Meet Jaanus Pauts, public affairs and communications manager at Coca-Cola Baltics. When he’s not in the office in Estonia, Jaanus pushes himself to the limit in judo, running and skiing. We caught up with Jaanus to hear more about his latest sporting achievement – skiing "Vasaloppet," the world´s oldest, longest and biggest cross-country ski race. 

Tell us about your experience at Vasaloppet.

Vasaloppet is the most popular skiing marathon in the world. It’s a challenging 90-kilometer route in northwestern Dalarna, Sweden, stretching between the village of Sälen and town of Mora. The first race was held in 1922 and its popularity has grown dramatically since – the 2016 race was booked out by 15,800 participants in just 83 seconds!

Jaanus Pauts
15,000 skiers at the Vasaloppet start line.

Skiing Vasaloppet was a dream come true for me. It’s very hard to get a place and I was the only one among my friends to get a ticket.
The race is always held on the first Sunday of March. I competed for the first time in 2015, which was reportedly one of the toughest years due to the temperature – it was far too warm and sunny, which led to lots of melting snow and a very bumpy track.

I completed the race in eight hours, including the seven stops along the way. In normal weather conditions I could have been quicker but the melting snow made gliding difficult. I calculated that I burned over 7,000 calories and it was a lot of fun, despite the challenging conditions.

It made all the training worthwhile – I think I skied around 260 kilometers to prepare. With a family of four kids and a busy job, it wasn’t so easy to find the time to train, but I’d love to do it again. Crossing the finish line was a big achievement and a great motivation for me to stay active.

When did your love of sports begin?

I started skiing when I was six. In Estonia, we are lucky to have a lot of sun and snow during the winter, so I spent plenty of time outdoors enjoying winter sports as a child.

Jaanus Pauts' at a judo competition in 1988.
At a judo competition in 1988.

Judo is another sport I’ve practiced and loved since childhood. I was selected for the Estonia junior national judo team, where I was a three-time national champion and became a judo coach later in life.

I consider judo much more than just a sport – it also has a philosophy of respect behind it. For example, you have to show respect for the place where you are competing, for your opponent and for the referee. There is a lot of disrespect for referees in other sports, but in judo it´s clear – if you misbehave there are consequences. It teaches you the importance of fair play.

What do you love most about playing sports and keeping fit?

In Estonia, we have a saying: "A healthy mind in a healthy body." In other words, a healthy body is a prerequisite for mental health.

Endurance events test not only the physical fitness but also your mental will to carry on – which is crucial to crossing the finish line and also succeeding in life! When I’m on the track, with a huge distance ahead of me, it’s tough but I find it very relaxing – it may sound hard to believe, but it’s like having a "break", one of the best vacations I can imagine!  I have no time to think about anything except getting to the finish line. I have to push myself to continue, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.  This also plays over in my daily life – sometimes I don’t have the energy or will, but I have to push myself. And it gets easier with practice, because I know that I can reach my goals – and the finish line – if I persevere.

Jaanus Pauts
At Vasaloppet.

When I reached the 50-kilometer mark during Vasaloppet I started questioning myself – can I really do 40 more? Normally I ski only 20 or 30 kilometers, so this was very intense. Getting past this mental obstacle was probably the main highlight of the event for me.

By the time I crossed the finish line at Vasaloppet I was already making plans for the next challenge. I will be racing in Estonia’s biggest ski marathon, the 63-kilometer Tartu race. This will be my 12th time. Signing up for these events helps me stay motivated and active in my daily life.

Do you see any parallels between your hobby and your work at Coke?

Jaanus: My sports passions and my work at Coca-Cola do overlap, since communicating our commitments on active lifestyles is part of my day-to-day job. My judo training, for example, has taught me the importance of fair play and respect for one’s opponent. I think this also applies to my interactions with the media and politicians as a Coca-Cola spokesperson. There are a lot of misconceptions about our company and ingredients. Yet despite this, you have to respect the opinions of others, know how to respond to tough questions and share our achievements in a balanced and respectful way.

Since I didn’t have a lot of time to train for Vasaloppet, I changed my desk setup at work to a standing desk. Working on my feet for eight hours a day helped me prepare in a way for the grueling course! Sitting can be quite bad for one’s health – following my experiment, more and more of  my colleagues are now often working at a standing desk. 

Tell us about the challenge you organized for your colleagues during Move Week.

The idea behind Move Week – our annual active lifestyles event for our European system  – is to encourage people to get up and active, both in our office and in the community. I came up with the idea to use the Endomondo app, which tracks your physical activities and how many calories you’ve burned via GPS. You can also create a group challenge, where it shows who has the most ‘points’, making it easy to motivate each other and get a healthy competition going.

We set up a Baltics office challenge, with the team doing all kinds of activities to burn calories, like taking the stairs, walking, dancing, playing basketball, aerobics, running, and much more. The person burning the most calories at the end of the challenge was the winner, but actually the whole point was to have some fun and encourage one another to get active.

Jaanus Pauts and the Baltics team ready for a bog hike.
The Endomondo challenge and Move Week started with bog hike.

People got really into it – one colleague even started taking five-kilometer walks to do her grocery shopping. It was so popular that we decided to hold another edition outside of Move Week, this time together with Coca-Cola Hellenic associates in our Estonian office. This so-called Winter Challenge was organized during Christmas break, which helped us to balance the tasty treats we consumed during the holidays! 

What do you have planned next?

I would like to do either the Marcialonga 70-kilometer ski marathon in Italy or the König Ludwig Lauf 50-kilometer ski marathon in Germany next winter. In a few months’ time we have an Endomondo Spring Challenge planned with our bottling partner and company colleagues in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The summer period is always busy with running training, wind surfing and possibly some running marathons as well. You can be sure that my summer holiday will involve sports – for me there are no vacations without an active lifestyle.