Q+A: Why did I hit the wall?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Bruce Tulloh

Q I took up running a year ago and was really pleased to quickly notch up PBs of 36:57 for 10K and 1:21 for the half-marathon. I then set my sights on the marathon and built up to a peak of 80 miles a week, with five good long runs under my belt. With a sub-3:00 target I started the race at 6:30 pace (to allow for a little slowing), which I maintained perfectly through 10 miles and the halfway point. Then people started to pass me, and by mile 19 I was running at 7:45 pace and still slowing. I finished despondent in 3:24. Was sub-3:00 unrealistic? Did I set off too fast?

A Yours seems to be a classic case of ‘hitting the wall’. Your target seems quite reasonable, given your half-marathon and 10K times, but you never know whether you’re a marathon runner until you try one. However fast one may be, the marathon runner faces two additional problems – one of dehydration and overheating and one of fuel consumption.

Your preparation seems fine, but it does take time for one’s body to make the necessary changes, and now that you are well aware of the problems there are several things that you can do to overcome them.

The first one is pace judgement. Practise your three-hour pace in some of your training runs – in the second half of your long run, for example. In the race itself, make the first mile your slowest mile, outside seven minutes, and then try to settle into a regime of 6:45 per mile.

The second is carbo-loading. In the 48 hours before the race, from Thursday evening to Saturday evening, boost your reserves of carbohydrate by eating lots of bread, pasta and bananas – but don’t overeat on the Saturday night. In effect, you can carbo-load by naturally reducing your mileage and eating the same amount as before.

The third thing is to take plenty of carbohydrate before and during the race. On the morning of the race, take a high-carbo drink and sip it before you start. Take a large drink of it just before the start and continue to take a little every 5km during the race. However, remember that you must practise this beforehand to find out how much is good for you.

I’m sure you’ll find it less of a problem the second time round.

Bruce Tulloh, RW Coaching Editor


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wall, marathon raceday, marathon nutrition, pace
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