What to Do When You Hit “The Wall”

Before Whitewalkers, The Wall was slang used by marathoners to describe that severe depression that starts around mile 16-20.  It’s that moment you realize you’re running on empty, and you still have almost an hour left of physical effort.

Emily referred to it as “the dark place”, and I think that’s pretty accurate.  The first time I experienced The Wall, I finished the race and immediately started crying.  I couldn’t believe how terrible my thoughts were, and that I had overcome them.

Nowadays, to me, The Wall is an old frienemy.  I’ve learned that it’s inevitable, but there are preventive measures to make sure you don’t have a breakdown mid-race.

Count Your Miles Backwards

When you’re subconsciously thinking about how many miles you’ve racked up, it’s draining.  Double-digit numbers are an intimidating amount in long distance.  Once I hit mile 16, I start counting down.  For whatever reason, thinking in single digits past this point makes the rest of the race easier to process.

Energy Gels Every 45 Minutes

I mentioned it in my previous post.  Ingesting an energy gel every 45 minutes works way better than carbo-loading.  The gels give you electrolytes, fuel, and energy (some have caffeine) that help you push past the wall.  BONUS: It also breaks down the race into 45-minute intervals, which is much better than viewing the race as a mass effort.

Keep a Power Song on Deck

When you’re in a weird state of mind, never underestimate how a song can make you feel.  I settled on “Baba O’Riley” by The Who during the New York Marathon.  The Wall suddenly became this beautiful, semi-trippy experience I had all to myself.

Dedicate Your Miles to a Person or an Experience

It doesn’t even have to be someone you know.  Just go with what you’re feeling.  One year during a particularly low point, I dedicated mile 22 to paraplegics.  I don’t even think I know a paraplegic.  Instead of focusing how much I hurt, I kept thinking how lucky I was to be running.  I kept thinking:

“Who the hell am I to care about my legs hurting?  Some people would give anything to be me right now.”

Before I knew it, I was at mile 24 and gunned it home the rest of the way.

Know It’s Happening

Our brains, in a continual effort to be as lazy as possible, start telling us to give up.  At the end of the day, you just have to realize hitting the wall is part of the process.  Embrace it.  It makes finishing the race that much more of a victory.


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