Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Heart Rates and High Heels

I’ll save you the anticipation of a juicy read and let you know that this is NOT a post about sex—but it is a post about stimulation.

A couple weeks ago was the first triathlon of the season for me, a race I’ve done for the past five years to get myself ready for my main race in July. I have taken first place in my age group every year I’ve competed in this race (excluding one year where I took second place), and despite the fact that I use it as a training exercise, I always have some nerves about how things will go now that I’ve inadvertently become a defending champion for my age group.

Mini scenarios of failure hang in my mind like a string of Chinese lanterns replaced with tiny dioramas depicting all of the ways a bad race will affect the rest of the summer.

What would the people from my spin classes say of my prize-less performance? After touting months of intervals and tempo rides, what would I have to show for it if not a medal? And what would the people I ride with say? How could I be so strong in training and so lackluster on race day? How will I feel about myself if I fall short of my goals? Could it activate some kind of butterfly effect so that no race will ever go well for me again?

It is with this stream of consciousness that I stand waist-deep in a lake waiting for the start of this race each year.

This time though, I had the added complication of another important event taking place the day before. After nearly three years working at my current job, I was invited to be part of a pitch team who presented to a major brand in the food and beverage industry. I was involved in developing insights on the brand and its competitors, but I wasn’t expecting that it would lead to an invitation to present to the prospective client. I was thrilled that it did—I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this.

The day before the race, I sat with my colleagues as we waited to begin our presentation. I was prepared and ready, and teeming with energy to go through my section. But also, I was nervous.

I felt I had something to prove—to show that I was capable of the task at hand, and that I had something to offer as a presenter. For years I’ve been “pitching” my ideas of fitness and wellness to the people who attend my cycling classes. I remember the nerves that first came with wearing a microphone and trying to talk to a room full of people staring at me whilst I was packaged in Lycra attempting to flawlessly execute a workout and motivate people through it at the same time.

Those same nerves came over me even as I sat quietly in business casual, with high heels firmly planted beneath perfectly symmetrical knees, and glossy lips in a smile.

The presentation went great, and my co-workers congratulated me for a job well done. I was relieved to get through it without sabotaging any chances of the client wanting to work with us, and better yet, felt great that I may get to do it again in the future. It was a new door opening for me, and it felt good to step through its threshold. It was a finish line of sorts, and I’d just been part of a team that could see some “podium time” if things continued to go well with the prospect.

Fast forward to the next morning, and there I was with the same insane heart rate and shaky hands—this time with naked toes (some missing nails) and no make-up.

Business casual had left the building.

I was sure I would be tired at the race after spending the entire week preparing and traveling for the business pitch, but something about a starting line pulls me out of “meh” mode every time.

The race began and I was whisked away into the frenzy that is a triathlon swim, reaching and pulling through slippery people for 800 meters until exiting the water in an adrenaline-fueled jog back to the transition area. In a little over an hour, I made it to the finish line with similar feelings to those that I felt at the end of the meeting from the day before.

A sense of satisfaction came over me as I realized that I was able to get through the course easily with decent results (I won my age group, but the time was not the best I’ve ever done on the course).

Being nervous isn’t always a bad thing before you do something important. To me, a little jitter in the hands and a few rounds of “What if?” in your head are all ways of showing your goals some respect. It’s not that I feared doing poorly in the presentation or totally bombing at my race—it’s knowing that I had put in the time to be successful, and that I needed to stay focused in a way that ensures I can deliver on that investment. For me, that manifests itself through shaky hands and turbo heartbeat. I’m so used to it, I would be worried if I didn’t feel that way before something important.

As I stood on the podium with the four other age-group winners in the female 30-35 category, I briefly flashed back to the feeling of standing next to our presentation boards during the meeting.

Though the situations appear to be completely different from the outside, on the inside they registered the same on my system.

To me, approaching the business meeting was no different than approaching the race. In both cases I was prepared, confident and slightly scared of what could happen if I lost my focus. In both situations, shaky hands subsided and gave way to comfortable movement in the presentation, and thoughtful strokes in the swim.

I thought to myself how neat it is that I can be both people—a strong presenter and business woman, and a serious athlete with lofty goals. It made me realize how strong the parallels really are between life and training, and how listening to our hearts is crucial no matter what kind of success we’re going for.

Perhaps if this career milestone didn’t occur so closely to one of my races, I wouldn’t see how obvious it is that when your heart is in something, your body will fire on all cylinders to go after it. We connect all of our senses and systems to this investment of "self" into an end goal.

It makes no difference if it's in the board room or on the beach.

I've heard many people describe the same kind of feelings about marriage and parenting. As an adult, I have fully realized this kind of connection through triathlon. It is something I nurture, enjoy, respect and fear. I love it and I hate it. I have seen the worst of myself in it, but the best of myself, too.

When that pre-race feeling came over me before the presentation, I knew that my high heels were no different than my Sidi cycling shoes.

Now I just have to figure out how to ride 112 miles in a pencil skirt so I can really kick ass at Ironman next month.


Egan Ninjas said...

You are such a bombshell. You are the essence of what every woman wants to be inside. Strong, hard-working and fearless.
I really admire you.
Keep the blogging coming. I smell a book deal btw.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Lisa :-) Way to go girl!!!

:-) :-)