The Dublin Marathon takes place this coming weekend, many participants will be returning to this great event and others will be first-timers. Runners from all walks of life will take part for a host of reasons; to raise money for charity, to scratch an item off a bucket list, or purely to test their physical limits. The event welcomes runners of all abilities, a community of runners with a single goal, to run 26.20 miles.

Hitting The Wall

First-time marathon runners are often highly motivated individuals but frequently unprepared for the mental challenges of the event. Pre-race mental preparation can help runners to cope with race situations, in particular, the dreaded “Wall”.

Setanta tutor, John Corr, competing in the 45+ Men’s 200m event during the GloHealth National Master Track & Field Championship 2016. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile.

“The Wall” is a term used by marathon runners to describe a point in the race, usually around 20 miles, when glycogen stores are depleted and the body is required to utilise fat for energy supply. This usage of fat for energy is a slower energy supply process than glycogen conversion and the resulting drop in available glycogen can frequently result in hypoglycaemia “The Wall”. Hitting the wall can be a difficult and a very unpleasant experience resulting in a range of issues including motor control disturbance (deterioration in physical co-ordination), dehydration, nausea, muscle spasms, dizziness, feelings of physical weakness and paraesthesia.

Marathon runners report a very diverse range of experiences and coping strategies when hitting the wall. This indicates the complex nature of the individual runners experience and the complex interactions between the runners’ physiology as well as cognitive and motivational characteristics. Large numbers of runners report using willpower as their major coping strategy, a willingness to persist regardless of physical and mental discomfort.

It would appear that runners might cope best by adopting a variety of strategies in the event of hitting the wall, for example, cramping might be addressed with supplementation as well as a reduction in physical output whereas mental stress might be addressed by a form of positive self-talk or mental reframing. This means that runners, especially first-time marathon runners, might consider in advance of the event some coping strategy should the circumstances require it.

Suggestions for Pre-race Strategy:

  1. Know the race course layout (elevation changes, aid stations, toilets)
  2. Ensure that glycogen stores in the muscles are replete
  3. Have a plan for the timing and type of nutrient intake
  4. Remaining hydrated to facilitate optimum muscle and nervous system function
  5. Correct judgement of running pace is critical, early miles completed at faster than planned race pace and fuelled by race day enthusiasm can create a significant debt to be paid later in the race.
  6. Listen to how your body is responding/performing but not obsessively. Focus on matters important to the marathon, keeping your pace, anticipation of hills whilst routinely checking-in to ensure thirst has not crept up, cramping or dizziness are not beginning and so on.
  7. Use imagery to assist in coping with emotional stress.
  8. Practice visualisation in the days leading up to the event

The very best of luck to all those taking part!

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