Breaking Through The Wall

The first time I ran a marathon, I hit the dreaded Wall at mile 20 like a ton of bricks. By mile 22 I was ready to give up. Under-fueling played a role in this, but I also struggled to believe that I could actually finish the race. I found myself uncomfortable, isolated and unhappy. Why on earth was I doing this to myself??

Around the 24th mile my boyfriend found me along the course and said I was doing amazing, which was an instant mood booster. Not long after I could start to hear the cheers of the crowd at the finish line. A mental switch flipped, and suddenly I felt excited and happy. I picked up the pace and smiled all the way to the finish! I was elated to have run my first marathon and all of the misery of the last few miles faded away. I was not less tired than I was a few miles back, but optimism and a stronger mind pushed me to the end.

If you have ever run a long distance race, you know that running is just as much a mental feat as it is physical. Looking back, I didn’t entirely understand what I was getting in to. I had completed a 20 mile training run, so what was 6.2 more miles? Now that I understand what it truly means to hit The Wall, I’m hoping to be a little more prepared when I run the San Francisco Marathon next weekend.

Last year at the SF Marathon expo (I ran the half), I picked up a flyer from the JFK University School of Sports Medicine entitled Breaking Through The Wall, which addresses the mental aspect of running and suggests strategies to help cope with the trials of a long distance race:


I loved the advice it offered so much that I kept the flyer, and it has definitely helped me with the mental prep for my upcoming marathon. I read through it every so often to remind myself how to mentally handle the Wall and keep myself moving forward.

“When you feel fatigue during the race, the first step is to accept it and try not to fight it” 

Truth. Trying to fight the fatigue causes unnecessary stress on the body and mind. I fought fatigue tooth and nail in my first attempt at the marathon, and it caused me to feel let down by my abilities and discouraged. I KNOW the SF Marathon is going to be hilly and difficult. I KNOW there may be a moment when I will question my decision to sign up for another marathon. I KNOW it will probably hurt to run at times. Relax and respect the journey!

“Exertion pain means you are breaking into new territory”

Endurance running is not just about exercise-we runners seek something more. We need excitement. We need to explore. We need the challenge. We push our bodies and minds to the limit, and the rewards-that NEW territory-can perhaps only be understood by someone who has completed a long distance run or race.

Next week I will run my second full marathon, and be once again faced with the challenge of upholding a strong mind in the face of adversity.

Nothing in this world worth having comes easy

-from Scrubs



14 thoughts on “Breaking Through The Wall

  1. You’re so right, marathon running definitely pushes your mind to its limit as well as your body. I asked my friends and family to choose a mile so I could dedicate it to them and think about them during that mile. It really helped keep me amused.
    Good luck next week.

  2. That’s brilliant Jamie! Good luck with the marathon – I have a feeling you’ll nail it. It’s a great leaflet, thank you for sharing it. I always break the long runs and races into little chunks, such as running to the next aid station. When things get hard, the chunks might temporarily get shorter. I think it’s so important to really learn that the bad feelings don’t last. As you have experienced yourself, it’s possible to feel terrible at mile 22 of a marathon and be flying again 3 miles later! I do find that smiling makes a huge difference – it’s so simply, but so effective. Finally, I have an “if-then” strategy for when things get really dire. If I ever feel so bad that I genuinely want to stop, I just focus on moving forward for a little while, no matter what the pace. It’s only happened once or twice, but having that strategy certainly saw me through the rough spot. Best of luck again! 😀

    • I’m glad you enjoyed reading it, I figured it was something that every runner could get something out of and relate to! I completely agree on smiling, it is an instant mood elevator, and reminds me to just appreciate the run. I like your “if-then” strategy! Moving forward is key, and letting go of pace and competition for a moment will definitely ease the struggle. Thank you so much, race day is coming up so fast!!

  3. I’ve just got back to running myself, and this is great motivation! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I particularly like the “nothing in this world worth having comes easy” – will definitely be employing this mantra on my next run! 🙂

  4. Those are awesome tips! I am glad you still have the flyer! A marathon is almost all mental. You have done all the work—you just mentally have to get through the race! 🙂 You are going to do awesome! Good luck!!

    • I have the flyer taped to a wall actually! I spent some time last year talking to the Sports Psychology students who gave me this flyer, it was fascinating! Thank you, only 6 more days!! 🙂

  5. What a great flyer! Good luck with your marathon next week – I think you’ll do great. I’m currently training for my first ever marathon and am finding every new longest run such a mental challenge.

    • Thank you!! Running a marathon is SO different than shorter distances. At 16..18..20+ miles, you really start to test yourself, and the mental component is so much more pronounced. Good luck getting through your first marathon training! 🙂

  6. Very true, great words! It’s true. Mile 20 sucks, but it is in our heads, right? Like mile 10 in a half. Or whatever is considered the wall in a 100 mile race. It’s all relative!

    • I think that mile 20 IS exhausting, but it’s how we deal with it that can make or break a race! I’ve heard of people seeing spots and stars in a 100 mile race…is that the wall??

  7. I love passing the half way point of long races because I can tell myself “it’s only five miles” or “it’s only a 5k”. That’s so much less scary than considering the whole thing you’re trying to finish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s