Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Wall

During a run a couple weeks ago a friend who recently completed her first half marathon asked me about "The Wall".  What is the wall? Have you hit it? How do you get through it?  I tried to explain what I thought "The Wall" was and I realized something. There are actually three walls. One is at the top of the list of greatest rock albums ever. The other two are just as well known in endurance sports but not nearly as popular.

Scientifically Speaking
The wall by technical definition is a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifest itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy.  While most of us experience some version of this at some point while exerting maximum effort, I do not believe most of us truly hit an impassible physical wall. Physical pain and discomfort? Yes. Impossible to conquer? No.

I think this video accurately demonstrates what "The Wall" is (physically). Certainly famous I would say among endurance athletes, in 1997 at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham have given it all they have and their bodies are totally depleted of all energy as they crawl to the finish line in a courageous battle for 4th and 5th place.

Reality Check
Endurance sports hurt, plain and simple. Nothing scientific here, just reality. Run long enough and hard enough and it hurts. The wall for most of us is brought on by physical pain and/or other discomfort within our bodies. The intensity or severity of this however is most often all in our minds in my opinion. That is not to say the pain is not there, it is. What I am saying is, it's how we interpret the pain and deal with it that is within our control. This is our reality check. Give into it, or embrace it.

As the pain grows and the self doubt creeps in, you have hit the wall. Perhaps more specifically you have entered the point in time when rationalizations and decisions determine the outcome of your adventure.  Hitting the wall is a mental state where we need a bit of a reality check. A time to determine what is really going on and a chance to make choices.  For me "The Wall" is defined by the thoughts and questions that go through my mind to remind me it is decision time.  Decision time is when we need to decide if we want to continue to suffer.  Here are many of my thoughts when I begin to struggle:

  • What the fuck was I thinking!
  • Is my foot broken? It must be because anything that hurts this bad must be broken.
  • I wish I could just sit down for 2 minutes.
  • I am such an idiot.
  • How the hell am I going to do this?
  • I am not feeling so hot.
  • Oh please don't let this happen, just keep going......

The wheels are coming off and it's time to embrace the pain. I think this quote from the movie "The Runner" says it best.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."


  1. The wall hurts like hell!
    every step you take hurts, but you have to blast through it and keep on moving.

  2. Eric, are you running any 100's this year?

    1. Hey Will...Yes, I am running the TARC 100 (its first year) outside of Boston in June. Not sure if I will do any other official 100s but of course I have my solo 48 Hours In The Park run in September to benefit the MMRF. How about you? E

  3. There will be these barriers all the time that will stop you from getting into the finish line. It is either you jump over it or circle around it. The road to success is not supposed to be straight and easy anyway.


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