It’s every runner’s worst nightmare – one minute you’re running along at a steady pace, when all of a sudden it feels as if your legs are made of cement. Every step seems to take increasingly more effort and your willpower to keep going starts to dramatically dwindle. In the running world this is known as “hitting the wall” or “bonking” if you’re American. Here’s how to combat hitting the wall or avoid it entirely.
Adhere to Your Planned Pace
You may be tempted to increase your pace if your energy levels are feeling stable, but it’s a good idea to stick to your intended pace if you want to avoid hitting the wall. Your body relies more heavily on glycogen and less on fat as fuel when you run faster and your body can only stockpile enough glycogen for approximately 90 minutes of exercise. Therefore, if your pace is set too high at the start of the race, you run the risk of depleting your glycogen levels too quickly.
Avoid Spikes in Pace
Not only should you adhere to your intended pace at the start of the race, but you should maintain a similar pace throughout the entire marathon if you’re hoping to avoid hitting the wall. If you suddenly increase your pace, you will be running the risk of upsetting your energy systems and you’ll burn glycogen at a far quicker rate. This will also increase the production of lactate in your blood which will force you to slow down – just like a slow internet connection will slow down your enjoyment.
Eat Those Carbohydrates
You need to stockpile as much glycogen as you can ahead of the start of a race as your body can only realistically access less glycogen than what is needed to complete a 42.16 km marathon. The shortfall is filled by your body relying on fat as an energy source, but in order to burn fat your body needs carbohydrates. Therefore we suggest carbo-loading three days before the race and reducing the intensity of your training.
While overhydrating is another fear of runners, there is an easy to follow guide to ensure that you get enough, but not too much, fluids during a marathon. The golden rule is that you should drink a little bit, often and we suggest drinking 100-150ml of fluid every 5km. Try and drink a mixture of water and sports drinks as the sugar contained in sports drinks will help to supplement your glycogen stores.
Start Burning Fat as Fuel
In order to avoid hitting the wall, your body needs to be trained to become more efficient at burning fat for fuel once glycogen stores have become depleted. Here are some tips on training your body to do so:
- Participate in longer, slower training runs as your body will rely more heavily on fat for energy during long, low intensity exercise
- Go running before you eat breakfast as your glycogen levels will already be slightly depleted after sleeping.
- Eat fat to burn fat.