Hitting the wall – why it happens and what you can do about it

Hitting the wall – why it happens and what you can do about it

Why runners hit the wall and tips to avoid it during a marathon

Hitting the wall in long-distance running usually happens around the 30-kilometer mark because that’s when your body’s glycogen stores start running low. Glycogen is a form of stored energy in your muscles and liver, and it’s the primary fuel source for endurance activities.

As you run, your muscles use up glycogen to keep you going. Around 30 kilometers, many athletes have used up a significant portion of their glycogen reserves. When glycogen levels drop too low, it becomes challenging for your muscles to maintain their energy output, and you start feeling fatigued, both mentally and physically. This is often referred to as ‘hitting the wall.’

To avoid hitting the wall, many runners practice carb-loading before the race and take in carbohydrates during the run to replenish glycogen stores. It’s crucial to find a balance between pacing yourself and fueling properly to ensure you have enough energy to finish strong in those longer races.”

Understanding glycogen depletion and pacing can help runners better manage their energy levels and avoid hitting the wall during a race.

Here are some key tips on how to avoid hitting the wall (or “bonking”) during a marathon:

1. Proper Race Nutrition:

To avoid hitting the wall, it’s crucial to fuel your body adequately during the marathon. You need to replenish the glycogen stores that your body uses for energy. Aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour for the first three hours of your marathon, and then increase it to 60-90 grams per hour after that. You can get these carbs from sports nutrition products like energy gels (GU sachets), carb drinks, or real food like bananas and energy chews. Those GU sachets are around 30 grams so if you can at least take one of those every hour you should be fine. The 32Gi ones are easy to get down. Always have them with water!

2. Start Early:

Begin taking in fuel within the first 30 minutes of running. Set reminders on your watch or write it on your wrist to ensure you stay on track with your nutrition plan.

3. Experiment in Training:

During your training, experiment with different nutrition strategies to determine what works best for you. Everyone is different, so find out what products and amounts you can tolerate without digestive discomfort. Very important – NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!

4. Pre-Race Nutrition:

Don’t just focus on race-day nutrition. In the days leading up to the marathon, increase your carbohydrate intake to ensure your glycogen stores are fully stocked. A carbohydrate-rich meal the night before the race is essential.

5. Stay Hydrated:

Proper hydration is critical. Consume the recommended daily intake of water, and consider electrolytes if you’ve been training with them. However, avoid excessive consumption before bedtime to prevent sleep disturbances.

6. Pace Yourself:

Start the race at a comfortable pace. Going out too fast can burn through your glycogen stores more quickly, increasing the risk of hitting the wall later in the race.

7. Mental Preparation:

Be mentally prepared for the possibility of hitting the wall. If it happens, slow down, stretch, and take on fuel. Keep your mind focused on positive thoughts and distractions to push through mental barriers.

8. Positive Self-Talk and Visualization:

Practice positive self-talk and visualization before the race. Have a mantra to repeat when things get tough, such as “I’ve got this” or “I am strong.” Visualize yourself dealing with challenges effectively.

9. Stay Connected to Your Motivation:

Remember why you’re running the marathon. Whether it’s for a charity, in memory of someone, or a personal goal, keep those reasons in mind when you need a mental boost.

10. Know Your Limits:

Recognize that there is a point of no return. If you’re struggling significantly and it’s not your day, it’s better to accept it and avoid pushing your body to the point of potential danger.

By following these tips and properly fueling your body before and during the race, you can reduce the risk of hitting the wall during a marathon and increase your chances of finishing strong.

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