My mp3 player died again…I gotta remember to charge that thing. So instead of finding out what happens to James Bond on my audiobook (incidentally, that man gets captured a lot for a successful spy), I got to thinking about the infamous Wall that plagues endurance runners.
Biologically, the Wall is when you deplete your glycogen stores and your body resorts to using your liver to convert protein to glucose. Great for energy, but takes soooo dang long. Once those protein stores kick in however, there’s beaucoup energy available: the famous and enjoyable Second-Wind.
As much as I like the science, I never got the title. “The Wall” implies that its hits you suddenly, a fast drop in energy and motivation. For me however, it’s always more of a gradual thing. I think of it more like running into the ocean. At first, you’re ankle deep where it’s harder to raise your feet than it should be. Knee deep into the water and you become uncoordinated and slow. Chest deep and it gets hard, becoming a fight to continue forward and requiring a lot of effort to even stay upright. An undertow hits and drags you under, where you can’t breathe and can no longer run.
Any boyscout or lifeguard will tell you that when in this situation, the worst thing you can do is panic. Struggling against the current will exhaust you and then its over. In a marathon, this panic causes illogical thoughts of injury, exaggerated feelings of fatigue, and finally a desire to quit. On my first marathon, I had the luck of having my sister-in-law, veteran of 40ish marathons, there to pull my butt out of the water. Full of masculine bravado, I didn’t want her to see me panic, so I faked calm until we finished the race.
I’ve had the luck of hitting the Beach, 3 other times: 2 more marathons, and a particularly boiling 22 mile trail race. I say luck because repeated exposure allowed me to become familiar with the sensation. I could see it coming and was prepared to meet the current I knew was hiding under the calm water. My last marathon, I submerged on the last mile. I stayed calm and let the current carry me, relaxing until my body was able to recover sufficiently to continue with a PR that shattered my previous time by an hour.
And to let you know, I hate when people give advice with flowery language instead of concrete information. So, I’m gonna give practical advice of what worked for me on my previous races. If you’re on a race and you hit the Beach (I’m totally using that from now on), Don’t Panic. Slow down and even walk if need be, just don’t stop moving forward. Don’t stress about your time, it’ll add to the panic and besides, where you gotta be in such a hurry anyway? Get a drink and find distractions. Talk to fellow racers, check out the scenery, take some pictures…whatever calms you. Mantras also work great here to focus the mind and even pump you up a bit. Just know your energy reserves will kick in soon. Just float forward for awhile…hopefully in the direction of the finish line.
Sidenote: If you feel lightheaded, dizzy, have numbness in the extremities, start vomiting, etc. That ain’t the Beach, its heat stroke. Go to the medical tent.