This is what hitting the wall feels like

In one of my last blogs, I wrote about how I wanted to hang out at the wall for a little longer trying to understand this beast and what it’s going to do to my body. I just came back from a long international trip and figured I’ll go for a run to fix my jet lag. Little did I know that I was going to be hitting the wall and it was going to be harsh! I am writing this to remind myself what went on and also how I felt after hitting the wall. Hopefully there’s something to learn from this experience that I apply the next time around.

Hitting the Wall

Hitting the Wall

Hitting the Wall

I first heard about hitting the wall when I started out running just a little over a year ago. A friend of mine was describing hitting the wall as that threshold in a marathon when you cross over 20 miles. My longest run so far has been roughly 18 miles and today, though I didn’t quite plan it that way, was ~22 miles. My plan was simple, head out from home and in 2-miles enter the Stevens Creek Trail. About 3 miles later I’ll approach the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View. From there, I continue on towards Shoreline Lake and enter the dirt trail that whips around the marsh lands and end up in Embarcadero around 11 miles from home. Then loop-the-loop and head back from there. Each of these checkpoints has a water fountain so I figured I wasn’t going to carry water. Just a couple of Cliff Bars with me.

I ran with my Heart Rate Monitor today and kept my pace to ~9:30 minutes/mile with my heart rate never exceeding 160 beats/minute to stay aerobic. This pace is a slower than usual for me, but figured I’ll need to pace myself since this was a longer-than-usual run. Every hour, I promptly wolfed down half of a Cliff Bar and kept this pace until I got to the 11-mile marker. So far, I had run barefoot with my Luna Sandals tucked away into my waist belt. When I came back to the Shoreline Lake (around 14-miles), my feet were starting to feel tired. So got my sandals on at this point and kept pushing. When I reached the Microsoft Campus, with just 5 miles to go, fatigue was setting in. Here’s how it felt:

  • First my gluteus was a little sore and then it was my left knee
  • My feet were begging for a massage and asking me to stop
  • Part of my brain was asking WTF and wanted me to lie down and take a nap
  • There was another part that wanted to take a cab home and call it a day
  • I don’t think I was thirsty since I was sipping water at each of the stations
  • My shoulders felt a little tight though I swear that I was holding a butterfly
  • Chaffing, definitely chaffing though I couldn’t tell exactly where
  • My Luna Sandals felt so heavy that the Vibram sole might as well have been made from lead
  • I was no longer chirpy and smiling and was definitely in an introspective mood
  • Almost three hours into it, I didn’t really feel like eating Cliff Bars anymore, though I’m sure I was hungry
  • The out-of-body part of my brain was smiling with victory assessing the scope of hitting the wall and hoping to learn something from it
White Hawk IPA

Photo courtesy lynnmarie

I walked a bit, stopped by to do some deep squats to relieve my feet and then walked some more. And then kept pushing myself to keep going. Kept trying to breathe in deeply and noticed that my heart rate had dropped to ~150. My pace was slowing down, my posture was looking terrible and I was fading. With 2-miles to go, I did notice something change. As tired as I was, I was getting back some energy to keep going. The gluteus and knee soreness were almost gone and I finally pulled into my home after about 3:30 minutes of running. Hopped on the foam roller, made myself a Chia Fresca and finally had to lie down for a short 15-minute nap. When I woke up, I grabbed a beer and immediately felt a huge wave of relief washing over me. Must’ve been carb depletion. Bottom line really is that Cliff Bars and water don’t work for longish runs. I’m going to have to experiment with Gels, Burritos, Pinole, Electrolytes, Beer, something, anything. I even read that popping a multi-vitamin right before hitting the wall does wonders. I guess I’ll have to try that out next time. And to me carbo loading is great hack that works at mile 20 when you are running a marathon. Not sure that works when you are running distances longer than a marathon (like my Big Basin 50K coming up in June), or does it?

What’s your experience with hitting the wall? What do you carry for food and drinks on these longish runs?

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