Week one of my marathon training cycle, I remember it like it was yesterday. Picture my fresh legs, big dreams, and heart full of joy and happiness. I couldn’t wait to get started on my path to dominate my next marathon, so I started my training a day early. As I looked ahead on my training calendar, eighteen weeks seemed like an eternity. Naturally, the mileage and big workouts deep into the plan intimidated me, but I figured by then, that would all be a piece of cake. Just one week at a time, right?
Thirteen of those weeks later, here I am. Picture a shell of my former self. I can only describe what I’m experiencing in terms a marathoner can understand; I have hit The Wall and I’ve hit it hard. That’s right, my friends! The wall isn’t just an experience you get to endure at mile twenty-ish of your marathon. If you’re anything like me, you may be hitting a wall somewhere around three-quarters of the way through your training cycle.
Sounds terrible, right? Well, it is a little terrible, but there is hope. Here’s how to know if you’ve hit the marathon training wall and some tips to get to the other side!
Symptom #1: Your energy is zapped. Nada. Gone on vacation.
Remember when you could stay awake without that afternoon coffee? Do you recall the desire to go out and do things with your friends? If you’re anything like me, after a few weeks of pretty heavy mileage, the cumulative fatigue starts to get the best of you.
The Fix: It’s important to focus on self-care as best you can during these exhausting weeks, as sometimes this exhaustion can be a sign of overtraining, or at the very least, a sign to give yourself an extra rest day if need be. Other ways I manage the fatigue are by taking the occasional power nap or planning my runs to allow myself a solid night of sleep. I used to be an early morning weekend runner because I liked the feeling of having my long run finished by 8am, but this training cycle I’ve let myself sleep a few extra hours and am starting my weekend runs a little later. The additional sleep has made a huge difference in my energy level!
Symptom #2: So hungry!
And yet, making that well-balanced healthful plate of food seems like so.much.work. (see above). This is the time in my training cycle where my nutrition focus seems to waver a little. Once so enthusiastic about eating the correct amounts of carbs and protein to fuel myself efficiently, I find myself getting a little lazy. When I hit the wall, I’m not feeling the greatest probably because I haven’t been fueling myself as well as I had been at the beginning.
The Fix: This is a great time to shake things up nutritionally. There are some training cycles where I find I’ve been eating too much for my activity level, but it’s just as easy to under-fuel if you don’t adjust your nutrition as your mileage ramps up. I always feel better when I’m eating better and having some new foods and recipes to look forward to helps me shift back into a good pattern of nutrition. My longest runs are still ahead of me, and I’ll feel much more prepared if my body has premium fuel. (I just came to realize that Starburst Jelly Beans, while delicious, are not a great source of fuel. So sad.)
Symptom #3: So thirsty!
Your pee is darker, your skin feels drier, your lips are chapped and yet, you’re sick of chugging water and would rather go for an iced latte or glass of Pinot. Maybe because the fatigue is catching up to you, but when you find yourself swapping out water for caffeinated beverages, you might be exacerbating chronic dehydration, which will make you feel more tired, thrusting you into a vicious circle and straight into that wall.
The Fix: Drink more water! Do it! Now! I don’t need to spend a lot of time preaching about the benefits of good ol’ H2O, right? We all know it’s good for us. Don’t be lazy like me. Drink more water! (As soon as I’m done with this cup of coffee, I will too.)
Symptom #4: You feel crazy
The wall makes us think crazy things. The wall wants us to think everything is impossible! That goal pace that once seemed so doable a few months ago is suddenly terrifying. My training plan doesn’t have me doing any 20 mile long runs and while I was totally on board with this in January, now I start to question if it’s right.
The Fix: First b-r-e-a-t-h-e and then remember it’s normal to doubt, but to keep the faith. Remember when you used to tell yourself to trust the process? There is truth to that. You probably spent a great deal of time planning your training goals well before your training officially began. Back when you were clear-headed and full of energy, you came up with this plan for a reason. Don’t let the wall tell you that you can’t do this. You can do hard things!
Symptom #5: Everything hurts!
Runners fall on a wide continuum of injury. Some magical unicorn runners make it through life with nary an injury. Most runners, however, will have some level of pain or injury over the course of their running career. Injury or not, by this stage of training, your body is probably feeling the hundreds of miles in some manner. This is also about the time that every little ache or twinge sends me right over the edge to Panic Town, USA. I’ll admit it, last week when I had a singular tight tendon for 24 hours I was on the phone with my chiropractor and worrying that absolutely certain DISASTER struck.
The Fix: Spoiler alert: I’m okay. But, this is a good reminder to do what we need to do to recover properly in-between hard training days (Seriously. Just 10:00!). Injury very well could happen, but we can do things to protect against them. Also, when we train hard, something is bound to hurt at some point. The trick is to accept this while being smart and knowing when to back off and when to keep that faith that a little niggle is part of the process. But if you’re finding your pain is localized and not improving, you need to consider that you might be injured. If you’re feeling sore all over, take a rest day or two or, at a minimum, push off your harder workouts until you feel better.
Symptom #6: Someone tell me I’m awesome!
When I’m at The Wall, everything feels so complicated. I want to give up. I might feel so overwhelmed that I cry when the kids start fighting at the end of a long day and go lock myself in the bathroom with my cats and a bowl of malted Easter eggs. I feel like a failure on all fronts.
The Fix: When you’re too tired to pep talk your way through all of this, you need your people to remind you of your sheer awesomeness and strength. Now is a great time to talk with your friends, family, and fellow runners about these things. There have been more than a few times lately where I’ve turned to fellow Salties for encouragement and support. I really am lucky to have friends to cheer me on and remind me I can race this marathon. I gotta keep the faith.
Sometimes, it really is about going back to the basics, being kind to and taking care of ourselves. Training is emotionally and physically exhausting, but pushing through these hard times is a vital element to our training.
Do you find yourself hitting the training wall on the way to your race? What do you do to push beyond it?