#34 Daredevilry On Dirt with Aishwarya Pissay

Introduction Of Podcast

In today’s episode, we’re joined by Aishwarya Pissay, a motorsports athlete. She is India’s first athlete to win a world title in 2 wheeler motorsports at the FIM Baja World Cup in 2019, having previously won in 2017 and the most recent one in 2022 being her best ever. She has also won 8 National Titles in both Road racing and Rally racing. We discuss her life story, her winning mindset, along with how she prepares for races.

Timestamps

  • (00:00 – 01:40) – Introduction
  • (02:22 – 03:03) – Aishwarya On Winning The World Title
  • (03:08 – 08:37) – Aishwarya’s Journey Into Motorsports
  • (08:39 – 15:35) – Aishwarya On Dealing With Injuries & Sports Psychology
  • (15:46 – 19:05) – Aishwarya’s Relation With Nutrition & Sleep
  • (19:06 – 24:29) – Aishwarya’s Fuelling Strategies While Using M1 CGM
  • (24:37 – 27:55) – Preparations For The Next Target & How Can An Amateur Prepare

Key Takeaways – Transcripts

Intro (Mohit): When you think about motorsports, you think about speed, you think about adrenaline rush, you think about stunts. It’s almost daredevilry. And when you talk about motorsports specifically in India, we have not been particularly really successful at it as a nation. There could be numerous reasons for that, but things are changing. In today’s episode, we’re joined by Aishwarya Pissay, a motorsports athlete. She’s India’s first athlete to win a World Title in two-wheeler motorsports at the FIM Baja World Cup in 2019, Having previously won in 2017, and the most recent one being her best ever. She has also won eight national titles in both Road Racing and Rally Racing, a true Ultrahuman and a truly proud feeling for us Indians. It is very unconventional to pick and pursue motor sports in India. We ask Aishwarya what led her to choose the sport over the others. The nature of sport is such that injuries are inevitable. Aishwarya shares about one particular incident which actually changed her fortunes for the better. Since motorsports inherently has an element of danger, we ask Aishwarya what’s the mindset that she approaches every race with and how her training regime looks like. Needless to say, nutrition too is a critical aspect of every athlete’s life along with the physical preparation, we discuss with Aishwarya how she tackles nutrition. Being an Ultrahuman athlete and having used the Ultrahuman M1 device, Aishwarya shares how she optimized her preparations using the device. And lastly, if you are aspiring to get into motorsports, Aishwarya gives away essential tips for you to chew on. Let’s go for it.

(Mohit): Hi Aishwarya, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the podcast. I’ve been looking forward to getting a chance to actually speaking to you. I welcome you to the podcast, finally.

(Aishwarya): Thank you, Mohit. It’s a pleasure to be here. And yes, I’ve been looking forward to having this conversation with you.

(Mohit): Very cool. So I just wanted to start with the fact that I love your jersey and can you tell us a little bit story about the jersey and where you are right now.

(Aishwarya): Well, this is my racing T shirt and right now I’m in Bangalore. I’m in between races. I’m here training at this point before I head out for my next tournament.

Question(Mohit): Very cool. So what I will try to do is I’ll actually try to skip all the cliches and just wanted to address the fact that you’re the first ever Indian Motorsports Athlete to win a world title. How does that feel and what does that mean? Just your pure emotions about that and about the motorsport scene as well overall.

Answer (Aishwarya): I think winning the world title in 2019 wasn’t an easy task. And when I did win it, I was definitely very grateful to have won such a big title. It was not only a win for me, but it was also a point where I could put India on the map of world motorsports with my performance. So I think it was a wonderful feeling to be up there and like I said, it was not an easy journey for sure, but I think it was the best one.

Question (Mohit): Absolutely. And that connects me to the next point, which is motorsports sounds like such a crazy sport to be in and given the energy, the momentum and the dynamism associated with the sport, like if I just Google motorsports, all the images that I see look very energizing and of course very risky as well. So how did you come across motorsports and what sort of journey actually led you to this?

Answer (Aishwarya): I think growing up I always grew around motorcycles with my dad owning one and he would take me when we would go out on rides, he would let me hold the throttle. So I think that spark of motorcycle was there from a young age. But when I turned 18 and I didn’t do very well with my 12th, I had a year of backlog to finish as well as I started working and I would go on weekend rides with my girlfriends at that point. That’s how motorcycles got into my life when I was 18, slowly I started to understand that I love speed and a few people that I would ride would suggested that I try racing. So I joined Apex Racing Academy at that point which specializes in road racing. Road racing is a form of racing that happens in an enclosed circuit where we all started the start line and whoever finishes the seven laps and crosses the finish line first, wins. That’s road racing. That’s what I’d begun my career with and I think in 2017 it not only was my passion anymore, but it also became my career when TVS racing signed me on and it’s more of a job as well for me right now. So that’s how I got into racing and professional racing.

Question (Mohit): Got it. And I’m sure there’ll be a lot of you can say when I think about the sports, tell us a little bit of bunch about like your stories in this space. Like I’m sure there’s an underground motorsports scene as well. Just like when you think about boxing there’s sort of like going to be something similar here. Have you heard about some of those things being a part of some of those things? And tell us some of those fun stories around because this sounds very high intensity and energizing.

Answer (Aishwarya): Yes, I mean mostly all the races are open to everybody, extreme athletes as well as enthusiasts to come ride at, be it road racing or be rallying. There are categories that people can come participate. So yes, there are a lot of people who do this out of fashion and sheer love for racing, but there are also a few pioneers along with me that are doing this professionally as a full time thing.

Question (Mohit): Got it. And you’re saying basically that there is an amateur version as well of the sport and there’s a professional version. And I think just to set the pretext for that, for a lot of listeners, they might not really understand what does it take to become like a motorsports athlete. So if it’s okay if you can explain, what does the sport entail and how is it different from different other racing formats, that’ll be super useful?

Answer (Aishwarya): So at this point, I specialize, or I am participating more on a category called Cross Country Rally. It’s a high endurance and navigation specific racing, which means that we are riding for 300-400 kms with no electronic GPS on the bike, but with the help of something called as, the road book, that helps us navigate through those 400 kms through areas where there is nobody for that long. So that’s what rallying is. These races happen in deserts, in forests, in areas that we go hiking. These are the kind of places that it happens. So that’s rallying, that’s what I specialize in. Then there’s road racing, which is a circuit format of racing where everybody starts together and whoever finishes first wins the race. Then we have motocross, again, it’s an aff-road style of racing that again happens in an enclosed format in the ground where everybody starts together and whoever finishes crosses the finish line first, wins. So these are the different kind of off-road and on road racing on two wheels that’s happening currently in India as well.

Question (Mohit): Got it. Tell us a little bit about some of the interesting events that you have been a part of, maybe the most memorable one, given that what I understood is that this is a very long endurance format and the location would really matter, right? You mentioned that some of these are through, I’m assuming, like large trails and deserts and all of those. So which one would be your most memorable one?

Answer (Aishwarya): I think Spain, Baja is the most memorable one for me because I think I’ve ridden in that terrain for three years and every single year it brings up new challenges and it’s one of the most difficult races of the entire Baja Championship.

Question (Mohit): Got it. And any stories that you can tell us about any stories of success, failures and something that people can learn from?

Answer (Aishwarya): Well, my journey to win the World Cup started in 2018. When I went to participate in Spain, Baja for the first time. I had an accident where it was a life threatening accident, where I appeared in my pancreas and I was in the hospital for one month. It took me close to four, five months to recover from that injury. At the time, I didn’t know how severe it was, but I think the focus being on what I wanted to achieve next that was going and participating in the whole World Championship rounds next year. It started with me being in the hospital for that one month and planning towards the four races that came the following year. And Spain, Baja was one of them again. And I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s memorable. Because though I had a failure the first time I went there, I learned a lot out of it. And the learnings that I got out of it was one of the reasons why we could win the World Championship the following year.

Question (Mohit): Wow. So this life changing journey or in a way, life threatening event that actually led to sort of like a different path in life, I think that’s something that is very unique to this sport has a sort of element of danger associated with it always, right? Because it’s high intensity and obviously it’s on two wheels, so obviously there’s a risk element involved always. What was the mindset you can say you were in when this happened and after, right? And I’m trying to understand this. When you think about some of the legends around people having injuries or athletes having injuries in their life, it turns out to be some of their life defining moments. It’s often said that you should never waste a crisis. Right? And I remember, let’s say Bruce Lee’s philosophy around, like when he actually got injured and injured his lower back and sort of like this is the first time he discovered philosophy in a big way when he was actually on the bedside and essentially realized that there is a huge philosophical element to martial arts and then sort of, like, changed his approach towards his own martial art and sort of, like, came up with Jeet Kune Do, which is, like the new version. But I think similarly, there are tons and tons of stories and I want to understand, like, what was your mindset when you actually got injured? Was it frustration anger about, like, basically why did it happen and then how did you actually emerge from it? And this is really important for a lot of athletes and people who are trying to be in the performance scene, any sport, essentially
because injuries are a part of the journey. So would love to learn more from it. Is it causing from an injury?

Answer (Aishwarya): I think if a roller coaster, there are a lot of lows, a lot of highs. But I think it’s very important to accept where we are at the moment when such an incident that has happened, because it is not easy being a high performance athlete, racing at a world plate and having this, which means it’s setting us back in our career by a few months. So yes, PTSD and all of these things are real things that athletes actually go through, but we hear so little about it. And when I was going through it as well, it was a journey of learning for me to understand myself, my mind, my body better in order to listen to it and train adequately or push it, just understand me. I think that was the whole journey of coming back. So I think it was very important for me to speak with my sports psychologist about what I was going through and to express every single detail in order to overcome it. If I lived in denial or if I was going to fight it, saying I’m okay, that was just going to help me for a little while and it wouldn’t be something that would help my career in the long run. So I think through all these accidents, it was very important for me to have the right support system, be it my coaches or my family or my friends, whoever were a part of my ecosystem. It was very important for them to work towards with me to my goal. And I think the goal was to be able to be back on the bike as soon as possible to start training for the World Championship. And that was another factor that pushed me to come back and go race and win the championship.

Question (Mohit): This is really interesting because if I were to summarize the two core aspects that you mentioned, one is the support system of the family, friends, coaches, etc. Another one is sports psychology, right? Or your sports psychologist rather, who actually helped you with this journey. And this is definitely an emerging and an interesting trend because psychology and sports 15 years back maybe, and especially in India, there wasn’t a lot of overlap, to be honest. And how does that really work will be an interesting question for a lot of athletes for training because, a lot of conditioning actually starts on the physical side and to some extent, and we’ll cover some aspects of nutrition and other aspects as well, but especially psychology. When was the first time you actually got introduced to sports psychology and then how did it actually help you across your journey?

Answer (Aishwarya): Sports psychology is something that I started to work upon in the year 2017 with one, and I think at this time I was still doing road racing and rallying together. So I think sports psychology has played a very important role in my recovery. I’ve had about three accidents in the span of working with him for the last few years and through each one of them, motorsports has given me this attitude of never giving up and getting back. Like how you see a boxer fall down and he gets up in 10 seconds? That’s pretty much the attitude that even motorcycle racing just bought into me because every second matters. And especially mental psychology in terms of being able to create processes to follow when I’m racing, or the framework that I put myself into, all the intentions that I have from a race, or the expectations that I set to it. The way I function through all of this is few of the things that we’ve been working on with my sports psychologist. And it’s played a very major role, definitely. Like you said, mental health of an athlete is a topic that is we haven’t really paid that much attention to it. But in the recent years, whatever I have been working with him has made me realize that it’s as important as riding, like the best athletes in motorsports say 80% is up here and 20% is in the hands. So I think that’s what even I’m focusing on and that’s how sports psychologists play a difference in my career.

Question (Mohit): Absolutely. I think that what you just mentioned is so interesting for a lot of people who are actually thinking about something very similar. For example, nutrition, is it relevant for athletes, is it relevant for general health? Absolutely, it is relevant for both. Where the athletes require the nutritional interventions to be more precise, the general health folks would require to be more consistent. So the use case or the adaptation is different. You can say the versioning is different, but the depth or similarities exist in each of these, especially in sports psychology because, a lot of what’s available in the public domain is that the athletes are actually crushing it every day. That’s what the highlight is for a lot of people that oh, train hard and you’ll see results, which is also true. But then there is this entire and I heard speaking to one of these sprinters and they were telling us about pre-hab, which is like a super interesting concept because it’s sort of like a rehab. I mean, you would know about it, but it’s sort of like a rehab, preparing for an injury so that you don’t ever get injured, right? So it’s interesting that a lot of athletes are actually now becoming more preventive, more proactive in terms of their approach. And some of these methods, technologies are also quite relevant to general people because a lot of people want to have the and they aspire for athlete’s mindset, in their own walks of life. And I think those are some of the things that I think people can definitely take away from when they’re looking at an athlete. I would love to switch gears a little and talk a little bit about other aspects as well. Like for example, nutrition. And this is my favorite question to an athlete that what’s your relationship with food and nutrition?

Answer (Aishwarya): Well, I think I have a very important relationship with my food and sleep, without these two things being on point I cannot function to train adequately and I think especially in a sport like mine, every time I’m on the bike training I burn up to 1000 calories and when I’m racing, usually up to 2000-3000 calories. So I think I was under-fueling for a very long time. And especially in motor sports in India, everybody goes racing without eating food. So when I started racing and when I was in this environment, in the beginning, I would do the same because I would feel heavy if I had a lunch and if I go to race after that. But then I started understanding that doing that, I would be tired in the first few laps of the race. Then what I started doing is I started adding more food before, and then I started seeing difference in my performance as well, that I could perform better till the end of the race and not just for the first three – four laps. So, yeah, I think my relationship with understanding nutrition better started there and I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the Ultrahuman CGM for a while, starting August last year, because I was doing a little bit of homework of understanding how I could have optimized nutrition. And when we started working together in January, I think we started picking up on every detail, be it the food, the training and the sleep, everything. We started monitoring each one of these details and your experts started giving me details of how I could optimize my fueling, not only during training as well as races and after this I think one other aspect I think nutrition and Ultrahuman has played a major role in the last few months is that when I started talking to Ultrahuman, I think I was clear that I wanted to optimize my training during the monthly cycles, because as female athletes, we struggle a lot with not being able to push the same 30 days a month. So I think this is where I think I would always think that it’s my lack of motivation or my procrastination that I wouldn’t be at the gym. But overall, the CGM did show that my energy levels were very low during this period. And what we started to do is started to feel better during before and during, which kind of started showing as differences. And I think the last few races have happened mostly on my periods, but then I have been at my 100% performing and I’ve done pretty much all these races. So I think that’s where nutrition and Ultrahuman in the last few months has played a very major role to get me to my game.

Question (Mohit): It’s really cool, right? Because if I were to summarize it, what you have really done is you have actually taken 25% of what seemed to be, I wouldn’t say disadvantage, but something that 75% of the month, the training would have been different to your advantage by understanding it much more. And because you’re consuming, or actually your body is consuming around somewhere between 1 to 3000 calories in essentially a short time duration, I think this is the fact that this is the energy consumption, makes it all the more and I’m sure this is not just physical, but also mental energy consumption And what we know about glucose and other sources of fuel for the body is that especially glucose is highly relevant when you think about cognitive tasks, right? Given the fact that this is the primary source of fuel for people who are not fat adapted, and even for people who are fat adapted, this is definitely going to be a source of fuel when you’re into high-intensity event. But have you actually tried to measure your food patterns pre and post racing? What were some of those glucose patterns? Did you see with different fuelling strategies? Do you see a rise in your glucose? And I would love for you to compare before and after. Like, what would you see from a glucose perspective earlier and what do you see now after interventions? And I’m trying to also understand, I wouldn’t call it a workout, but what sort of physical activity and mental activity does motorsport actually include? Because zone three might actually lead to a glucose rise because of gluconeogenesis, glycogeb stores run out and then sort of like the other response could be like reduction of glucose and then you becoming hyperglycemic. Given that you use a part of your glucose, what’s the sort of response that you have seen in your glucose earlier and how did you optimize it over time?

Answer (Aishwarya): Well, I think in February it began when we started collecting data during my training. And I think during this period it was more or less the similar load that I would have on a racing day. So I think we started to see a lot of lows on the energy levels in terms of on a fasting state or a regular food, even after eating food. However, motor sports, like you said, mostly zone three, zone four, zone five, it’s in those zones that we are riding. So what I have noticed when I was riding was that there were spikes beat a physical activity or be it driving. I would see spikes. So I think in the beginning it was about first thing what I was eating and how long it took for the spike to come down and to understand if I fuel better or not. And also sometimes when I was running for 10 kms in France, I would start to feel the dip in my energy after the eighth kilometer. So I started giving this data back and I think after the intervention I used to fuel differently before I go to run or to write, and I could see that I could sustain for longer. I think the most recent thing that really made a difference was ar Spain, Baja, because we are riding 400 kms/day, we don’t have access to a lot of food. So the food that we are eating are either Bars gels and the BCAA’s and the electrolytes that’s in the hydration pack. So it was a two day race. And the first loop that I went to ride, I think I got to engross with my riding and got into the flow and I missed on hydrating myself adequately. So after the 88th kilometer, I could feel the dehydration kicking in and the fatigue kicking in. And then what I did the next round that I went in was I started having sipping on water every 10 kms, keeping an eye on the odo and I could see the difference in my riding. I ended the race the same way I started the race. So I think this is where it makes me understand that fuelling is so important, especially in a sport like mine. And if I don’t, because it’s an endurance sport both mentally and physically, I will start to fatigue and make more mistakes and that’s when the accidents happen.

(Mohit): Yes, it’s really interesting the fact that given that it’s a combination always in case of mental and physical performance, the mental side plays out first and then obviously the physical side plays out as well. But I think if you’re proactive enough about it and what you mentioned is such a fascinating story, given the fact that just by looking at one variable and I’m not saying that this is the only variable for performance, but then just by looking at this one variable, you get directional insights. And I’m sure that if I look all around, there are so many fascinating companies doing phenomenal work around exercise, sports science and performance and giving people enough data. Like, I’m really fascinated by, for example, now lactate monitors that actually tell you your lactate threshold, which is really cool because, I mean, even for general health, because traditionally it was the origin is your ketosis for diabetics. And then they discovered that for general health, people who have their lactate thresholds or lactate levels that are on the higher side, they never would feel motivated to work out because the lactate level is already up. So they’ll always feel sore even with a little bit of physical activity. And for the athletes, this is really cool as well because you can figure out your levels. But at the same time, what you mentioned about glucose, even though it’s just a directional marker and it’s not complete, to be honest, because there are so many other factors. But even then there are so many things that all of us can actually figure out. I remember, like, few years back, being a cyclist, the carb loading exercise always used to be like a fun exercise than being scientific because it was like, oh, if you’re going for endurance races, load as much carb as possible and you’ll mostly run out, but then load as much as possible. But it’s always like a trade off because you essentially have limited capacity and the more you load up does not really mean better energy levels the next day. It might actually mean worse, given that it might give you an insulin spike. So these are like really cool stories and thank you for sharing some of these.

(Aishwarya): Thank you, Mohit.

Question (Mohit): Lastly, I think given that this is a super interesting and I wanted to conclude with the aspects of how you actually prepare for your season on season, how do you prepare off season? How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically for your next target? Would love to understand that and the second aspect of it is how would I make sure somebody aspiring to look at motorsports, how should they approach this space, where should they begin? What are some of the key aspects that they should think about? So starting with your own preparation and then how does an amateur need to prepare essentially?

Answer (Aishwarya): For me, to prepare for any international ratio, I start well ahead of you, months, because I know my plan for the next six months, so I know where I will be training, what are the races that I want to do. I organize my training in the regions and zones that I want to be racing in to familiarize myself with the terrain and the motorcycle that I would be riding in. And I think that’s one way that I prepare before a race. And the other thing that I do before races is that I do my warm up, and then I have 20-30 minutes of visualization of reminding myself what is the intentions that I’m going into the race with? What am I looking at doing to find the state of flow and then to push a few seconds every kilometer and every corner. So I think that’s how I go into a race, visualizing reminding myself of the intentions and everything. And with respect to someone who wants to get into motor sports, I think the best way is to firstly choose the kind of sport, the style of motor sports that they want to get into, be it Motocross, Road Racing Rallying and each one of these has training schools that they could go to to train themselves. All these information is available online and there’s a website called FMSCI that’s the Federation of Motorsports of India where they could find the race calendar for the respective years, which they could take part in. There are a lot of selection and training programs also that goes on throughout the year that they can be a part of the go to races.

(Mohit): That’s amazing and thank you for the resource. And I think I’m sure this is very useful for a lot of people who are thinking to begin the journey and I’m sure during this entire conversation, a lot of golden nuggets of wisdom that a lot of young athletes would want to relate to. I think my takes from the conversation around sports psychology and how important that has been in your life, and I think it’s better to be proactive than to actually react to something like this. Because people are when they have long careers, they’re going to have injuries, they’re going to have scenarios where they have to emerge from a position of failure, essentially. And I think this is going to be a massive upgrade for all the athletes who are actually out there. And I think the other aspect which I loved is how you actually look at how you actually approach, let’s say, your training seasons and your resting seasons and this aspect of visualization and preparation cannot be undermined in any sport. Of course, motorsports as well, but then other sports as well. So that’s the other aspect and I think, yes, for motorsports athletes and I’m certainly going to spend a lot of time to understand more about the sport given that how intriguing it is, but it’s important to choose within that what I’m really looking for because all of these are very very different formats. So thank you for all the golden nuggets and this has been a really interesting conversation. And I’m sure we’ll continue our journey of partnering with you and building more biomarkers together because, that’s what we stand for and I’m sure we will introduce new cool technologies for you to test out over time. So thank you Aishwarya for making it here and really appreciate your time.

(Aishwarya): Thank you Mohit. It was great talking to you and sharing my journey and I really look forward to working with you guys.

Outro (Mohit): The life of a motorsports athlete is always on the fifth gear and as you could hear for yourself, preparing for races is no menial task. What Aishwarya did was to identify her shortcomings and sought modern solutions, in this instance the M one CGM which she was able to use to optimally fuel her for races. These tiny things and changes in your lifestyle potentially can make difference between a champion and the rest. If you loved Aishwarya’s life story, give this episode a share on your social media handles. If you are subscribed to us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other streaming channels, you can also now stream every episode on YouTube if it makes it easier for you. You can also have YouTube as a platform to listen to the Ultrahuman Podcast. If you have any suggestions and feedback about what we’re doing here at the Ultrahuman Podcast, please feel free to drop in an email to [email protected] This is Podcasts with an s the end. We’ll also mention this email in our description of the podcast. We would love to hear from you. I’ll see you next week, with another episode.

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