Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chicago Marathon: Hitting The Wall (and Breaking Through)

Today, I ran the first run of my taper week, 8.25 miles to the lakefront trail and back. The temps were around 60 degrees and it was windy (as you can see by the sailboat pictures I took this morning). One question I keep asking myself during my runs is, "during the Chicago Marathon, at what point will I hit the dreaded wall, and will I be able to handle it so that I can keep running?" 
Over the Wall to Victory!

Sail Collapse in the Lake - 9/30/12
Collapse Point: Luckily, there is a formula I can do to figure out just when I might hit the wall.  The formula is part of the "Collapse Point" theory. Without going into to much detail, it says, you should have averaged at least 65 miles/week for last 8 weeks before the marathon in order for your "wall" to be at 26.2 miles.  This means you would theoretically finish before you hit your wall.  If you have trained less than 65 miles/week, you can calculate what mile you will hit your "wall." Since I trained less than 65 miles per week, my wall should be just after mile 21.

How far can I go?: However, the Collapse Point formula is a little basic.  I did quite a lot to torture my legs in my marathon training to rely on a quick calculation to determine my collapse point. Realistically, I am betting that since I ran 7 days a week for most of the last 18 weeks, that I can maybe push my legs until mile 23 or 24 until I hit the wall.  For me, hitting the wall has had two meanings: 

  • Laying on the sidewalk along Michigan Ave. for 10 minutes because BOTH of my legs won't move (Chicago '10). 
  • Walking the last 3 miles of the marathon (New York '11) due to leg cramps.
However, this time around, it will be the point where my mind is telling me to stop, even though I actually have enough energy and stamina to pull off a decent finish.

 Breaking Through The Wall: So, how can I handle the wall once I feel I am about to slow down along Michigan Ave.?  Here's a list I came up with:

Will I be able to crest the wall when things get stormy?

#1) Memories: Remember the 117 of the last 126 days that I laced up my shoes and headed out the door sometimes in the oppressive heat, sometimes twice a day, just so the last 6.2 miles of the marathon would be more of a breeze! 
Will I soar like this guy?

#2) Find A Group. Get pulled along by runners that are at a similar pace. Draft when necessary.  Gain confidence when a runner falls out of the group because I am still able to go faster.

Make some temporary running buddies during the Marathon

#3) The Crowd:  Let the cheers of the crowd pull me along. How many times in my life will I have thousands of people cheering me on? The least I can do for them is to pick my head up and move my legs a little faster! Also, I need to eat the sugary/salty things that they are handing out when they offer them.
Let the crowd pull you along....

#4) Run Slowly Early: Aka, run negative splits. One of the most accepted theories of why runners' legs cramp near the end of a marathon is due to too many fast, early miles. Yes, I have a tendency to try and "bank" miles early, and I have proven to myself beyond all doubt this does not work.  As an added bonus: If I run the first 3 miles as a warm-up, the marathon becomes only a 23.2 mile race!

Remember the 100+ solo runs that got me to this point...
#5) Relax and Have Fun: If I am having fun during the final 6.2, the only thing that I will be dreading is the finish line coming too soon! I won't be running another fun marathon until April!

Relax and have fun!
   How do you plan on "breaking through the wall?"


  1. Nice strategies for breaking through the wall! I think having a plan helps SO MUCH! It's silly, but saving a special treat to eat for when I hit the wall helps me.

    And I bet very few people have averaged 65 miles a week to train for the marathon. Not most people I know, anyway!

    1. Thanks. Yes having a plan helps. Good idea about the treat. I need to think of a treat that I can have when I hit the wall. Maybe a piece of sweet chewy candy? :) Reaching 65 miles/week is difficult, and I did not attempt it this time around because I did not have enough time to build up to it. I wanted to make it to this marathon injury-free. Maybe I'll attempt 65/week for my April marathon. Maybe!

  2. I'll need help with that wall too! Find me! lol

    1. It shouldn't be a problem to find you among the 40,000 plus runners! Just hold up your hand and I'll see you! :-)

  3. Wow, 65 miles a week on average for 8 weeks to hit the wall after 26.2!?!?!? Good lord. That's not good at all, I never got anywhere near that level of mileage per week! Maybe every 2 weeks?!?!?

    I'm planning to focus very hard on starting out slowly (although at the end of every long race I always wonder if I've started out too slowly). I actually read someplace that it also helps to speed up to break through the wall. The theory is that your muscles get so used to your normal pace that they get worn out at that level, so if you speed up you utilize your muscles differently and thereby tap into new "reserves." Not sure how realistic it is to put that into practice once you've hit the wall, but it's interesting to consider.

    1. Great tip on running faster to break through the wall. I have also read that an increase in pace when you are struggling does help in races. Also, the collapse point thing is just a guideline of sorts. I'm sure there are lots of runners who don't hit the wall who have trained less than 65/week. Here's hoping that both of us will be in that group as well!

  4. My "wall" is always 21-22 (In my experience) I am hoping that having only run teeny tiny marathons previously, i will be hyper-motivated by the crowds. If not, i just downloaded a bunch of Guns'n'Roses on iTunes.

    1. So, we will be hitting the wall at around the same mile marker! Good call on the GnR download. I will be humming "Welcome to the Jungle" in my head at mile 23!

  5. Great post! I am intrigued by the collapse point wall theory. I must be an anomaly because I peaked at 50 miles and never hit the wall during my last marathon :) it was the most solid focused training I'd ever done for a race so that probably helped me.

    I hope you don't encounter any wall this weekend. Maybe if you don't believe or think about the wall, it won't exist? :)

  6. WoW 65 miles a week?!? I have never hit a wall but maybe soon because I want to run the Chicago Marathon next Fall. I am doing my first half and 10 miler. You will do great!