All you need to know about ‘hitting the wall'.

What is ‘hitting the wall’ during a marathon and how can you avoid it? 

When you hit the wall, it feels like you have run face-first into a stack of bricks. Your legs start feeling like concrete posts, every step is a triumph of will and the finish line seems further away than ever.

You are probably asking yourself “why do people hit the wall?” in general, hitting the wall refers to depleting your stored glycogen and the feelings of fatigue. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in our muscles and liver, which we use for energy. Therefore, when your body runs low on glycogen, even your brain wants to shut down activity as a preservation method, which leads to the negative thinking that comes along with hitting the wall.

An exercise physiologist agrees that runners feel the wall physically, but he doesn’t consider it a purely physical phenomenon. The physiologist believes that the brain tells the body its time to hit the wall whenever if feels the body has gone too far, too fast. The brain will then increase its levels of the chemical serotonin, this reduces neural control to recruit muscle fibres, which, in turn, triggers the sensation of extreme fatigue. Some find that although a voice may whisper in your ear that you’ve given all you have; in reality you might be able to dig deeper and give more. Definitely easier said than done!

So now that we have outlined the technical side of ‘hitting the wall’, we can discuss how to avoid it! It is important to know that you burn a blend of stored carbohydrate and far for fuel all of the time. However, the ratio of these two fuels changes with the intensity of the activity. So, it is easy to see why many runners hit the wall around the 18- or 20-mile mark. Our bodies store about 1,800 to 2,000 calories worth of glycogen in our muscles and liver. So, on average we use about 100 calories per mile when running.

However, proper training for marathon mileage gives your body and mind time to adapt to these rigours. Since you don’t use purely carbs as fuel, you have the ability to continue by accessing fat stores. The energy issue then, is really about reaching for those fuel sources. In order to utilise your fat stores, you must have some carbs present to facilitate this metabolic pathway. Long runs help train your body to utilise the fat metabolic pathway more efficiently.

You should also experiment during training with taking nutrition on longer runs for a quick carb source. By the time you build up to 20-mile runs, you should have a pretty good idea about how much fuel you will need to sustain yourself for the distance.

Training is more than just logging the miles. It is a total body process, and by the end of it you will be transformed into a runner that is prepared and ready to meet all the demands of the marathon.

How to cope if you do ‘hit the wall’ during a marathon.

TIP ONE – Distract yourself with a cheering crowd, a spectator’s signs or band playing in the distance.

TIP TWO – Mentally hurdle it. Positive self-talk and visualisation can help play a huge part in avoiding the wall. Believe you will overcome the wall and those beliefs will become reality.

TIP THREE – Face reality. If you do hit the wall, sip some sports drinks to get carbs into your system, but don’t overdo it. It will also help to have a running partner who can help encourage you through the worst and run with you to the finish.

Information from Runner's World.