My Weekly Blog #3

The Secret Life of a (former) brand influencer 

I studied marketing as a module in my Masters’ Degree and I realised that even if you have to appear callous and insensitive, how much thought goes into the preparation. Every brand has an image that it upholds, and it influences the crowds that it appeals to. For example, one of my favourite brands in the world: Nike, have this cool appeal to them, something that Adidas (in my opinion) just can’t replicate. That’s why Nike has (or had) Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal and Adidas had (or has?) Andy Murray (no offense). 

Nike even has the coolest (and best) runners in the world. Eliud Kipchoge, Mo Farah, Vivian Cheruiyot all are Nike athletes. Nike even had the resources to pull an attempt at the Sub-2 marathon, which frankly no other brand even tried. And in that process, they created the Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoe, which costs 250€. And we don't know if that works or not. They have created huge market campaigns with Eliud Kipchoge, Shalane Flanagan, Jordan Hassay and others:

And well, America and Europe have established running markets. So, these campaigns work as people know who these people are! But, in India (and many other countries), the market is different. It is okay if Kipchoge wears and talks about his Nike equipment but because we all have been so desensitized to advertising, we wouldn’t believe him if he says that the Zoom Vaporfly 4% is actually 4% faster than normal shoes and is a great shoe. We would just think Nike is trying to pawn off a 250€ shoe on us. But, if it came from my friend, Richard McDowell (I actually asked him on my blog about the 4% shoes), I would be more trusting. Even though I’m the kind of guy who would like test-run before investing that much money in a shoe, but still, McDowell beats Kipchoge on the trust factor.

The thing is Richard actually paid for those shoes. But in emerging markets, it is easier to handout free equipment to people who have an influence on the community, and then make them talk about the equipment. And those people are called Brand-influencers. Some of these brand-influencers might actually be really good athletes, above average and type-A motivated people, who work hard and don’t mind the occasional free equipment. And some of them aren’t that good, which I guess makes them more relatable to the market. Or they are just good-looking and appear very nice in photographs.

Not that I’m calling myself good-looking, but many people (who had never met me in person) thought I was much taller than my 167 cm frame in this picture.
But the word “Free” is a funny word. It might be “free” but it comes with huge price-tag called obligation. You are obligated to post pictures (not this one, I like this one and I wasn’t coerced into posting this) and “#hashtag” them because you got the “free” stuff. You know, till early 2013, I didn’t even have an armband for my phone, which by the way, I used to track my runs. I used to use my iPod, which didn’t have GPS.

Funny Side Story: While training for my 1st Half marathon I was using my iPod and on a 16k training run, I completely trusted it and I stopped once the distance was “complete”. I was a newbie back then and it did feel like 16k’s worth of effort.
In the actual race, it showed that I had completed 21.097k at the 16k mark. Boy, those last 5.097k were hard, given that mentally I had already finished a Half marathon.
I did get an Armband in 2013, but no tracking watch. I did my tracking on my iPhone, which was accurate enough. I was mentally counting the laps, and barring the occasional mishap like this 1 sec, 1k, I was doing well.

I used a HR monitor watch to track my Heart Rate. I was buying my own shoes and I was buying my own clothes and it was all fine and dandy.

Then in July-August 2014, I did this running challenge on my Nike + app, called the Run Himalayas and was one of the winners. I was invited to Leh, Ladakh and we got all this free gear and this awesome photoshoot (from which I have that awesome picture that I reuse every 6 months, and many more). 

I was asked by the then Brand Manager at Nike if I would be interested in this brand-influencer malarkey. You see, in the immortal words of Fred Dunst, “Life is a lesson, you learn it when you’re through”. I was 24, and shoes are expensive (not as expensive as bikes, but who doesn’t like free-stuff?), so I said “YES!”

Immediately, I got these shoes from Nike and they were quite nice, and I liked them a lot. But I am someone who doesn’t like to experiment with his race-day equipment. I even posted a picture of those shoes:

I’m not wearing them. My Dad is. I was clicking the picture. And I liked these shoes, they were great, I did some training runs in them, but I like to race in flats. I was wearing a different pair of shoes (same brand) at that time for racing and I did ask for permission to wear my own shoes before the race, instead of the fancy new ones during a race for which I had been training quite seriously.
So I ran in my racing flats, got a PB, got a good rank in the race and instead of congratulatory message I got a tirade of abuse from the Brand Manager. On iMessage! Obviously, I got pretty offended and decided not to show up to some of the group running sessions which the brand hosted(which btw were a complete waste of time, I went because my girlfriend was learning French nearby. Infact our 1st date was post one of these training sessions!) A couple of months later, I ran a Marathon in my PB time and finished quite high up in the rankings. And as an olive branch, I got a new pair of my racing flats in the mail! It’s funny how life works out. 
To be honest, I loved Nike. In retrospect, of all the brands I worked with, even though the relationship was a little erratic and I too was egotistical. I should’ve stuck by them. Their products were great.
Another great endorsement that I had was in 2015, with Garmin, when I was about to attempt my 1st Ironman. I got shiny-new 920XT and I realised I have to post a lot of stuff with #hashtags.  But then again, Garmin is a great brand. Their products work.
Some brands are good, but then their products are not-so-good. Especially on the nutrition front. You see, I am very old school and I have tried almost every fuelling strategy in life. I even took a huge amount of carb-rich Whey Protein which made me look like a bulked-up moron and ruined my Ironman.

 But in terms of training and race nutrition, I’m a simple man. Until I’m making a really hard-effort, or going long, I subsist on water or a coffee. I had quit Pizza in 2014, but I started eating it again when I moved to Switzerland and I realised how detrimental it is to my health and stopped again (For good this time). I educated myself of carb-loading, what really means and what impacts it has. I learnt to read nutrition labels. But a brand (or two) threw some free products at me because I had influence. And I used them for a while. Believe me, I didn’t use them as much I posted about them. THEY DIDN’T WORK.  I know better products which work for me and I used them, only posting my “sponsored” products (I don’t know why, I wasn’t getting any money from them, just the price tag of a “free” product. You see, I’m a nice guy.)
Infact, just yesterday, I realised those products were taking too much space on my shelves and threw out a bunch of those products in the dustbin.

 You see, you HAVE to post. Even if you don’t like them. Until they’re causing mortal harm to anyone, you create a post and load it with #hashtags. You post even when you want to be silent, because the “likes” matter. You post even though they call you in middle of your workday to their office, and you rush there in anticipation only to listen to their bullcrap about why they are rejecting you and then throw a useless product at you, which you could have bought anyways. But then you have to post, because you’re an addict. You are addicted to the free products, and the attention you are getting from the Social Media and even though they are mistreating you, telling you products are in the mail even when they haven’t left the shelf, they condescend you and they treat you like a commodity based on your fame, you keep posting because the shining lights always draw you towards them.
Then they abandon you. When you get injured. When you are of no-use to them, when they think you have run your course, they discard you. And then they attack you in public, attack your vulnerabilities, make you out to be things you are not and leave you so broken because just few months ago they were smiling and welcoming you with open arms.

 The “likes” dry up and just because you have matured and have begun to write stuff which not-appeasing to the crowd but instead paints a real-picture of life, the fake social-media world based on “likes” comes crumbling down. The unravelling hits you and you finally open up your eyes and realise what was going on. This was not who you are. You were that person, who ran with a phone in his hand, ran as fast as he could and didn’t give a shit about people liking your posts. You were antithesis to the society, a middle finger in their face, an anomaly to the running community, that one person who was rising above based on your hardwork, dedication & willpower, but got distracted by the charlatans & got side-tracked.
Your heart starts beating again. Your mind opens up, you are unshackled from the chains of Social media and finally your eyes turn inwards again. The air smells good, the world looks better, more authentic and your soul feels lighter and honest.
You lace up your shoes and you head out, realising that detours are a part of life. They are lessons, that make you a better person. And as you pound the pavement, free from the distractions of your old life, free from the obligations of social media and free products, your pace picks up and you realise your lips are curling into a smile.

 Man, those free Nike shorts (which I am still using) are comfortable! 

Which Brings me to Food.

I recently posted a picture of myself on Facebook where I look like the worst nightmare of a North Indian Middle-aged man/woman(NIMAMW).

You see, low body-fat %age is a concept a NIMAMW doesn't understand. To them comments and questions like: "you look weak", "why don't you eat properly?" are second nature, because if you don't have a paunch and aren't 5 kgs overweight, you aren't "fit". Who gave these people degrees in Nutrition, I don't know. Maybe they know something about my body and what requires, more than I do. Maybe they understand food groups and have read a lot and have experimented with various food groups more than me. I don't know; I just am an Engineer and then have a Masters Degree in Sports Technology and Administration; I just have a read a few book and articles and journals on diet and I guess I am not as great an athlete as them.

And honestly, I was so insecure to post this picture because I have been here before. I was at a similar level years back and I got "thin-shamed" (the opposite of "fat-shaming", yes people, that exists). It didn't matter I could lap those people in a 400 meter race(how would 1 even do that? wouldn't you be done in 1 lap? ). I was thin and it was emblematic to the same old, biased mentality that North Indians have had for decades. So I went down the path of Protein powders and many others while finding what was common-sense, frankly. (We'll come back to that).
But I was insecure because the noise would start again and I would get jeers, and even though I act like it doesn't affect me(which it doesn't now, after 4 years), at 24, it hurts. And I smile and try to be nice, because my parents told me it is not good to talk back to elders but honestly if I could my hands on one of those guys back in Sports Complex.(passing thought, take a deep breath, let it go.)

Yes I am thin. I can also kick your ass. Over and over again.

But how did I get this way? You see, post that Protein powder saga, it was quite clear that looking like a power-lifter doesn't translate to performance. Especially when you're in a sport, where being light has enormous advantages. Infact, the extra weight resulted in injuries because I tried to maintain the same intensity without a strong strength routine. And those injuries further lowered my sense of self. I try not to care what others say about me but I do care what I say or think about me and I wasn't thinking very high of myself in 2016.

Yes I did the Ultraman, but big-whoop. I took one look at the photos and went "Fatso". I am not the guy who does events to "finish". I do them to compete and win or die trying. But those photos were an indication to me, that I was just a fat piece of junk, who at 25, felt like his best days were behind him. When I moved to Switzerland I had a chance to get back in shape, with lesser distractions and a better life but instead I began to subsist on a diet that I forgone. I ate things I wouldn't have eaten and even I did eat, I took larger portions, which just makes it a lot worse. And I was inconsistent with my training, low on self-confidence not being helped by my insecurities.

And this continued till April of this year. Unhealthy eating stayed as forte of problems, as I began to not a give flying fuck about insecurities and situations. I mean, I was in such a dark place mentally that I just went numb. I accepted death as a possible out. Not going towards it but welcoming it if it came to me. I was training consistently, but not because I had a goal in mind. I can be honest here, if I didn't run the way I ran this year, I wouldn't be typing this blog.

There are feelings and emotions you don't share with your parents who are thousands of miles away. And I don't drink or smoke(never have, never will). And other people in life, I won't go out of the way to intrude in their lives and ask for help. It's not how I was raised. I was raised to be self-sufficient. So I ran, I ran a lot and I ran for no-reason. I ran in -18 degrees, I ran in the snow, I ran in the rain, I ran when it hurt and I ran till the pain became so much that my mind became quiet.

But I wasn't losing weight! The hell! With that amount of mileage and especially running in Zone 2 I expected abs, not flabs! I literally looked perfect according to the flawed standards of the NIMAMW.
Part of it, and cue your abuses, was because I was trying this high-fat diet.

Believe me people, IT DOESN'T WORK. It just makes you fat, eating fat to get thin is like drinking wine to cure yourself of alcoholism. It won't work. It might work for a bit, but then if you're an endurance athlete with a competitive spirit, and I don't mean 3:30 marathoners, I mean people who are actually fast, you need carbs.

Even Zach Bitter, the 100 mile world record holder admits to upping his carbs when he raises his training intensity. It is great to be fat-adapted, but HFLC or whatever, it doesn't work.

And you must be thinking now: 'Hmm, now this guy will vouch for carbs." Well, yes and no. Carbs have their place in our lives, just like fat, but you see I believe in that old-adage "Excess of anything is bad".

You can gulp down pizzas and pastas before running "long"(which often people do incorrectly).
And you might consume post run beers and ice cream because you believe you've "earned it". (Novak Djokovic, after defeating Rafael Nadal in Australian Open 2013, after 5.5 hour tennis match, ate 1 square of chocolate to "celebrate" and somehow you believe that you've earned a pint of ice-cream after slow jogging 20k. Hahahahahahaha.)


That's why he looks like this and you look like you. But if you eat excess of anything: carbs, fats, sugars, they WILL come back to bite you in the ass. People often make the argument "People used to eat *Paleo* diet and lots of fat in the olden days". Well, people were hunting Sabretooth tigers and walking 40 miles a day, in the olden days. They weren't sitting on a desk for 8-10 hours a day. We evolved for a reason and our diet has to evolve to meet the current lifestyle.

And then it is common-sense. If you eat a lot, you get fat. If you don't, you lose weight. As an athlete too, you should know how much is too much or too less. Your body will tell you that, don't worry. You just have to be a good listener.

So after talking to two absolute beautiful people: Shreyas Karnad and Subramani Venkatesh, I decided to go for something I like to call "Mom Diet".

Now bear with me on this, it isn't a fad diet or cool diet, but instead it uses common sense!

1. It's 98% Vegan. I eat Paneer, I eat Yoghurt and I occasionally have milk. I need Vitamin B12. I don't like to take supplements, I don't like the taste of Soy Milk and I can't make my coffee in Almond milk, I tried it and it tastes horrendous.

I don't eat eggs, I don't eat meat and I don't eat any other form of dairy(butter, ghee, cheese etc.)

2. It has a lot(not excess) of vegetables and fruits. And all of it cooked by me. I don't trust or eat anything made by anyone else or things for which I don't know the ingredients.
That includes bread.

I try to eat 1 or more green vegetable, lentils, fruit and sufficient amount of grains per day.

3. I don't Carb-load. Instead, I wake up and eat a bowl of oats with banana, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds 2 hours before my "long" run. And infact, I've found that it's far more effective than jamming a pizza the night before! The slow release carbs work perfectly for me and I never find myself hungry on a long run.

I don't let myself go too hungry and then binge. And I don't overeat and then feel like a slob

Quite simple, right?

And it works, take it from me. Again, I am not a nutritional expert. Listen to your body and experiment, see what works for you. It is a long, pain-staking process and it doesn't happen overnight. But the results are long-lasting. 

And the Sports Roundup

I am genuinely not in a mood to write this, after Nadal lost yesterday to Djokovic in Semis of Wimbledon.
I mean, I don't get nervous as such but Nadal has been responsible for 90% of the times I was nervous and sweating. It was an incredible game of tennis played at such a high level, which was a huge contrast from the mind-numbingly boring semi-final between Anderson and Isner, who didn't want to rally for more than 4 shots.

But now I am supporting Djokovic to win Wimbledon. He is a genuinely good guy and I really like him. I hope he wins.

In Tour De France, this year I decided not to do a daily blog because frankly, I feel insulted everytime I put out a blog and almost no-one reads it but people who have absolutely no content on their blog and trying to be things they are not somehow enjoy massive readership.

Maybe I should put on some Make-up and post dumb, half-researched content on my blog which has no meaning.

Even when I reached out to people, who liked my content, they couldn't do shit about it which just broke my heart and spirit. Why should I share my observations with a bunch of people who won't even pay me for my services.
Yes people, you are responsible for breaking my spirit and faith in this world.

Instead, I decided to be insulted once a week and less controversial about the Tour. So far, it has been a very weird tour, the Yellow jersey has changed shoulders thrice: Once with Fernando Gaviria(Gaa-vee-ree-yaa), then with Peter Sagan and then Greg Van Avermaet, who still holds it as of today.

Froome crashed on Day 1 itself and this tour has already seen a lot of abandons, including last year's abandon BMC's Ritchie Porte. Froome has looked out of sorts, but he has a strong team and his teammate Geraint Thomas has been right in the thick of things. Today's cobbled stage will interesting, but guess what, you guys will read about it next week because y'all hurt me so bad.

Also, Ironman European Championships happened last week, which for some reason were 3.8k Swim, 185k bike and 42.2k run.

I decided to edit the Wikipedia page for Ironman, because while Ironman Texas was 177k and today's Ironman Bolton is 153k.

Anyways, Jan Frodeno outran the man who has outran everyone for the last 2 years in Kona, Patrick Lange and put together a really dominant performance. He really looks like the man to beat this year.

What was more impressive though, was the person who finished 8th Overall.

It was a girl, the 3 time Ironman World Champion, Daniela Ryf, who won her race by a whopping 26 minutes and finished 8th OVERALL beating the rest of the Pro-Men field. That to me, is far more impressive than Jan Frodeno.

Also, someone told me that Croatia reached the finals of the Football World Cup!
Are you serious? Croatia?

That's so cool! I am supporting Croatia now! No, I'm not... I don't watch football and I won't be that person who overnight becomes a football fan and posts Facebook statuses or begins to use the hashtag #itscominghome for country they have just moved to. It's quite hilarious to see the depths to which people plummet to in order to "fit-in".

And now you guys must be waiting for me to talk about Hima Das and how she won a gold medal in the U-20s.

But no. You see, yes I am very proud of the fact that a person from my country won the Gold medal, but I am sensible enough to realise her age at this point is 18. At this age, a lot of pressure, undue media attention and the burdens of training will end burning her out. A lot of junior gold-medalists have gone on to do nothing at all and I don't want her to be that.

51.46 is a great time but it is still 4 seconds off the World record and when she reaches that, in a few years time, unencumbered by media pressure and this fake wave of nationalism that sweeps the country everytime someone in this country does well, for 5 minutes and then they forget about the athlete, I would celebrate.

Till then, Hima Das is a note in my notebook, who I will track rather than been that guy who posted about her on Facebook.

Jai Hind, and have a great rest of the week!


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