Many long distance runners experience a mental “breakdown” during a race that is commonly referred to as “hitting the wall.” “The wall” is a mental and physical place that runners can get to that literally makes them feel as though they have run straight into a wall, it hurts and they physically and mental cannot get over, around, or through this road block. So, the big question is then, how do you avoid hitting the wall during your next marathon or long distance race? There are many techniques runners use to deal with the mental aspect of running. I have learned three valuable lessons, tools, if you will, to avoid the wall altogether.
The first valuable tool I have gained is developing and maintaining a good strong core. Many runners train their legs for their running challenge but fail to recognize the value of a strong durable core. The core muscles include abdomen, low back, and mid back. The core holds your upper body upright and helps keep your lungs open so oxygen can get passed throughout the body much easier. Your muscles need a constant flow of oxygen while running. Muscles scream much louder when they are oxygen deprived. A strong core helps keep oxygen utilization up and the wall a far.
The second valuable tool in my toolbox is my mental tricks. Mental tricks are a number of things the runner can do to help overcome difficult sections of a race such as hills, boring sections, and the final few miles. The walk run is one of these mental tricks. When runners get to a place in their run where their head is not in the game or their muscles are burning a little too fiercely a walk run combination can be helpful. Many runner use a counting method, for example run for two minutes, then walk for 30 seconds. Other runners pick landmarks to run to, for example run to a street sign, walk to the bush, run to the stop light. Many runners don’t notice a big difference in their time and are able to push through seemingly impossible sections by utilizing this trick. The stop go combination should be used very carefully especially towards the end of a race where your muscles tighten easily. Another mental trick is distraction. Many runners talk, listen to music, count, or day dream while they run. Distracting your brain during a race helps keep the wall afar. Maintaining control of your head is one of the most valuable skills a runner can acquire.
The third valuable tool under my belt, and now yours, is hydration and calorie intake during a race. Many runners do not properly hydrate the first half of their race, and pay for it sorely the second half. Proper hydration at the beginning can do wonders for runners later on. A rule of thumb is you will never be more hydrated than you are the first few miles. This just means you cannot make up for anything later on, if you slightly dehydrated at the beginning you will stay that way and probably get worse as the race goes on. Drink often to avoid sickness, nausea, fatigue, and that dreaded wall. Calorie intake during a race is also extremely important to avoid the wall. Many runners choose gels, bananas, bars, and calorically dense drinks to replace some of the calories they are burning. Almost all functions and processes that happen in the body require “fuel” or calories to function effectively; therefore it is extremely important to “fuel up” during your race. Much like a car, our bodies function better with a full take of gas. Properly fueling can keep your engine pumping and on your way to the finish line.