Competition General Marathon Medical Corner Nutrition

Marathon: how to avoid hitting the wall

The legs no longer respond, the stomach is in turmoil, the head is dazed, in short, there is no longer any control. We are talking about the marathon runner’s wall, one of the greatest terrors of every runner.

The wall, or ‘metabolic crisis‘, generally occurs between 30km and 35km into the race (the critical point would appear to be 32km), but it is a subjective feeling that varies from individual to individual. It is not the prerogative of marathon runners alone, but it is possible to confront this insurmountable invisible force even when running 10km or a half marathon. It all depends on previous athletic preparation and race management. Let’s look together at the main reasons why we hit the wall:

Glycogen drop

The marathon runner’s wall is also called a metabolic crisis not by chance: from a physiological point of view, the cause of the wall is mainly due to a major drop in glycogen, if not the end of reserves. Carbohydrates are in fact the runner’s primary source of energy. Nutrition therefore plays a central role in this context, especially during the three days before the race. It is necessary to take in the right amount of carbohydrates (without forgetting proteins and fats) in order to arrive at the end of the race with still reserves in the tank. It is also important to manage integration during the race, through the consumption of sugars, potassium, magnesium and salts to enable the body to withstand the extreme exertion it undergoes during the race. Be careful, micronutrient replenishment should be tested in training, so that you know your needs and balance and do not run into nasty surprises during competition.

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Inadequate training

The second main cause of the marathon runner’s wall is inadequate preparation. Many runners underestimate the extreme effort required for a marathon, and arrive on race day without having complied with the following prerequisites:

  • Carry out enough long sessions in the two months preceding the competition.
  • Train the variation of pace through different workouts, such as intervals, Fartlek or tempo runs.
  • Increase loads gradually and plan your workouts.
  • Do not disdain muscle strengthening.

In short, the race is the mirror of training!

Race rhythm

The previous sentence is directly related to this point: follow a pace that suits you in training, and maintain it in the race. Starting too fast will force your body to consume a higher percentage of muscle glycogen, and consequently your tank will empty faster. We recommend that you take your training speed as a reference, and start at a slightly lower pace. There will be time in the second half of the race to make up for lost seconds, but this mechanism does not work in reverse.

Tips for tackling the wall

If you run into the marathon wall, first slow down, even walk if you have to. Take three big breaths and try to replenish your glycogen reserves as soon as possible, adequately supplementing lost micronutrients (sugars, minerals and carbohydrates). Drink a large glass of water, and after a few minutes start running again gradually, increasing the pace as you go. And don’t let yourself be knocked down mentally, but face the crisis with strength and awareness.

Remember that this collapse is not inevitable: if you train well and planned, follow the correct diet and hydration, manage your race pace and stay relaxed, the crisis will not hit you.

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