As I spend time recovering from the California International Marathon, I have time to think about what right and what went wrong. I do know I hit a wall and hit it hard. Which brings up the question: do you have to hit a wall in a marathon? Ideally, no.
Let’s clarify this a bit–in a perfect marathon you will reach a wall, but not until about mile 26. That means that you will have meted out your energy and taken in the right amount of fuel to run at your fastest possible pace for 26.2 miles…and not a step more. That’s what you should be aiming for. And how do you get there? That’s the famous last question, but I’ll offer a few tips from marathons that have worked out for me:
- Be realistic about your goal time. You may have a goal you’d love to hit, but make sure you are truly in that kind of shape before setting out at that pace.
- Keep your starting pace in check–I can’t emphasize this one enough. You’re going to be feeling fresh and ready to go after a taper. Don’t ruin your race by going under your goal pace in those first miles. One thing I’d recommend is that if there are pacers and they seem to be doing a good job, keep your goal pacers slightly ahead of you at the start and don’t allow yourself to pass them until the final miles if you’re feeling good
- When your energy drops, and it will a few times over, reach for a gel if you haven’t just had one. A gel or electrolyte replacement drink might be all that you need.
- Consider slowing your pace a tad if you hit a low. Often the low will be short-lived and once you’ve made it through, you’ll be ready to pick up the pace again.
- Pay attention to your fueling. My lesson from this past marathon is that, given the opportunity, you should take in carbs or electrolytes sooner rather than later. I had too big of a gap between my first two gels and I know that played a role in what happened to me last week. Know your fueling plan and stick to it.
- Always remember that marathons will offer up good miles and bad miles. Ride out the bad ones and take advantage of the good ones. Don’t let yourself get mentally defeated the first time you start to fatigue–the odds are it will pass.
Hitting a wall is your body’s way of protecting itself from being pushed too hard. Your central nervous system goes into protective mode when you’ve depleted your energy stores and/or pushed your muscles beyond a pace they an handle for that period of time. I believe it doesn’t have to happen if you do things correctly.
Ever hit the wall? What has worked for you in preventing that from happening?