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Avoid 'the wall' during your marathon

Dec. 30, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.


If you are currently training for or have ever trained for and run a marathon before, the phrase "hitting the wall" has surely come up during conversations.

What exactly is hitting the wall? In endurance sports, the terms "wall" or "bonk" are often interchangeable, and although there are a number of speculative explanations on what this is, it typically points to a physiological response because of glycogen depletion.

When you "hit the wall" because of glycogen depletion, the physiological response is a sudden loss of energy and fatigue.

One way of avoiding the bonk is to make sure that you have eaten sufficient carbohydrates prior to your event.

To further ensure that you don't hit the wall, maintain adequate glucose levels while running or cycling by eating or drinking foods containing carbohydrates at consistent and frequent time intervals.

I usually suggest ingesting six to eight ounces of a sports drink every 30 to 35 minutes or taking an energy gel (approximately 150 calories and 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates) every hour along with three to four ounces of water every 15 minutes, as well as when you take your energy gel.

You need to make sure you don't wait too long to start ingesting carbohydrates during the race; consume carbohydrates at the 45- to 60-minute mark and every 45 to 60 minutes thereafter, so that glycogen stores are spared as much as possible. You typically have about 90 minutes of stored carbohydrates, but this can vary depending on the course, race conditions and pacing.

It is important that you top off your glycogen stores prior to race day to ensure you have adequate levels of stored carbohydrates.

Exercise increases the energy requirements of the body up to 25 times those of normal expenditure.

The three days prior to race day are of upmost importance, and you should shift calorie consumption so that 60 to 70 percent of calories are from complex carbohydrates (breads, potatoes, rice, pasta, cereals).

I also recommend increasing consumption of water while decreasing caffeine intake. Another suggestion is to limit high-fiber foods and foods that may irritate your stomach, such as highly acidic foods like tomatoes, tomato sauce and orange juice.

The morning of the race, you should also focus on consuming carbohydrates, consuming approximately 300 to 500 calories about three hours prior to race time.

For a simple way to estimate your calorie needs on race morning, you can use the following formula: (hours before race) x (body weight in pounds) = (number of calories to eat).

Another point to remember in decreasing chances that you will become a victim of the bonk, is to pay attention to race pacing, especially early on in the marathon.

An early misuse of pacing, and taking off too quickly, can result in lactic acid accumulation that cannot be eliminated without a subsequent need to decrease speed.

Runners, no matter how much they strategize race pacing prior to marathon day, have fallen victim to the temptation of going out too hard early on.

Race-day excitement, as well as being well-rested because of the pre-race taper, can both contribute to taking off too quickly and the pace feeling too easy in the first several miles of the race.

However, as you move to the second half of the marathon, fatigue quickly sets in, and you begin feeling that energy zap because stored energy has been used too rapidly to fuel the quick pace you ran during those early miles.

Aim to maintain a constant pace and strive to keep the first and second halves of the marathon no more than five minutes apart.

Hopefully, your marathon training incorporated nutrition planning and marathon pacing into your weekly long runs.

Practicing does help, so that on race day, when excitement and nerves can sometimes get the best of us, a well thought-out game plan can be utilized in helping to defend you from that dreaded feeling of hitting the wall.

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