part of my mind that I would otherwise push into the corner and avoid at all costs.
From this, I have learned to stop imagining the worst case scenarios, because in cycling, you cannot think about what can go wrong. You have to accept that at some point, you may crash. At some point, shit may hit the fan. Accidents and injuries and sometimes even death; they are all part of the sport. In a beautiful way, this is life scaled down, and framed in a much more understandable context. But like in life as a whole, we continue forward, knowing possible pain and suffering is a part of our path. We accept the risks, because the life is the reward. The cycling is the reward.
And so, I have began to frame my anxiety on the bike in a different way. There are still times in races where I feel a surge of panic: perhaps surrounded by 30 riders, flying down a hill, with a pile-up into the guard rail as an image in my brain. However, it is matched with a moment of calm. A moment of acceptance. A moment of trust. There is nothing left to do but trust the riders in front of me, and focus on the present, because there is no out. You just keep riding. As my months of cycling compound, I feel the freedom of trusting life again; something I thought I had permanently lost. I attribute much of that to the way that cycling has forced me to trust in situations where trust is the only way to move forward. I still fear, but now, cycling is a practice of presence and a confrontation of these unknowns. It is the acceptance of life, in a snapshot.