Hitting the Wall for Runners- HTW
by Gemma Carter


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The dreaded wall - every runner’s nightmare. For long distance runners this is one of the biggest boundaries, mentally and physically to their long distance running, plaguing marathon runners worldwide. Here, I try to dispel some common myths and give you some strategies to prevent 'HTW' - hitting the wall!

Typically the wall occurs at 20 miles, although this can vary between runners depending on their stamina and experience. It occurs when liver and glycogen stores become depleted and energy to continue running has to be taken from fat. However, this is not an efficient process and trying to obtain glycogen from fat is tedious and slow causing hypoglycaemia to set in (even in your brain!)

Symptoms include muscle weakness, loss of coordination, numbness in your extremities, nausea and dizziness. Even I have felt this when running one of my first marathons years ago and believe me it is unpleasant and can take you by complete surprise.

But this is not something every runner has to endure. A recent study in the journal psychology of sport and exercise by Dr. Matthew P. Burman (of Stanford University School of Medicine in California) found that elite runners are less likely to HTW than recreational runners. Additionally Dr. Burman and colleagues found that the wall occurs more often in males than females and training for more than 20 miles in preparation of a race makes you less likely to HTW. They also found that psychological factors such as a belief in HTW also made you more likely to suffer.

So let's examine the reasons that make hitting the wall more likely. Recreational runners are less likely to understand their bodies’ needs and adequately prepare for such long races whereas professional runners will be experienced. Female runners may possibly be more likely to have a better race mentality and not push themselves beyond capabilities in long races.

It is interesting that psychological factors play a part in your likelihood of HTW. We all know how effective visualisation and beliefs can aid your race performance so in return believing you will hit the wall may provoke a self fulfilling prophecy.

So what can we learn from this research that can reduce our likelihood of hitting the dreaded wall?

Prepare enough - if you are aiming for a marathon make sure you complete long runs longer than 20 miles to make sure your body has accustomed to the conditions of endurance running.

Race sensibly - know your limits and run to a planned strategy. Try for example to pace yourself through the race and not run too quickly too early which is bound to lead to an early depletition of energy sources.

Hydrate and take energy gels - it is common place on marathons at each mile marker or every second, to be a drinks station- make good use of this. Additionally, if you are prone to fatigue take gel packets with you and take these at sections of the race to keep glycogen stores up.

Prepare mentally and visualise - learn to 'listen' to your body, stay focused and motivated throughout the race. Being able to dissociate from the pain over the final miles will help ward off negative feelings which can affect your performance physically.

So, although the wall exists and yes it will affect a large proportion of runners, it doesn't have to be you.

Article by:
Gemma Carter who is a fully trained fitness and life coach.

Visit her website at http://www.cartercoaching.co.uk or email her at: gemma@cartercoaching.co.uk


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