“The Wall” is one word that runners fear most. It’s the point of a marathon where your body basically falls apart due to depletion of glycogen stored in the muscles and liver. This in turn increases lactate acid build up in your legs. Your leg muscles become so sore that it’s almost impossible to keep running and threatens to destroy your race. This can happen at any time during a marathon, but is usually somewhere between miles 18 and 22. It’s long been immortalized at mile 20.
I’ve seen many marathon runners hit the wall during a race and, yes, I’ve hit the wall. It’s crazy; you’ll be cruising along at mile 17 feeling great and BAM, it hits you as if you actually ran right into a brick wall. It generally doesn’t creep up on you; it just suddenly happens.
The wall has such a prominence, that new marathon runners get freaked out by the very mention of it and possibly become mentally defeated before it happens, if it happens. So my advice, “Don’t Fear the Wall, Crash through It.” There are actually some things you can do to minimize it from happening. Keep in mind, these are things I personally do, and they may or may not work for you. There will never be a guarantee that you won’t ever hit the wall, but you can sure increase your odds of avoiding it.
First, I trust that you have trained for your marathon, right? Have you got in all your long runs? Have you looked at the marathon course and evaluated the elevation? For example, if you’re running the St. George Marathon you better have trained by doing quite a bit of downhill runs, or the wall will be inevitable. If you’re running the Kansas City Marathon, you better have done some significant uphill training. In other words, be smart and train for the marathon course conditions you’ll actually be facing. It will pay you back tenfold.
Second, roughly two weeks before a marathon, I take potassium pills and eat bananas every day. About a week before a marathon, I drink Gatorade or some sort of powdered sports drink such as Accelerade. This helps to build up the storage of proper nutrients to my muscles. I also increase my carbohydrates about a week before my marathon, strictly eating pasta and grains. The final thing I take is a product called Sports Legs. It’s typically used for bicyclists, but I’ve found it works great for distance runners. At least for me, it minimizes the burn and buildup of lactic acid in my legs later in my race. It’s a dissolvable capsule that contains Vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium and Lactate. I take three capsules every six hours, starting two days before my marathon, and then three capsules every hour during my marathon. It works for me. Oh, and I suggest using a waterproof waist pouch to store them in during your marathon, or they’ll most likely get wet and dissolve. That unfortunately happened to me last year during the Pocatello Idaho Marathon. And of course, be sure you take your gels or shot blocks throughout your race.
Finally, get the stigma of “the wall” at mile 20 out of your head. Your body will go through many changes during a marathon, so just take one mile at a time. Most importantly, don’t go gangbusters at the beginning of your race or you’ll most likely fall apart at the end. Pace yourself, relax and breathe. Your mental focus will be very beneficial. Remember, “your mind controls your body, your body does not control your mind.” Something amazing happens to me that I can’t explain – if my body starts to shut down at, say, mile 18, but I keep pushing forward, and many times I’ll get a second wind and easily push through the last five or six miles. Its a mystery but it happens.
Bottom line, don’t give up, don’t fear “The Wall,” just crash right through it to finish your race strong!
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