“Hitting the wall” is not a phrase used by carpenters. However, it is a term that athletes understand intimately. Specifically, it is usually a marathon athlete that is most likely to experience this physiological phenomena. Another term that has been used for this biological and mental slow-down is “bonking.”
It has been described by many runners as hitting them around the 20 mile mark of a marathon. The physical symptoms that become evident are described by runners in different terms. One person said that they felt like they were carrying an elephant on their back. Another talks about numbness in the legs and feet. Another explained that it felt like their legs were filled with bags of red-hot lead balls, instead of muscles. Another reported the feeling of dragging an anchor behind them. Another symptom of this physical stalling-point, is hallucinating. One runner literally stopped running for a time just to watch little purple men running up and down the sides of the cliffs. This runner was enjoying the sight, even though he was fully conscious that he was hallucinating.
However a person experiences “the wall” it is still evidence of a monumentally painful and difficult physical encounter with one’s biological limitations. It can often prove to be a crucial point where an athlete’s success or failure of an endeavor is determined. The good news is that not everyone can expect that the “wall” is an inevitable obstacle. In fact, more than 40 percent of non-elite marathon runners have been able to avoid “the wall”. But because so many people do experience the dangerous level of energy depletion, it’s important to know how to avoid it.
The explanation for this phenomena is a depletion in the athlete’s body of energy. It’s that simple and that complicated. Fuel is provided by either fat or carbohydrates. But in order for fats to metabolize properly the body requires circulating oxygen. That’s something that is in short supply for a runner mid-race.
The fuel source of carbohydrates is either in the form of blood glucose or glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscles. The glycogen can be metabolized by the body either with or without oxygen. That makes the glycogen fuel the ideal source for an athlete’s energy. But the body can only store a certain amount. About 2,000 calories worth of glycogen can be stored in a person’s muscle and liver, That’s even with a heavy intake of carbohydrates days before the race. That amount of glycogen usually can take the average person to around the 20-mile point of a race.
There are a few tips to help an athlete avoid the “wall”. First, be sure to load up on carbohydrates a few days before the race. This is called “carbo-loading.” Also be sure to eat a light meal, rich in carbohydrates no later than two hours before racing.
Second, be sure to consume carbs during the race to replenish the fuel that is being used. Be sure to utilize the offerings at the aid stations along the way. Water and sports drinks are vital to re-fueling and re-hydrating the body. The sports drinks are ideal because of their additional electrolytes and carbohydrates.
Third, but certainly not third in importance, is to have the good sense to start a marathon with a slower pace. This keeps a person from burning through energy too quickly. At any point in the race, slowing the pace will conserve energy.
Fourth, is to train at your goal pace for the marathon. Fifth, include at least one 20 mile run in the training schedule.
Last of all, do research. Understand how the intake of foods affects the chemistry of the body. An athlete’s body is the machine and tool to compete in any sport. Know how to keep the tool functioning at optimum levels of performance. If an athlete is prepared there is no reason to ever have to take on the burden of an elephant or two at the end of the race.
DiAnna is a writer of health related articles. She loves to provide the best content for online readers.
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