When the wall suddenly appears

Running is a fickle beast. It teases, it tempts, it lures, it invigorates and … it punishes.

The Mt. Washington GutBuster trail run was a ton of fun. The course changes every year mostly due to snow conditions and weather. We initially expected a 6 km race up to the summit of the mountain. Fog had been rolling in quite heavily the past few days and rain was intermittent. The course became an up and down -with the ascent being only 2.5 km and the descent shortened- for a total run distance of 4.6 km. Regardless of length, it was hard and straight up (hands and feet scramble) for most of the ascent. There was a lot of single-track: it was suggested that we find our place amongst the competitors in the first few hundred meters of the course because once we hit the single track there was no passing. It was lots of fun, a great challenge to my fitness (which I was pleased with) and a happy way to finish. It was over before you could register you were in pain.

The course was basically straight up the mountain, between two chairlifts (you can faintly see the blue pillars of the other chairlift on the left). Run past the fog, scramble to the top and then run back down. As fast as you can, of course.

Heading up.

Final scramble ascent. Steep and rocky. The white and colored dots are people.

A long line of scramblers, all the way up. You can see some people higher up in the fog.

Always check the high-tech barometer before embarking on any adventure.

The next day I went out for my group long run of 19km. This was a very hilly route and a bit faster pace, given the “short” distance. I fared fairly well, given the race the previous day. Racing the previous day didn’t make me feel sore or stiff or exhausted, it just felt as though I had done something. Plus we drove there and back (4 hours each way) within 24 hours. It was a lot for such a short race. We ran along two very rolling roads and then hit a few good steep hills. I managed this, but in the last 6 km could feel my energy fading. Once we hit about 17 km, I needed to take walk breaks. My body was done, my tank was empty and I had hit my wall.

My wall was certainly not this bad, but you get the idea. Look at the second guy’s rubber legs. Ouch.

The wall in running is when the stores of glycogen in your liver and muscles are depleted so much you cannot continue. Runners use gels or other carbohydrate-based supplements to maintain the levels of glycogen that your body needs to sustain the activity and your energy levels. If you can replenish glycogen as it is burned you can usually keep activity levels up and reduce the chances of being overcome by fatigue and running into the sudden wall.  The wall can feel like your legs are leaden and heavy, an elephant has tagged along for the ride, an anchor has been cast out and your thoughts can be fuzzy and incoherent.

I walked/ran for about a km. I wasn’t in pain, or limping or needing to walk all the way back; I just needed to rest my brain and my body because everything wanted to stop. It wasn’t far to tip over the edge when I was already leaning that way. I think I was partially dehydrated and I know I didn’t eat enough during the run. Once you hit that point it’s very hard to quickly replenish enough to continue at the same level. You are too far depleted to simply get back to where you can sustain. It’s a strange sensation when you really do have to fight the urge to stop. It wasn’t a race, so my finishing time didn’t matter. I took it more as a training experience for what to expect in a race should this actually happen. It’s really a lesson in talking yourself out of what you are feeling. Mind over matter, brain over body. The lesson in this for me is to eat at regular intervals and keep eating, no matter if I am feeling good.

I finished my run with another sense of accomplishment, though not the same elation as the day before. It was time to go home and eat and drink and try to regain some of my lost energy. Tomorrow is another day.

Enjoy your pain, you’ve earned it.

*Have you ever hit the wall running? What do you think about when you are too tired to keep going?  Do you prefer trails or pavement running?

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8 thoughts on “When the wall suddenly appears

  1. I curse the wall. I’m usually able to push through it but then I’m sick (stomach, chills, etc.) for the next day or so. I’m finally dialing in my hydration and nutrition to where I can keep going without side effects. The amounts my body seems to want are much higher than I expected. Good to know:)

  2. Pingback: Lift your sole: Project Talaria « iRuniBreathe

  3. Very, very impressive, especially considering your next day’s long run. I certainly felt all my tanks empty on yesterday’s 20 mile trail run. Even walking the last two miles took more effort than I imagined. I had to use a lot of self-talk to make it to the end.

    • Thanks for all your comments! And for reading!
      The long run after the race was “only” 19km (12 miles), but it was a fast and hilly one. I was pretty tired and hit my own wall. Good experience thoughts it refreshed the importance of hydration and nutrition.

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