Hitting the Wall: A Practice Reserved for Those Who Do Not Know What They Are Doing
In the February 2012 issue of Runner’s World, the featured celebrity runner on the back page is Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. In this brief interview, he mentions that he “hit the wall” in the L.A. Marathon and “had to walk a little.” He then offers this quip of philosophical brilliance: “How you transcend the wall, as a runner or a musician, defines who you are.”
Well, Mr. Gibbard, I hate to sound like an asshole, but if you think “how you transcend the wall, as a runner” is what “defines who you are”, then you are a complete idiot.
THE WALL IS AVOIDABLE! IT’S UNNECESSARY! PLEASE, STOP THE MADNESS!
Maybe you can tell already, but let me reiterate just how tired I am of hearing people talk about this “wall” as if it were some mystical obstacle that every runner must hurdle. It’s not! Hitting the wall is bonking, that’s all it is. It’s when glycogen stores are depleted and you don’t have any energy to continue doing rigorous exercise. And as all responsible runners know, if you bonk, it’s usually your fault!
I bonked once. And it was my fault! That day was hot and humid and the idea of putting any sort of food product in my mouth made me want to hurl, so I didn’t, and I paid the price. Thing is, I knew it was coming. Instead of slowing down or stopping, I braced myself for the experience and dealt with it the best I could.
I learned a lesson that day: if I can’t get gels down — if I can’t get ANY carbohydrates in my system — then I need to stop (or at least sloooow down considerably), or be ready for the consequences. Nowadays, I make sure I’m regularly taking in gels, drinking Gatorade and, in ultra races, taking the time to eat real food (cookies, bananas, whatever looks good) to avoid the unpleasant bonk experience.
I weigh 148 pounds and I know that if I’m running for more than an hour, then I need to be taking in 50-75 grams of carbohydrate every hour after that to ensure glycogen stores do not reach depletion level. Individual rates vary, but that’s what my body needs.
Every single marathon training book I’ve ever seen provides ample information on this valuable precaution, yet it seems that “hitting the wall” remains as some valiant badge of honor among those in the running community.
I see it as just being stupid.
*For more information on how to avoid hitting the wall, see Sunny Blende’s masterpiece from Ultrarunning Magazine.