My First Encounter with “The Wall”

We often hear distance runners talk about “the wall.” You know – the proverbial bricks that keep you from your goals, usually toward the end of a marathon. Honestly, I’ve only heard people talk about “the wall” in marathon running: “We all hit ‘the wall’ in mile 20; it’s not avoidable.”

When I started training for half marathon #3 some months ago, I set a time goal: sub 2 hours. My half marathon PR is 2:15:38, and that was my very first half that took place at the end of September 2015. I’m running that same race again, the Akron half marathon, on September 24. I know the course; I know what to expect. The only difference is that I am trying to run about sixteen minutes quicker than I ran last year.

I knew my previous training regimen wouldn’t cut it this time around. I’d used Jeff Galloway’s “to finish” plans, and my goal for this race is beyond finishing it. Note: I’m not indicating that finishing a race isn’t an accomplishment; I’m indicating that I wanted to challenge myself more.

I settled on Hanson’s Half Marathon Method. In this book, the authors talk about hitting “the wall” in a half marathon. I shrugged it off because I sincerely believed that it only happened to marathon runners. I was wrong. While I strayed from following Hanson’s plan to a tee, I did create my own plan that was intense and required several more miles each week than I’ve ever run.

Last night, I had a four mile run. My husband was in Cleveland for the night for school, so I knew I’d be on the treadmill after my two year old went to bed. All day, I was rolling my eyes because I didn’t want to run on the treadmill, but I didn’t have a choice. So, I hopped on the treadmill.

Within minutes, my legs were so fatigued that I felt like I couldn’t go anymore. Moreover, I was in total mental anguish. I felt defeated. I felt panicked. I felt like I was going to have a full-blown mental meltdown, and that’s pretty much what happened.

At 1.5 miles, I pulled the treadmill key out and threw it. I sat down on the belt and cried, cried, cried. I told myself to shut the f*ck up and get back on the treadmill because it was a four mile run, not a 24 mile run. And I did, but I ended at 5k (3.1 miles). I physically and mentally couldn’t finish a lame, four mile easy run. What the hell? I thought to myself.

Most of you probably saw my Instagram post last night where I summarized how I felt. The outpouring of comments and positive vibes was amazing…you guys are awesome and I love being part of the running community on IG. What struck me, though; what made me have an “oh, so THAT’S what it is” moment, is when a few of you commented that you, too, had hit “the wall” at some point. Even though I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole, I also felt like I’d made it through some strange running-right-of-passage.

I’m sure people debate whether or not “the wall” is mental, physical, and can happen in such a short period of time. Some say it’s all about glycogen depletion; others say it’s failure to train at an appropriate level of ability; still, others say that it’s more mental than physical. My take: This has to be one of those things that is different for everyone.

It seems like “hitting the wall” comes from exerting yourself, over and over, and reaching a breaking point. Everyone reaches a breaking point differently. For some, maybe that doesn’t happen until mile 20 of a fast-paced marathon. For others, like me, I totally believe it can happen at the end of an extremely intense training cycle (especially if you’re not used to this type of training). Whatever it takes, trust me – you’ll know when you hit your wall.

Consider it the branding of someone who continually works to be better, to be faster, to be stronger. If improving was easy, all of us would be at the Olympic trials. It isn’t easy, though – far from it. Sometimes you can push through it and sometimes you can’t, but what’s important is that you don’t let a run or two or three define you.

What is your experience with “hitting the wall?”

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2 thoughts on “My First Encounter with “The Wall”

  1. You would expect to hit a wall during a race that you have trained hard and long for… not during a 4 mile training run. But I agree with you: I think it’s different for everyone and I totally believe that you can hit “the wall” even on a short training run that “nobody” cares about (but you).

    I mean, how often have we cut a run short or took a walking break and thought nothing of it…. and then there is this one day, where cutting a run short or walking feels like you’re this GIANT failure. I think THAT is the wall… and it probably is mostly mental (although I believe there are always so many factors that go into our runs every single day that it’s almost impossible to tell, why one run is worse (or better) than another).

    BUT the truth is: all runners will experience “the wall” sooner or later. Then, you’re part of club 🙂

    Like

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