ATC 274: Knowing Your Potential, How to Run Downhill, Relying on GPS, Sacral Fractures, and more!

November 23, 2018


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In this episode of Ask the Coaches, Brock and Lucho answer listener’s questions about knowing your potential as an athlete, what is the way to run downhill, how to not rely on your GPS so much, and the best way to return from a sacral fracture.

But first, the intro banter, updates, and random wisdom…

  • Lucho’s doing MURPH workouts with a 20lb weight vest, but, because that’s not enough, he also shovels his driveway after a snowstorm with the weight vest on. (It’s a military plate vest so he can control where the weight is distributed, and also freak out the neighbors with his getup).
  • Our bodies are hyper-adaptable, and that’s not always a good thing (heeled shoes cause tightening of the Achilles and calf muscles).
  • Isometric exercises are ideal for establishing correct neurological pathways.

Michael Asks:

My question today is how do we know what our potential is as an athlete? I’m 25 years old and feel as though I am a decent athlete but in the back of my mind, I wonder if I could be elite.

In high school, I ran a 5:00 minute 1600m PR but was hardly committed to the sport. I cared more about socializing and would often go play basketball at the local church when we were supposed to be doing our long runs. I would then sprint back to the coach to make it look like I was winded from running. ?

When I got out of high school I ran some 10 milers (PR of 1 hr 3 min) and a couple marathons (PR 3 hr 2 min) running about 30 to 40 miles a week. I was also very lax about my workouts and skipped a bunch throughout the cycle.

In my first and only triathlon (Olympic distance) I finished with a time of 2 hrs 27 minutes (placed 20th overall) but the bike was a loaner and I only trained on it for a few weeks.

Now I want to get serious about triathlon and I have been obsessing about the possibility of being elite or going professional. I truly believe that I can be great at the sport but how does one know what their max potential is? Other than a commitment to training and being a glutton for punishment. What is the next step to put me over the edge to be great? Obviously, I lacked the elite level commitment until this point but I never wanted to be elite until now.

The coaches say:

  • Garmin and other devices have race predictors, but the coaches don’t put much stock in these.
  • You can’t “know” your potential passively; you have to work hard, give it your all, and see where you end up.
  • Even genetic tests don’t tell your potential, they only inform your training.
  • VDot can give you some insights into your current potential, but this isn’t your ultimate potential.
  • Lucho thinks you missed the boat to be elite at the Olympic distance. Elites have been doing incredible amounts of training since their teens. With good genetics, though, you might be able to make it in Ironman.
  •  The facts: elite Ironman athletes are consistently doing a 2:50 marathon, sub-4:30 on the bike, and 50 min swim. This requires an immense amount of training time. You need to swim 6 days a week totalling 40K, and 300 miles on the bike per week, not to mention running.
  • Can you train 30 hours a week? Motivation and genetics might not matter if lifestyle doesn’t allow you to do this.
  • Try a 6-month hard block and see how much you can improve.
  • If you really want to see how you measure up, sign up for an Olympic with a deep field. How do you compare?
  • Alternatively, do an Ironman as an age grouper and see how you do. Long course might be the way to go.

Tracy asks:

Simple simple question. No eloquent backstory, like other listener inquiries. And, maybe I have missed this answer over the years.

What is the best or most efficient technique to run fast downhill in a road race? Net-net… explain how. Let’s say it is a road race with rolling hills.

Now the short story: When I run races I easily pass others on the uphill runs, you may say effortlessly. But I get passed each. and. every. time. on the downhill. Is it technique or fitness or training method?

The coaches say:

  • This is the outcome you are looking for: Keep your gaze 10 to 15 meters in front of you and your posture upright. Engage your core and lean forward slightly from the ankles, aligning your upper body over your lower body or even slightly ahead of it. Battling your natural tendency to lean backward and slow down. — But you can’t just “do that.”
  • Don’ts: over-stride, take leaps or bounds, lean too far back (which is naturally what you want to do so you don’t fall forward).
  • Let your body develop the efficiency that leads to the first description. Your body will find its way if you allow it. Stop trying to control the movement.
  • Practice on steep hills. A lot. Don’t underestimate the value of long downhills too.
  • Fitness also matters. Be durable enough to run downhill. This requires eccentric quad strength, hip stability, and knees in alignment.
  • But your speed will increase with neuromuscular coordination not fitness per se.
  • Flip your hill workouts to have a goal time going down, not just up.

Kris says:

I asked a question back in ATC 260 about breaking 3 hours in the marathon. I had previously run 3:01 and 3:02 in Boston. I am 44 years old and was trying for under 3 hours at the Scotiabank Marathon in Toronto. Well, I came so close finishing in 3 hours and 5 seconds. I wanted to pass along a lesson for your listeners.

Don’t rely on your watch to pace you, run on the race clock. I had my Garmin set to show me average pace knowing that I had to average 4:15 per km to break 3 hours. I was averaging 4:13 per km when I hit the 40 km mark and saw that the time to that point was 2 hours and 52 minutes. I was not going to make it. I sped up and ran the last 2.2 kms in under 4 mins per km but it still wasn’t quite enough.

Oh, well, it was a good race and I learned a good lesson about pacing and racing. I figured out why my average pace on my Garmin was off, when I was running due to weaving around other runners and going through the aid stations I actually ran more than 42.2 kms and so the average pace per km was misleading for my overall time.

The coaches say:

  • If you are going to use your watch, use the lap button function and manually push it when you pass the km or mile markers. That is going to be more accurate.
  • GPS is notoriously wonky when there are tall buildings around. Brock and Lucho both had athletes running in Chicago and Toronto blow their races by relying on their watches too much.

Craig asks:

So, I haven’t been in the pool for years. And when I did “swim?” I didn’t kick or rotate well. Now that I’m forced back into the pool due to a 3rd sacral stress fracture I really want to do it right this time.

However, for the next few months, I can’t kick (need to use pool buoy as not to move the sacrum that much). Any tips or drills I could do using the buoy so that when I can start to kick I’m not that out of shape?

The coaches say:

  • “Doing it right” means, Take some time off!
  • Nutrition and training load contribute largely to sacral fractures. Reflect on why you got this injury in the first place? Change that.
  • Lucho suggests passive muscular stimulation with a TENS unit, but you need to periodize it and use it strategically.
  • There’s no way to get better at kicking while swimming without kicking, or being able to move your sacrum.

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