Beating the Wall – An Experiment

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Hitting the wall: A state of physical and/or mental exhaustion, accompanied by pain and nausea, synonymous with endurance sports.

For a long time after I started running, I truly believed that you could only hit the wall on really long runs.  I mean really, really long runs, like at mile 19 of a marathon, when your body and mind are totally exhausted and you can’t go on.  To me, the wall was this mythical force that only the most hardcore encountered.

The Ironman triathlon is a great example.  The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run, and is a true test of human endurance, lasting over 12 hours on average.  It is still nuts to see the incredible videos of runners collapsing and crawling across the finish line. One of the most famous collapses occurred in 1982 on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, as Julie Moss fought to reach the finish. Her body was pushed to its absolute limits and she physically couldn’t go any further.

Julie Moss after her famous collapse.

But here is the big news.  You can hit the wall on short runs too!  Like many others, I would work a 10-hour day, forgetting to eat because I was too busy. Then I would get home excited to go pound the pavement and take off for a  4-6 mile run, only to have to throw in the towel at mile 2, and sheepishly walk/run back, kicking myself.  At this point, I have to say that those runs were one of the most frustrating parts of my running experience.  True low points, because I felt like I failed.

So, what was causing my body to revolt at such short distances?  Nutrition.   And not just how much I ate, as I first thought, but eating the right stuff.  I have found there is more than one bodily process which can lead to bad runs, each of which depends on certain nutrients.

Therefore, I propose an experiment!  I am going to track what I eat for 1 month, calculating the nutritional value, and see how altering the types of nutrients I consume affects my performance, energy levels, and overall mood during my runs.  Along the way I will also explore the biological causes of hitting the wall, other ways to improve and minimize bad runs, and hopefully have a few crazy adventures along the way. Check back next week for my first update on my progress!

Images via and Cognitive Resonance