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The fear of hitting the wall can plague even the most hardened athlete. However prepared you think you are, the possibility of becoming physically unable to run with 10 miles to go is enough to demotivate anyone.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your chances of hitting the wall and improve your odds of finishing in record time. We explore what you can do to break through the pain barrier and achieve the personal best you’ve been dreaming of.
What is hitting the wall?
Hitting the wall is a phrase used by athletes to describe the body's switch from using carbohydrates for energy to using fat during endurance exercises, such as marathons. Limited supplies of carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles, which release energy faster than fat does. As soon as your carbohydrate levels drop, your body switches to burning less-efficient fat resources. This process is not only slower, but can cause severe pain, fatigue and loss of energy as by-products from the fat metabolism build up inside you.
Top Tips for avoiding the wall
Training runs and gym sessions count for nothing if your pre-race diet doesn't provide you with the carbohydrates you'll require. Most marathon runners hit the wall at around mile 21, so what can you do to increase your energy for the remaining 5.2 miles?
Stock up on carbs
The best way to avoid running out of carbohydrates is to eat more of them. Try to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods like fruit, bread, cereal, rice, potatoes and pasta in the week before your race. Reduce your fat intake too.
Trust your training
Just one more training run won't hurt, will it? Give your muscles a rest in the days prior to your race to absorb the extra carbohydrates you're feeding them. Don't feel guilty about putting on a couple of pounds; your muscles store three ounces of water for every ounce of carbohydrates. You'll burn this off as you go.
Restricting calories means restricting carbohydrates. Don't diet or try to lose a significant amount of weight in the build-up to your race. Try to lose any additional weight between 15–30 weeks beforehand and use the final weeks to do the opposite.
As long as you've trained hard, eaten right and think positively, you can be confident that you've given yourself the best chance to succeed. And if you do hit the wall, don't panic; slow down, stock up, regroup and cross the finish line with you head held high.