How to cope with hitting that dreaded wall

How to cope with hitting that dreaded wall

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At 5 o’clock this morning, in the pre-dawn darkness (& with temperatures of 33C before sunup), I joined an enthusiastic group of runners and volunteers for a half marathon, as well as a 14k and a 7k run through Sanjay Van, a huge forest in south Delhi.  This was a friendly, un-chipped run organised by the Delhi Runners Group, and let me place on record that it was a fantastically well-organised event, with marshals galore and great signage, and food and water, and gorgeous certificates made by the children of the DRG runners – all in all a fantastic feat, and if this running group will have me, I’m in!

Anyway, back to The Wall.

I completed my HM, the last runner back I suspect, with the slowest time ever in my admittedly very short running career.

It would be oh-so-easy to come up with excuses, and they would be along the lines of:

a) it was very humid.  Yes, but it was as humid for everyone else…

b) it was a very up-and-down-y track, whereas I usually train on the flat streets of Lutyens Delhi.  Yes, but it was as just as undulating a course for everyone else…

c) I ran with a backpack and water.  That’s about the only mitigating circumstance I can offer for my slow time.

A bit into the 3rd of the 3 x 7km loops, so at roughly 15/16km I reckon (I made a decision not to keep checking my GPS, and put it in a pocket) I started feeling seriously tired.  At one point I felt faintly nauseous, and I remembered that I had felt exactly the same way in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon last November, and at roughly the same distance.

Back then in ADHM, hoping to give myself an energy boost, I took a slice of salty orange at one of the stations and nearly gagged, losing time in the process.  So when I was offered salt this morning by the cheerful young ladies at the water station, I declined and ran on.

But got wearier and wearier, and ended up running very slowly & walking way too much towards the end.

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It’s easy to take about “hitting the wall” but I need to know more about it –  and, more importantly, how to avoid it.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject, first of all.

And I quote:

“In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Milder instances can be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. The condition can usually be avoided by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.”

 

As I tottered along, I chastised myself for what I had NOT done to prepare properly for these 20.097 km in the heat.

I had NOT put any salt and sugar into my water.

I had NOT packed any raisins or fruit gums in my backpack –  stupid oversight, and lack of adequate preparation, that’s what.

Entirely my own fault.  So one lesson learned the hard way –  prepare properly.  Forgetfulness can cost one dearly.

And, going forward from here, it is clearly paramount to learn to eat on the go.  There was food on offer at the stations we ran past, but since I have hitherto never eaten anything other than raisins as I run, it seemed wise not to experiment during a HM.

Now, feedback time, please.

What I would welcome from those of you who have experience of hitting that dratted wall is this :

– what are the best foods to eat on the go?  In long runs, should one eat regardless of how one feels, and try and avoid ever hitting the wall?  If so, how much and how often?

– plain water vs electrolyte-ified drink – what should the ratio be?  Can/should one drink an elctrolyte-like drink all the time, and skip plain water?

–  should I ditch the backpack?  In my first ever HM, last October, a water station had run out completely, and I have since run in races where there was way less water than there should have been.  So carrying one’s own seems to make sense.  But after seeing today’s fabulous organisation, perhaps there will be no need for a backpack at any future DRG runs.

– any other words of wisdom, please.

And last but not least, anyone from the run this morning – was that rock salt on the tray at the second water station? What does one do – dip finger in and lick?

And here is my truly lovely certificate.

What a class act these kiddos are.

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22 Comments

  1. Almonds and jaggery are my favourites. For runs longer than 1 and half hours, start replenishing before 1st hour every 20 minutes may be. I mainly go for plain water, but electrolytes in betweens is a must for longer runs. For a slow runner (me) it works.

    Rahul Verma
    1. Thanks, Rahul, and I shall definitely start your replenishing routine, in advance of the problem. Yesterday I didn’t have anything on the run other than water. So hardly surprising that I felt so bushed…

      christine
  2. Hi. We met very briefly this morning. You may not remember me. Anyways….That salt lick gave me quite a kick on the run. Yesterday’s run was all about bearing up with the humidity. Hence – water and gatorade at every station must must be consumed.
    See you at a DRG run for sure! All the best!

    Tanya
    1. Tanya, thanks for the comment and yes, of course I remember you! Do you just dip your finger in the salt lick? And I clearly have to get to grips with Gatorade, which I avoid like the plague after previous mishaps…see you soon, I hope.

      christine
  3. You should take energy gels (eg GU) every 5-8km (along with some salt). That’s the easiest solution. Else probably eat a banana or biscuits or anything else (along with salt) at every water station. Personally I believe for Delhi weather, salt is more important than any sugar. Try this take salt every 5 km (about half a teaspoon) and run long, and you’ll probably run much better even if you don’t eat.

    I won’t be surprised that what you described in the post is actually not the wall, rather a case of sodium imbalance due to excessive sweating.

    Don’t have science to back it up but just my personal experience of running in the sun 🙂

    Ashish
    1. Asish, thank you so much for such a detailed reply. Clearly going to have to practice eating on the go. You may be right about the sodium imbalance… I bought gels last month in London, but yet to try one, which was probably silly of me, knowing there as a HM in this weather. Can you get gels locally?

      christine
  4. thats why i asked you during the initial part of the run whether you are feeling all right. you were breaking into a walk after every few 100 meters and seemd unsteady. my guess is you were not hydrated well PRIOR to the run. as regards the wall, it comes when you are in the 32-35 kms zone. there’s no pain, just a feeling of total listlessness. i would say this. for a half, hydrate well throught the previous day. on the day of the run, get up early, have 1.5 lit warm water, walk around, have tea, freshen up. while leaving home have a 200 ml orange juice pack. before the run, sip 200 ml water. during the run, keep having those small cups of water. have two cups of energy drink at 13-16 km mark. limit alcohol/beer to max a pint the previous day, if keen. for a full marathon, you need to carbload over the two previous days. you should have crossed the 35 km mark in a LSD about two weeks prior to the main run. during the run, every 10 kms, have some carbs – banana, potatoes etc. works for me.

  5. Vinay, thank you so much for your concern yesterday and your brilliant input here. This was, now I think about it, my first long run ever in such heat and humidity (SCMM in Jan didn’t come close) and I was obviously under hydrated (if that term exists). Can’t wait for the next such long run so I can put everyone’s kind advice into practice!

  6. Christine,
    There are days when I hit that wall in a matter of the first 7-12 kms largely because I ran too fast in the beginning, or ran alone, or didn’t rest well the previous night or just plain lack of the inner push. However, from your write-up, I assume that the wall you are talking about is the cliff we hit beyond the first 12-15 kms, and that the reasons here are more physical than psychological or plain miscalculation of your running consistency.

    What has personally benefited me in a full marathon in the January Mumbai weather (much more pleasant weather, level roads, broad public support) has NOT been any raisins, almonds and especially not any gums. I try to stay as far as possible from synthetic food (No GU gels for me). The raisins and almonds are good to nibble and get your digestive juices rolling, but I figure they would be complex sugars, releasing energy in a gradual form.

    My take on the matter of quick energy is Orange slices touched with regular salt; this could be nterespersed with sips of water no faster than a few sips every few kms. In fact what benefits me the most in terms of intake is sipping on home prepared water with lots of plain sugar and a pinch of salt. The Tarahumara tribe nibble on corn and sip on water (Notice the natural simple starches and sugars as opposed to complex sugars). A banana half an hour before the run starts helps keep the stomach feeding you energy through the run.

    Does all this ensure that you don’t hit the infamous wall?
    No, it doesn’t. Yet, taking these steps ensures that you reduce and nearly eliminate the physical causes for the wall. Beyond this, it may just be the psychological causes and a good night’s sleep before you start the run. Having taken these precautions and steps as per your body’s need on the day of the run, all that you may still need will be running with good support, keeping yourself cool with wet sponges, and running with friends you like, and you can truly conquer the wall.

    Would be very interested to know your take. Happy running…

    Shukla Bala
    1. What a great, thought through reply, Shukla, for which I thank you. I notice your home prepared water contains sugar & salt – I shall try that next time. The orange + salt combo did me in at ADHM, as I immediately felt nauseous afterwards, but it was probably a case of (foolishly) trying something on race day.

      christine
  7. I am pretty sure I was last. I completed the 2013 adhm in 1.52 hours. Yesterday was 3.17 hours. My slowest EVER! the last loop took me 1.15 hours. There is usually sufficient required stuff till about 32km. That’s usually when the wall emerges. A plate of pasta or good old white rice would do good the previous night. Be aware that it could just be a bad running day. Just ignore it and continue

    J Ram
  8. And by the way Christine, in answering your question, I did miss out mentioning what an amazingly well written piece you have produced. Somehow, I felt, as I am sure did a lot of people who read did, that you managed to get inside my head and actually wrote my story from not so long past.

    Thanks, and congratulations on the piece…

    Shukla Bala
  9. While reading through the recommendations and comments, I learned a lot about running and why it is sometimes so hard to get going. I don’t do any full, nor even half marathon .. I am already happy when I finish 5k as I am a very slow runner and have a very slow progression rate in my running – sometimes so slow I get frustrated as hell. I hit that wall so often, even in these short distances. But I will try some of your suggestions of hydrating, eating a banana and having the water with sugar and salt (especially now with the 30 and more degrees heat in Paris).

    Christine, thank you for your blog! It inspires me! I will never be on the same level as you (mind you, I carry more than 30kg extra hahaha), but I am getting better, slowly, very slowly 🙂

    Chantal
    1. Ma chere Chantal, what a pleasure! Great that you are running and there is nothing wrong with being slow, believe me. I am a very slow runner, but you know what? You will find that slowly, slowly your endurance builds up and you are able to attain longer distances. And as long as you are enjoying it, that’s the main thing 🙂

      christine

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