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Getting Past the Wall

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8/2/03 

Jeff, don't depend on what you eat or drink during a marathon to get you past the wall! Gels and powerbars certainly aren't "the only way to make it past the 20 mile wall", as you said you have been told. In fact, they play a relatively small role in determining how hard you hit the wall and how well you deal with it.

Sure, you need to stay hydrated (drink water) during the race or you will be in big trouble toward the end....that's a no-brainer. And the sports drinks that first appeared in marathons about 17 years ago....they weren't available for the first 90 years in the history of the modern marathon....do help to further prepare you to deal with the latter part of the race. Do gels and power bars help even more? As you can tell from my previous post, I have serious doubts.

The bottom line, however, is that there is another factor that is of paramount importance in how hard you hit the wall and whether or not you make it past it in good shape. It's the most important variable that determines how well you perform on race day. It is how accurately your race plan and execution reflects your training. Set an unrealistic race goal or run the first miles overly aggressively (too fast) and no amount of water, sports drink, gels, powerbars, oranges, candy, bananas, or any other "supplement" will keep the wall from knocking you on your butt. Nothing will offset the ultimate consequence of running a marathon overly aggressively.

That's why first time marathoners, particularly those who don't have extensive experience at racing shorter distances, are well advised to run the race very conservatively, which should minimize the impact of the wall. It's a good idea to get a marathon or two under your belt before pushing hard enough to challenge the wall. Then you can begin to "fine tune" your race planning and execution to beat, not avoid, the wall. Your optimum marathons will eventually come from hitting the wall hard and still overcoming it by not losing pace. That will take time and experience....it will not come by simply using some kind of supplement. Supplements are aids to, not determinants of, marathon performance. Many, many thousands of runners have made it past the 20 mile wall very well before and since the relatively recent evolution of supplements.

I'm not saying to not use gels and powerbars. Everyone should experiment and determine what s/he is comfortable with. For instance, I experimented with gels on LSD's a few years ago. I saw no difference in how the runs felt and I found them to be a bother to deal with.....which I determined would cost time in a marathon. Therefore, I'm satisfied with using a combination of water and sports drink during a marathon. What I am saying is to not blindly buy into the idea that they are "necessary"....even important....in dealing with the wall. Don't be side tracked. Your race plan and execution, combined with marathoning experience, is much more important.

Jim2