10 Ways to Overcome the Wall in a Marathon

The Wall - Second Marathon

Saturdays are always incredibly exciting, but today is a particularly thrilling one. Not only am I in New York City doing your typical touristy things, but today is MARATHON EVE. Tomorrow morning I will wake up at the crack of dawn to run my 5th marathon! There are many thoughts running through my head as I attempt to mentally prepare myself to run another marathon. Many of them are excitement, a few of them nervousness, and a couple filled with anxiety. Anxious not about the logistics or event itself, but rather, about the notorious “wall”.

In the past four marathons, I have definitely hit the wall at some point in all of them. However, each of them have been drastically different.

First Marathon:

My first marathon felt like a dream – I didn’t walk once, beat my goal time, and met some amazing people. I remember crying at one point during the race because I just couldn’t believe how many great people there were on the course.

The Wall - First Marathon

Second Marathon:

The second marathon was a completely different story. I ran with my mom, who had a great race, and I unfortunately did not. I walked for many miles, and remember feeling so angry when I should have felt excited –  when we had 6, 5, 4, even 1 mile to go.

The Wall - Second Marathon

Third Marathon:

My third marathon started out as my best one yet, until about mile 18 when I questioned all of my choices and ideas of fun. The first 18 miles were filled with excitement, no doubt the reason I ran too fast. It all caught up with my by mile 18, where I realized that I was completely alone, and wondering why in the world I thought this was a good idea.

The Wall - Third Marathon

Fourth Marathon:

My most recent marathon started out cold and miserable, but quickly turned out to be great. The race took place in October, but it was so cold that it snowed at the start. After a few miles spent warming up, I started to settle into a happy place and felt really strong for the rest of the race.

The Wall - Fourth Marathon

Although all marathons are the exact same distance, each race brings such unique challenges. Challenges out of our control, as well as some that are very much in our own head. I came to New York City this weekend with so much excitement for this race, ready to tackle its obstacles. I know without a doubt that this marathon will be hard, no matter how well or poorly trained I am.

No matter how hard we resist, we will inevitably reach some point along the course where we hit a wall. This wall comes in many forms – sometimes mental, physical, or both. After spending a great deal of time nostalgically reliving my previous marathons, I have created a mental game plan as to how I am going to tackle the wall when I reach it tomorrow morning.

How to Overcome the Wall in a Marathon

10 Ways I Plan to Overcome the Wall in the Marathon

  1. Start fueling EARLY. I always make the mistake of waiting too long to take in fuel, mostly because I am excited and feeling good at the start. The plan is to begin taking shot blocks at mile 6, and alternate Gatorade and water at each aid station.
  2. Start out slowly (aka don’t let excitement get the best of me). The excitement of race day has a terrible way of making me run too fast in the first mile. This race I plan to start farther back than my goal pace group, and focus on the sites and sounds, not speed.
  3. Recite my mantra, “pain is temporary”. I love this because it reminds me that the pain I am experiencing in the moment will not last forever. This is so easy to forget when we are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. I plan to wear my bracelet with this saying and look at it periodically for a reminder.
  4. Be completely present in the moment. This race is completely for fun and the experience, so I want to get the absolute most out of it. I plan to run without music so I can hear the crowds, see the sights, and talk to those around me. The goal is to not miss a single thing while I am running (easier said than done;).

  5. Meet the people around me. So often I get caught up in my own head and forget about those who are around me. Whenever I meet other runners I am always filled with motivation and inspiration, and the continuously warm my heart. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to meet people from around the world who all share a common goal.
  6. Eat two breakfasts – one when I wake up, and one a few minutes before we head into the corrals. Since my corral doesn’t start until 10:40 am but my bus leaves at 6:30 am, I have quite a large gap of time. I want to make sure to fuel myself just as I had practiced during training – which means eating half an hour before I start.
  7. Remind myself that I can walk if I need to. While I have many goals for this race, my ultimate and main goal is just to finish. I know that I can complete the distance, but it may require more walking than I anticipate. If I stumble along the way and really find myself struggling, I’m going to remind myself that I could walk the last 6 miles if I really had to.
  8. Dedicate each mile to a different person or thing. I plan to run this race “for” others, mentally dedicating each mile to a person or cause. That way, when things get hard and I start to struggle, I will remind myself that I need to stay strong for them.
  9. Remember how much work I put into getting here, and the reasons why I started. When all else fails, I like to have a clear vision as to why I am running. At mile 20 of the race, the excitement I felt when I found out that I was accepted is easy to forget when I am in pain. Reminding myself of the “why ” before I start helps keep it fresh during the race.
  10. Smile! Nothing tricks your brain more than forcing yourself to smile.

In just 24 hours I will be on my way to Staten Island along with 50,000 others. I have looked forward to this experience for almost a year and can’t wait to take it all in. New York City has not disappointed so far this trip, and I’m sure the race will exceed my expectations.

New York City – here I come!

How to Conquer the Wall in a Marathon

Overcome the Wall in Marathon

Overcome the Wall in a Marathon or Half Marathon
How to Conquer the Wall in a Marathon
How to Conquer the Wall in a Marathon
How to Conquer the Wall in a Marathon

5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I loved this list! I struggled this summer during one of my half-marathons – hit the wall hard at mile 10 and just focused on finishing. As I prepare to take on a marathon this upcoming summer, I worry about that happening again and love to hear what other people do to combat the mental and physical breakdown. Thanks again!

    1. I’m so glad this was helpful! Hitting the wall is such a struggle with any distance. These things have really helped me on those rough runs! Good luck with your upcoming training, how exciting!! 🙂

  2. Great 10 ideas, #8 is the best and most encouraging, I shall try that.. Thank you so much!

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