“Hitting the Wall” in a Marathon?

Runner collapses just prior to the finish

Marathon runners can train for months to condition themselves for the  big race, yet struggle to finish if they exhaust stores of carbohydrates too quickly, a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall”.

“About 40% of marathon runners hit the wall,” according to a study done by Benjamin Pappoport ,  a student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.  That means the runner has burned up all of the carbohydrates stored in his liver and leg muscles, forcing him to slow down as the body starts to burn fat.

Carbohydrates that a runner eats are converted by the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage.  Glycogen burns to provide energy.  Runners can store glycogen in their bodies for about 18-20 miles of running.  When the glycogen stores run low the body them must burn stored fat for energy.  When this happens, the runner will experience fatigue and has “hit the wall”. Runners train their bodies to burn glycogen and fat early on in the marathon to prevent hitting the wall.  The number one reason a runners “hits the wall” is they ran the beginning to fast.  It is inedible that the runner will start to burn fat.  The smarter you run the beginning part of the race the closer to the finish you’ll be as you hit the wall.

Runner walking and getting encouragement at Mile 25 of the Boston Marathon

When a runner hits the wall they will start to walk and no matter how many times you tell yourself to run you legs will not run.  Imagine your car running out of gas no matter what you do it is not moving until you add more gas.  Your body is the same way when it is out of gas you will have to walk.

Carbohydrate based energy gels are used by runners to try to avoid or reduce the effect of “hitting the wall”.  They provide and easy to digest energy source during the race.  Energy gels usually contain sodium and potassium and some contain caffeine.  They are best if consumed with water.  This will make it easier on your stomach.  Runners usually try the gels during training runs to determine what works best for the individual.  I have known friend that tried a different flavor during a race then they take in during training runs and have gotten sick at their stomachs.  This is why it is very important to try then before the race.

“Hitting the wall” is not fun but you will learn a lesson from the experience and be better prepared when you run the next marathon.  Personally I have experience “hitting the wall” once.  I ran the first 16 miles one minute to fast per mile and by 16 miles I was walking and was very upset that the last 6 months of training came down to walking/ running the last 10 miles.  The next year I ran the first 16 miles one mile per mile slower and finished 42 minutes faster and didn’t have to walk.  When you race a marathon the littlest things will affect the final time.

Next weeks marathon Monday will be about what to expect after the marathon.


Children and Running

I started   the Jamison Elementary School Roadrunners Running Program in 2005.  The club consisted of children grades K-6 that attended the school age childcare program at Jamison Elementary School in Jamison Pa.   The children ran in local races participating in the one mile fun runs or the 5K race. This simple program can help children get in  shape for any sport.

Program Overview- Workouts
Week 1 – Run 1 minute followed by walk 1 minute continuing this rotation until the total time is about 20 minutes.
Week 2 – Run 2 minutes followed by walk 1 minute continuing this rotation until the total time is about 20 minutes.
Week 3 – Run 3 minutes followed by walk 1 minute continuing this rotation until the total time is about 20 minutes. Week 4– Run 4 minutes followed by walk for 1 minute continuing this rotation until the total time is about 20 minutes.

Continue adding 1 minute a week to the running time with the 1 minute walk.   If the group is adjusting quicker add 2 minutes.

2005 Jamison Road Runners

Running was something that improved my self-esteem.  I  started this group  to spark the children’s interest in the sport I have learned to love.  Several of the Jamison Roadrunners realized they  enjoyed running and where talented runners as elementary school children.   They continued running on the middle school track team  and high school cross-country/ track teams.   They would have never even thought about going out for track/cross-country if not for the Jamison Roadrunners program.  They learned running can be fun!

I started running in seventh grade (I can’t believe it’s been twenty-eight years).   While in elementary school my best friend and I would bet the boys in the Presidential Physical Fitness run. After running the Presidential Physical Fitness run in gym class in seventh grade, the track coach saw my time and talked me into going out for track.   I enjoyed athletics but was small so some sports seemed useless to try.  I tried soccer but since I started at 12 years old the other girls had a lot better ball skills than I did.   In seventh grade I ran the mile and 800 meters (the longest races in Jr. High).  In high school my best friend and I went out for cross-country.  We only when it was running but had no idea what cross-country actually was.I qualified for states my first year running the sport. In college I ran the 5k and 10k in track.  Some of my college education was paid because I ran.

Marathon Humor Images

These running cartoons will have any marathoner laughing.  The last miles of a marathon are hard.  Think of these when you run your next marathon.










What to expect during a marathon

This weeks Marathon Monday is about what to expect during a marathon.  Hopefully this will answer some of the questions you may have but have not really thought about them.  Remember every marathon is a different experience and the littlest things could be the difference between having a great race, good race, bad race, or not even finishing the marathon.

While drinking fluids during the race is very important it is possible to drink too much.  Drinking more than one loses during a race can decrease the concentration of sodium in the blood and cause a condition known as hyponatremia.  This condition can result in vomiting, seizures, coma and even death.  The International Marathon Medical Directors Association issued a warning in 2001 that encouraged runners to only drink when they are thirsty, rather than drinking ahead of thirst.  This doesn’t mean you can’t hydrate before the race just be careful.  If you urinate and it is clear in color you are hydrated.  If the urine is dark start drinking.  A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found out women are more prone to hyponatremia.

A 4 plus marathoner should drink 4-6 ounces every 20-30 minutes without fears of developing hyponatremia.   If you drink sports drink or eat salty snacks it will also reduce the risk.  But be careful drinking sports drinks some runners experience stomach problems after consuming them.

The first thing is to start out slow you have 26 miles 385 yards to run.  What feels easy at mile 3 will not feel easy at mile 23.  At the end everyone will be slowing down but if you went out easy enough in the beginning you will be the runner passing others that are walking.  The clock will tell you the pace is slower but mentally if you are the one doing the passing (not the runner getting passed) you will feel good.  Going out to fast in the beginning could result in you “hitting the wall”.  I will discus that subject in more detail next week.   Most marathons have a maximum allowed time of about 6-7 hours only  because they have to open the streets up for traffic.  The larger marathons keep the course open for runners for 8-9 hours.

Common courtesy for runners during a marathon especially the larger ones is important.  If you are walk/running stay to one side leaving the middle of the street open for faster runners.  If you are running in a group try not to block the entire street.  This will only irritate runners that are tying to pass.  Some coaches/ books recommend only running two or three across.

Next weeks Marathon Monday topic will be “the wall” and gycogen.

The Effects of Exercise

The only way to remove stored fat is to burn it off. Exercise increases caloric expenditure and the rate of expenditure is related to both intensity and duration of activity. As exercise/running becomes more intense, the duration of participation becomes limited. One may be able to expand 125 calories in one all out mile, but if you run at a comfortable pace for several miles you triple the caloric expenditure without becoming exhausted. This is why it is recommended one do moderate activity instead of high-intensity exercise for weight control.

The effect of exercise does not stop when the individual stops exercising. Often caloric expenditure remains elevated for 30 minutes after you stop. Vigorous long running will elevate body temperature and increases metabolism. When the individual stops, there is a long, slow period when caloric expenditure remains well above resting levels. This post exercise increase in energy expenditure is often neglected when considering the benefits of exercise.

Many think diet is better than exercise for controlling ones weight. It is easier to reduce caloric intake by not eating a piece of cake than it is to burn off the cake after you eat it (2 miles at 120 calories/mile).

“Is diet a better method of weight control?” Studies have clearly indicated the need for exercise in a program of weight control. Diet or caloric restriction can lead to the loss of weight but the loss is often only temporary or the individual goes back to old habits and gain the weight back. Exercise with dieting produced greater weight loss over a shorter time. It not only helps one lose weight but produces other benefits especially for the obese person.

Marathon Signs and Slogans

During a marathon, most runners have doubts.  But reading the perfect sign at the perfect moment can help put those fears out of their heads.    The average marathon runners is on the course for 4-5 hours and will go through several good and bad spots during the 26 miles 385 yards.  Usually it gets especially rough around 20-22 miles.  You have spent months  training and are so close to accomplishing your goal-but it seems like the finish is so far away.  If you are going to a marathon to cheer on a loved one you may want to make a sign to help all the runners during a rough point in the race.  Here are some of those spectator signs that can really help a marathoner though a rough sport.

  • “All walls have doors”   (seen at mile 22 of a marathon-when some runners hit the wall)
  • “This mile marker is farther than most people will ever reach”
  • “Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit”
  • “You can throw in the towel or you can use it to wipe the sweat off of your face” (from Gatorade)
  • “Your place in history is almost secure” (Adidas sign at mile 23 of the Boston Marathon)
  • “Your feet won’t fail you know!”
  • “This is your moment.   Celebrate the pain”
  • “One foot in front of the other.  That’s all”
  • “You are no longer a runner, YOU are a marathoner.” (seen at mile 25 of the San Antonio marathon)
  • “Trust your training”
  • “Forget everything you’ve done.  It’s just a Sunday 10k left to do!”
  • “If you walk, you’ll still be hurting”
  • “FINISH” (seen at the end of every marathon)
  • “Don’t stop– people are looking”
  • ” That’s not sweat, it’s the fat cell crying”
  • ” This is easier than labor and delivery”
  • “You’re not slow.  You’re just enjoying the course”
  • ” You’re almost there only 385 yards to go!”
  • ” In our minds, you’re all Kenyans”
  • “You feet hurt because you are kicking so much butt!”
  • “You’re legs will forgive you eventually”
  • “If it was easy, I would do it”
  • “Run like you stole something”
  • “Stop reading this sign and keep running”
  • “Don’t worry, toenails are overrated”
  • “It will feel better when it stops hurting”
  • “Mortuary ahead…..look alive”
  • “If I ran it, by God, you can, too”

Marathon Training 101

This weeks Marathon Monday is about training for the marathon.  You could talk to ten runners and get ten different theories about training for a marathon.  However all would agree that the runner must run a long run once week while training.  Recreational runners usually try to reach a maximum  single long run of about 20 miles in their longest weekly run and hit a total of about 50 miles total in a week.  More experienced runners will have  long run that is over 20 miles and have a much higher weekly total.  The greater weekly mileage can offer greater results in terms of distance and endurance but also has a greater risk of training injury.  Elite male marathon runners will have a weekly total mileage of over 120 miles a week.  Elite female runners will have a weekly total mileage of over 100 miles a week. 

Most training programs last five to six months with a gradual increase in the distance run both total weekly mileage as well as the weekly long run.    Most trainers recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10% every other week.  One should also gradual increase the weekly long run.  Some individuals find it easier to increase by minutes rather than miles.  For example some think it is easier to add 20 -25 minutes to a long run rather than adding 2-3 miles.  The end results is the same but mentally it may be easier to finish a run that is 20 minutes longer. 

Finding what pace to run the training runs can be difficult for the novice runner to figure out.  My high school coach use to tell us to run a pace that you can still have a conversation without being out of breath.  Of course this is for easy runs.   during hard workout you will not be able to have a conversation.  You can also use a heart rate monitor.  To read more about heart rate monitor training for a marathon read the article/ blog called Heart Rate Monitor Training For A Marathon.

During the last two or three weeks before the marathon runners typically reduce their weekly mileage by as much as 50% to allow their bodies time to recover and be fresh race day.  This phase is known as “tapering”.  Many runners also “carbo-load” or increase carbohydrate intake during the week before the marathon to help store more glycogen.

Many runners refrain from eating solid foods race day to avoid digestive problems.  The marathon is 26 miles 385 yards wich means you have a lot of running and time to warm up.  It is recommended that you do some light stretching before the race.  I ave had friends that take aspirin before the race or after 10 miles to prevent muscles pain.   This sounds good but you have to be carefull pain is your bodies respond to an injury.  You don’t want to take an aspirin the mask the pain from a possible injury because you could make it worse. 

This is a basic overview of training for a marathon.  If you are a runner that only wants to finish a marathon this may be all the training you need.  The key run and have a single long run a week.  The more elite runners will have tempo runs (run a few miles than run 5-8 at marathon pace and run a few more miles) as well as the weekly long run.

Next weeks Marathon Monday will be about the marathon race – pace, etiquette and water consumption dangers.