Normally associated with the marathon (but can occur in any longer race), 'hitting the wall' is a rite of passage for many runners. Everything can seemingly be going OK: you've done the miles in training, practised necking gels and worked out a pacing strategy that has you crossing the finish line in a new PB. Then, bang! It all seems to crumble around you.
Console yourself in the knowledge you are not alone in this suffering. A new study aims to shed some light on the why, who and when of hitting the wall.
Fast or slow – who suffers most?
Faster runners, which is a bit counterintuitive. You might expect that they have less time to lose. However, the data, courtesy of Barry Smith of University College Dublin, shows the opposite. ‘Faster runners are associated with higher costs when they hit the wall,’ he says.
When are you most likely to hit the wall?
Both men and women are most likely to hit the wall in the three years prior to their marathon PB effort. Why? This is the period where you are improving, pushing your limits, but haven’t yet mastered the distance. During this three-year period, 40 per cent of men are likely to hit he wall versus 28 per cent of women.
What constitutes hitting the wall?
In trying to establish how many runners hit the wall, Smyth set up the following definition. He looked at runners’ splits from 25km to the finish (42.2km) and compared them with their splits from 5km to 20km. Runners who slowed by at least 20 per cent for at least 5km late in the race were adjudged to have hit the wall (HTW).
Men vs Women
The six 6 majors
What can we learn from this?
The reasons for hitting the wall are similar for men and women, the fast and the slow: not enough training, poor pacing during the race, failure to fuel and hydrate properly. ‘Runners and coaches have the potential to impose some level of control on whether a runner will hit the wall by focusing on making better decisions,’ says Smyth.
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