Getting Past the Wall on Race Day

During a marathon, everyone experiences highs and lows. Knowing this helps alleviate stress during the race. When you hit a rough patch, stay focused and try to be a problem solver. Whatever is bothering you at that time, brainstorm possible solutions for the problem. Then, pick the best to keep you going.


Follow these nine tips to avoid or break through the wall, so you can finish your race at your ideal time.

  1. Pace yourself. One strategy for doing this is begin the first quarter of the event slightly slower than the average pace you hope to achieve -- each remaining quarter faster than the preceding one. This keeps you from burning out too fast. This "negative-split" strategy has produced numerous world and personal records.

  2. Try not to be so hard on yourself. During the race, ask yourself, "Am I doing the best I can at this moment?" Your answer should be "yes." You will have no apologies to make to anyone.

  3. Break the race into small pieces. Near the end of the event, when it gets difficult and your legs no longer feel fresh, make small goals for yourself. Can you run for five more minutes? Can you run to a land mark within your vision?

  4. Carry a small tube of lip balm with sunscreen. You can, of course, use the balm on your lips to prevent chapping and sunburn, but it has a second purpose. If you feel hot spots forming on your feet, use the lip balm to reduce friction and prevent blisters. With your finger, remove a small piece of lip balm and apply it generously to the hot spot and surrounding area. Stopping to take care of a potential problem like this can save you time in the long haul.

  5. Positive self-talk makes a significant influence on event performance. Develop at least one positive mantra to use during the race. Some suggestions include:

    "I'm fit, I'm good, I'm fast."
    "Every day, in every way, I'm better, stronger, happier."
    "I'm healthy, I'm happy, I'm light on my feet."

    Mantras can be performance-oriented or feeling-oriented. When you find your mind wandering into the land of negative self-talk, use one of your mantras to change your mindset.

  6. H2O. To successfully complete a marathon at the highest pace possible, it's critical to hydrate and fuel at a steady pace. When using aids stations two miles apart, consume 50 to 100 calories of energy drink and four to eight ounces of fluid at each aid station.

    If the race-supplied energy drink doesn't suit you, carry your own drink and drink mix or gels. It's not as convenient as using the race-supplied drink, but it's better than an upset stomach.

    Note: If you consume an entire gel, you need approximately 16 ounces of water to dilute the gel so your body can easily absorb the solution.

  7. Stay flexible. If race day weather is hot, windy or cold, adjust your pace goals accordingly. Also, adjust your fueling and hydration plan to accommodate the conditions.

  8. The wall. Even if you hit the wall -- and have a gorilla climb on your back -- you can still recover and successfully finish the marathon. Slow your pace or do a combination of walking and running.

  9. Get your energy. If you skimped on calories and fluids before hitting the wall, walk through one or more aid stations and refuel and hydrate. Energy drinks contain calories and electrolytes that help you feel better. If you know you are a heavy sweater and need additional electrolytes, sodium in particular, carry a small baggie with electrolyte tablets with you. You'll know if you need to do this based on your long training runs.

Hitting the wall in a race is tough, but follow these tips and you'll find a way to push through it, if not avoid it all together.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, go to Gale Bernhardt's Training Plans page. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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