Ask A Marathon Mommy: The Wall


Last Saturday, I ran 18 miles. I finished the entire run, but it wasn’t pretty. The last couple of miles in particular were quite rough. I was in pain. Everything from the waist down was aching. My hips, my knees, my calves, my ankles, my feet. Even, mysteriously, my pubic bone. Everything. My fabulous pace group leader, Mercedes, practically had to hold my hand as I muttered expletives under my breath for the last half mile. I’ve heard lots of talk about this thing called “hitting the wall” or “bonking,” and I wondered if this was it.

So I did some research. Here are some of the descriptions I found online:

“Hitting the wall is basically about running out of energy.”

“When your body stalls mid-run, it’s called bonking.”

“The wall is the point in the marathon when a runner’s glycogen (stored energy) within the muscles is depleted, forcing him to slow down his pace considerably, sometimes to a walk.”

I also learned that about 40% of marathon runners hit the wall and that it typically occurs somewhere around mile 20. This is because the average runner burns approximately 100 calories per mile, and around the 20-mile mark of the marathon about 2,000 calories of glycogen fuel have been exhausted. “This can result in an overwhelming feeling of heaviness in the legs, a lack of concentration and even feelings of outright despair.” Yikes.

My dad, a runner for almost 50 years, put it quite simply: “You’ll know it when it happens because it will feel like you can’t put one foot in front of the other.”

So in conclusion? Nope. I didn’t hit the wall. I was just experiencing a whole lot of pain. I mean, I ran 18 miles, for Pete’s sake. Who wouldn’t feel some pain after that?

But I also learned that “hitting the wall” or “bonking” is a very real thing that may be avoided with the proper training and preparation. And I would really like to avoid this wall, because it doesn’t sound like much fun! How am I going to do that? More on this next week. Happy trails, friends.

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Sharon is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a background in mental health, substance abuse, and child welfare.

“I tried my hand at being a work at home mom, but in 2009 I decided that being a stay at home mom is what works best for me and my family, at least for now. As my kids like to say, I’m “The Boss” of the family, which includes my husband of 9 years, two daughters (ages 4 and 6), and a giant goldfish named Princess Leia. My girls are beautiful and curious and wild and exhausting, and life is never, ever dull! I love reading, traveling, trying new restaurants, and shopping for bargains. I’m also training to run my first marathon in February 2013.”

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