If you're a prolific runner or active in the fitness community, chances are you've heard of the phrase 'hitting the wall'. In order to learn how to avoid hitting the wall, we first must understand why it happens.
What happens to an athlete when they hit the wall?
Not every runner experiences 'hitting the wall' or 'bonking'. Researchers believe that genetics could play a part in whether you will hit the wall, as well as your general daily diet. Scientifically, what happens to an athlete when they hit the wall is that they completely run out of stored glycogen and therefore suddenly feel incredibly fatigued and in some cases physically cannot move. The athlete may experience cramping in their muscles or just a mental inability to continue forwards. When you are running low on glycogen, even your brain is affected, and so negative mental implications are also associated with hitting the wall.
Physically, a runner may experience negative thoughts, severe emotions, muscle cramping, nausea, and even an inability to walk.
What does it feel like when you hit the wall?
Every runner may experience hitting the wall differently, and some may not experience it at all. Some of the effects of hitting the wall may be:
- Blurred vision
Related: London Marathon Race Report
How to avoid hitting the wall
The best thing you can do is to train yourself enough so that you don't hit the wall at all. Follow these tips to make sure you avoid it at all costs;
Do your weekly long runs
By training consistently and increasing your mileage each week, your body will become accustomed to running on lower energy stores and will learn to store more glycogen.
Don't be afraid to walk
For many people, walking during a race is a sign of failure, but this is not true! By taking a strategic, short walk break every mile or 2 miles, you will stand a better chance of lasting the distance and you may even improve your time.
Eat and drink more than you think you need
In general, we don't drink enough water and we don't fuel enough during races. Your body needs a lot of fuel and hydration, especially if you're someone who sweats a lot, and you shouldn't be afraid to take on board a lot of energy. Drink energy drinks, sports drinks, and eat sweets. Now is not the time to worry about cavities and reducing sugar intake!
How to recover when you hit the wall
If you are unfortunate enough to hit the wall during your race, do not panic. Hitting the wall, or 'bonking', is something that is hugely feared among runners, but you can overcome it. Get sugar into your system as quickly as possible. Fizzy drinks, sports drinks, and sweets are best but anything you can find will help. Try not to just drink water as this will dilute your sodium levels and could make you rather ill. If you hit the wall when running, slow your pace so that your body can digest the food you're taking on and to give yourself a chance to recover.