Crashing up against the proverbial wall mid-run is not a sign of mental fragility – it’s a fuelling issue. To help keep you moving, here’s some food for thought on your next race.
1. Running on empty
In sporting parlance, ‘hitting the wall’ refers to the moment during physical exercise when you feel like you can’t go on. We often associate it with long distance running: typically, it happens around the 32-km mark of a marathon, when you’ve torched through the 8000kJ or so of glycogen that you usually carry in your liver and muscles, forcing you to downshift to your fat supplies for fuel.
2. Stopping distance
It comes down to basic maths. The average person burns 400kJ per 1.6km. So, 32km in, you’ve used up your 8000kJ glycogen supply. The solution is carb-loading: a few days before the race, tweak your diet so that 85 per cent of your kilojoules come from carbs, and maintain this to build up your reserves gradually. Bingeing will only lead to PB-derailing cramps on race day.
Mid-race nutrition requires careful monitoring, too. Ultrarunner Robbie Britton recommends 1g of carbs per kilo of bodyweight per hour of racing. Drinks such as Maurten are your best bet: its ratio of maltodextrin and fructose means your body can process more of those carbs faster. Experiment during training to identify the premium fuel for
4. Mind matter
Of course, carbs can’t carry you all the way. Even when your glycogen levels are up, Samuele Marcora at the University of Kent suggests you employ a “focus forward” protocol: break the race down into small, manageable chunks. You can also look ahead for a competitor who is suffering, then focus on catching them. It sounds brutal, but the instant sense of achievement will reinvigorate body and mind.
5. Loud and proud
Ultimately, a marathon is about testing your limits. If you start feeling fatigued, psychologists recommend self-talk to push yourself across the line. Research shows that speaking to yourself as a coach – ‘You can do this!’ – is more effective than telling yourself, ‘I can
do this!’ Become your own biggest fan, feed off anyone in the crowd emitting positive vibes and watch the wall become but a tiny speed bump on your run to glory.