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Coaches Blog

12 Things MOST Athletes Don't Know

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

The first thing about "Fight Club" is ….

OK, before I start this, let's get one thing straight: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ABSOLUTES IN TRAINING! …(except that statement). So what I'm about to write are "in general," "bell curve," "applies to many but not all," "most, but there are outliers"…OK?

This is a list of Top Things MOST Athletes Don't Know.

1. Nutrition and Training. If you are training for less than around one hour and fifteen minutes (1:15), then you do not (nor should you) take on any calories. All you may need is water and electrolytes. It's irrelevant whether you're exercising the aerobic, anaerobic, or phosphagen energy systems. Any more than that (including bricks), then consider taking on calories.

2. Cramping. There are three leading causes of cramping:

  1. An athlete is exerting more effort than they are in shape for.

  2. An athlete made a nutritional mistake.

  3. An athlete is nowhere near the amount of electrolyte intake they should be taking.

If an athlete is not a regular cramper, then it's often caused by option #1, followed closely by option #2.

3. Marathon Training. You have to run over 20 miles at one time in training before your race. Baloney. It totally depends on the athlete. Newer and slower-pacing athletes are typically held to a max "time" rather than distance. In contrast, more advanced athletes often focus on distance. Frequency, Consistency, and Recovery are the Three Kings when it comes to running.

4. Run Breathing. 99% of folks breath rhythmically - that is, 2 or 3 steps for inhaling and the same for exhaling. But what is better for you for increased oxygen uptake is a 3/2 (aerobic with 3 steps = inhale, 2 steps = exhale) or 2/1 (anaerobic). Give yourself 2 months of practice, and your running will improve. For more details, you can read my previous blog HERE.

5. Running Loudly. I once had a friend tell me that his high school coach told him that he should strive to be a "quiet" runner. That is, don't breathe hard and don't make noise with your feet hitting the ground. 100% incorrect (absolute statement). Some of the fastest runners I've ever coached look a bit awkward and made a ton of noise…but their fundamental functional movement was perfect. More on this at the end.

6. Swimming in Cold Water. Two KEYS to enjoying water below ~65deg: 1) wear earplugs 2) do not go anywhere near a rate of perceived exertion of 7 or more (using a scale of 1 to 10). If you're an experienced swimmer in cold water, go for it - otherwise, keep your efforts MODERATE. You will enjoy the swim a lot more.

7. Running Downhill. This is a skill, which means it must be practiced a ton and then maintained once mastered. When running downhill, relax those arms and let them swing naturally away from your body. This will improve your balance ability. "Let 'em swing wildly!"

8. Cycling uphill. This is also a skill! The best way to get better at biking uphill is to….hold on… .it's coming…BIKE UPHILL. This is also the case with standing while pedaling uphill. Practice, practice practice, and it will become second nature and quite efficient.

9. Sugar In Your Mouth. If you put sugar in your mouth every ~15min and chew or swish it around for 10sec, your brain "thinks" you are feeding the body, and you will feel better. Even if you spit it out after 10 seconds. No joke.

10. If You're a Runner, Bike. While running doesn't really help biking much, cycling is FANTASTIC for your running. There is no better recovery method a day after running hard or long than getting on a bike and "spinning" for 20+ minutes. There's no impact, and it promotes great blood flow (bringing O2 and nutrients to your muscles while getting rid of waste byproducts). So runners, incorporate cycling weekly!

11. Warming Up Before Racing. Always, always, always warm up before a race - any distance. It may be a short one or a long one. In general (see the first sentence in this article), the shorter the race, the longer the warm up. But you also have to take into account your fitness, experience level, and other items to pick the right amount of time. Regardless, a warm-up is essential!

12. The Sun is HOT. Yes, it is. We've learned over the years that with the appropriate apparel, covering as much skin as possible keeps you cooler. It's also aerodynamically better (with the right clothing and speed). For most cases, selecting the smallest top with the most skin exposure may not be the best choice.

OK, have any others to add to this list? Email me:

BONUS: Mountain Bikes. Unless it's for cost savings, there really is no reason to get a hardtail MTB anymore - buy a full suspension. Nowadays you can buy a full suspension MTB that is 21lbs meaning weight is not much of a factor. Additionally, all full suspension MTBs have lock-out rear suspension capability that make it just like a hardtail. Trust me, if you buy a hardtail and that's your only bike, you'll be buying another bike soon that's full suspension.


Mark Sortino is a Boise, ID based Coach wi is a USA Triathlon Level III and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, FIST Certified Bike Fitter, USAT Certified Race Director and Paralympic Coach for Team USA. From brand new Triathletes and MTB-ers to World Championship qualifiers, Mark enjoys working for and with all types of athletes as they pursue their dreams. Mark is also a US Veteran having served 20 years in the US Navy as a Naval Flight Officer and is a graduate of the US Naval Academy. He can be reached at


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