How to deal with hitting the wall

Hitting the wall is one of the worst feelings to have in the middle of a goal race.  It can happen during training as well if you haven’t fueled or hydrated properly. However, it’s easier to cope with a botched training day than a ruined race day.  The “wall” is the point of sudden fatigue in any endurance event that can be brought on by either poor pacing, poor fueling, or poor preparation.  The result is what feels like a death march for the remainder of the race, and is something that every racer tries to avoid.  While nutrition is very individual, there are other ways to train your body to be able to avoid and cope with hitting the wall.

Before the race:

Stimulate race fatigue.

Running on back to back days helps to train your muscles to work when they’re already tired.  Incorporating long runs that have some intensity worked into them helps stimulate the fatigue that creeps in on race day.  If you have a long run scheduled, try throwing in some surges, tempo efforts, or change of pace to get more bang for your buck.

Dial-in your nutrition.

Throughout training, especially on long runs, try to practice the fueling strategy you want to use on race day.  Typically, taking it a gel every 45-60mins is the standard, but people can handle more or less than that depending on what their stomachs can handle.  Practice different fuelling methods throughout your training cycle and learn what your body responds to the best.  An important thing to note is that fuel should be ingested before you feel like you need it.  There is delayed absorption of fuel in the gut so if you only fuel when you’re starting to feel like you’re going to “bonk”, it’s too late.  The goal of mid-race fuelling is to stop your body from going into a large deficit and hitting the wall.  Don’t forget about your everyday nutrition too.  Eating a slightly higher amount of carbs the week leading up to the race will help your body store extra glycogen for your muscles to tap into when they need it most.

If you’re in a position where you’ve hit the wall, here are a few tips on how to cope during the race:

Acknowledge, but don’t succumb to the wall.

When you start to feel like you’re losing steam and the wall is drawing near, understand that this is normal.  It’s not going to be a great feeling but you’re not alone.  The wall forces us to lose hope, shutdown, and want to quit.  When realizing the wall is looming ahead, focus on a repetition that distracts you and have faith in your mental strength.  Find a focal point: whether it’s a mantra, a face, your own breathing, or a memory that keeps you moving forward, use it to your advantage.  By switching your focus to a more positive experience, it’ll help the body cope with the pain and fatigue that “hitting the wall” brings.

Create mini-goals.

Depending on where the wall hits you, getting to the finish line may become too daunting to think about. Instead, create mini-goals to help you reach the end.  When you’re feeling mentally and physically beat, even the smallest successes can help propel you towards your goal.  Aim for the next lamppost or water station, celebrate when you reach it, and then create another stepping stone.  Celebrating little victories can help your moral and boost your drive enough to cross the finish line.

Get tough.

Sometimes even all the tricks in the book might not be enough to distract you from bonking. That’s when you have to hunker down and give it everything you’ve got.  Trust in your training and remember how many times you’ve toughed it out. Either in workouts, in terrible weather, or on days you didn’t want to run.  All of these situations exude mental toughness that you’ve been building throughout training just as much as your physical fitness.  Utilize that strength.

While these tips aren’t a flawless way to beat the wall, it’ll put you in a far better position to conquer it!