The Wall

We’ve all heard about the dreaded Wall at a marathon, but does everybody hit it? Not if you prepare and know what to expect. Learn about the physiological and mental aspects of The Wall and you can avoid it altogether.

What is The Wall?
“The Wall” is a metaphorical expression of a physiological obstacle faced during a marathon. If you are not adequately trained, if you aren’t fueling your body adequately, and/or if you are running too fast, you may run into the “wall” around 20-22 miles. Your body is out of glycogen and without any glycogen, your muscles began to shut down. And this can feel like you’ve just run into a brick wall.

Avoid the Wall
Avoiding the wall can be accomplished by burning more stored fat during the event. This happens when you run at a slower pace. You conserve your glycogen reserves in order to make it all the way to the finish line. This is a little harder than it sounds because you need to invest in this strategy during the first half of the marathon, often when you feel fantastic. Especially after the taper phase of our training — you are well rested and ready to go. So when the gun goes off, you get excited and knock out the first five or ten miles much faster than you intended. By starting slow, you literally conserve your energy. And that will come in handy between miles 22 and the finish line.

The Mental Wall?
For first-time marathoners, I think The Wall can also be a mental challenge. In our training, we haven’t gone farther than 21 miles before. The last five miles are an unknown challenge and it’s natural to get anxious about that. But as we’ve learned during the last six months, our bodies adapt to these challenges. It was a big deal when we did our first half-marathon after only doing 10 or 11 miles. And it was a big deal when we did our 25K benchmark. You get the idea.

Our goal in our training and preparation is to make The Wall appear (mentally and physically) smaller. Don’t let it be the 25 foot high Great Wall of China. Let’s make it something easy to get over, like a curb. You’d cruise right by that without thinking about it.

If you’ve trained for this, if you’re hydrating and fueling correctly, and if your pace is comfortable, you’ll skip right over it like the thousands of curbs you’ve passed this summer.

Good luck and stay fit,
John