Taylor Lideen’s victory at this year’s Unbound XL gravel race was an awe-inspiring achievement of physical endurance. But the sheer absurdity of riding alone for almost 23 hours, over 350 miles of rugged gravel, hides an even more challenging journey Taylor has faced.
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The Breaking Point
Endurance athletes love pushing themselves to the edge. It’s part of the appeal— that moment of near-collapse when every ounce of your being feels like you can’t go on, and yet somehow you push through it.
Except sometimes you can’t. Sometimes the adversity is more than a physical challenge, and no amount of determination is enough to carry you through. This is where Taylor Lideen found himself in early 2020, in the closing hours of an ultra-endurance event in Arizona. 300 miles into the event at a record pace, with only 36 miles left to go, Taylor hit the wall. He was physically spent, but paranoia, confusion, and disorientation made it clear to those around him that this was more than just a bonk.
Taylor’s race-ending collapse was a public manifestation of something he’d previously kept private— a life-long struggle with mental illness and anxiety. As a world-class athlete, Taylor’s livelihood was predicated on his ability to grit his teeth and power through a challenge. But this time, quiet persistence wasn’t the answer.
A Life-Long Challenge
Taylor, who hails from Phoenix, AZ, and is now 31, has spent much of his life racing mountain bikes. Although he now competes mainly in ultra-endurance events, he cut his teeth through years as a downhill and enduro racer.
“My background is not the norm for my current type of racing, to say the least,” Taylor explains. “I eventually realized that what I really loved was just being on my bike for long periods of time. The mountain we have here in Phoenix (South Mountain) doesn’t have a lift, and I never had someone shuttle me to the top, so I had to pedal to get where I wanted.”
Taylor discovered an affinity for long days in the saddle and began experiencing success as an ultra-endurance racer. But his success made it easier to hide struggles with anxiety and depression that had been a part of his life much longer than bike racing. Some unsatisfying experiences with medical intervention when he was younger led Taylor to eschew formal treatment, and for a long time cycling served as his primary form of therapy. Only Taylor’s wife Mary knew about the struggles that had haunted Taylor since childhood.
“I remember dealing with some pretty dark feelings internally as young as 8 years old, and I always thought I could figure it out myself or at least cover it up,” he says. “Once I picked up the bike and started training for long races, I found that riding was a way for me to self-medicate and battle what was going on. Unfortunately, I think I made things worse by never letting anyone in on just how dark things were for me.”
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Asking For Help
The collapse Taylor experienced that morning in Arizona reflects an experience shared by many endurance athletes. When race results and power numbers are no longer a source of motivation and instead become a determinant of your self-worth, what was once a healthy refuge of positivity can become an unhealthy obsession and source of disappointment.
”Riding my bike had always been the most helpful and positive thing in my life… until it wasn’t,” Taylor remembers. “I found myself overanalyzing my rides and putting extreme pressure on myself to perform and train. It caused major spikes in my anxiety, which led me down a dark path.”
Eventually, that darkness became too much for Taylor to handle on his own. Empowered by Mary’s calm and loving support, he finally asked for help, and much to his surprise there were many people ready to listen. In the doctors he’d grown to mistrust as a youth, Taylor now found care and compassion, and the powerful validation that he was not alone. The journey out of the darkness had begun.
Enjoying the Process
Cycling has brought Taylor to his highest highs and lowest lows, so reclaiming the positivity of racing and training was an important part of managing his depression and anxiety. This meant relieving himself of the podium expectations that burdened him constantly and learning to once again love the simple process of riding.
“I’ve learned to harness the energy that used to be negative, and turn it into powerful positivity… the bike is now a strong positive aspect of my life and I am happy to say that it is without a doubt a form of therapy for me,” Taylor says. “I now enjoy getting into my own head and working through things while moving my legs.” This is a good thing because Taylor specializes in events lasting up to 24 hours, in which the mental and emotional component of endurance is just as challenging as the physical.
This positive, low-pressure approach eventually brought Taylor to Unbound XL, where his goal was simply to finish and have fun. By removing the burden of expectations, Taylor could be present in the experience and perform better as a result. Clearly, the approach worked, because Taylor won.
“I wanted to have fun before, during, and after the event. And I checked every one of those boxes.”
If You’re Struggling, Tell Someone.
In retrospect, Taylor’s reluctance to get help with his mental health grew out of the assumption that what he was feeling somehow wasn’t valid or worthy of attention. But if you’re someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, Taylor hopes you can learn from his journey.
“I just hope people can take that step of reaching out for help,” he says. “You are important, and there are people willing to listen to you. Don’t be afraid to alarm someone with your issues because if it’s the right person, they’ll approach it in a calm way. It can be terrifying. But reach out to someone for help.”
For Taylor, that someone was his wife Mary, whose compassion and willingness to listen made all the difference and showed just how powerful it can be to share your struggles. And now Taylor is ready to pay it forward to others who find themselves in his footsteps.
“I’m on Instagram @Tlideen. I’m always there if you’re struggling or in a dark place. Reach out to me; it may be terrifying or feel weird at first but I’ll be there to chat with you. Let’s talk.”
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