The 'Wall', the 'Pit', and the 'Abyss'. I have never reached the pit, or abyss, but the Wall is the beast Brian and I meet up with at mile 23. Without fail, mile 23 we feel our bodies making the switch. The technical explanation of what your body is doing when you have hit the wall is this -
"Carbohydrates that a person eats are converted by the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage. Glycogen burns quickly to provide quick energy. Runners can store about 8 MJ or 2,000 kcal worth of glycogen in their bodies, enough for about 30 km/18–20 miles of running. Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult at that point. When glycogen runs low, the body must then burn stored fat for energy, which does not burn as readily. When this happens, the runner will experience dramatic fatigue and is said to "hit the wall". The aim of training for the marathon, according to many coaches, is to maximize the limited glycogen available so that the fatigue of the "wall" is not as dramatic. This is in part accomplished by utilizing a higher percentage of energy from burned fat even during the early phase of the race, thus conserving glycogen.
Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels are used by runners to avoid or reduce the effect of "hitting the wall", as they provide easy to digest energy during the run. Energy gels usually contain varying amounts of sodium and potassium and some also contain caffeine. They need to be consumed with a certain amount of water. Recommendations for how often to take an energy gel during the race range widely.Alternatives to gels are solid candy, cookies, other forms of concentrated sugars, or any food high in simple carbohydrates which can be digested easily by the individual runner. Many runners experiment with consuming energy supplements during training runs to determine what works best for them."-wiki
Feel smarter? So it isn't just a myth, or common sense that you are tired after running 20+ miles. There is actually a physical change going on, your body is transitioning where it is pulling fuel from. During that time, your body wants nothing more than for you to stop moving. That's its goal. What tactics will your body use? Cramping, fatigue, hot flashes, feeling flush, sweating more than normal....not just fatigue, as in tiredness, but like moving through water trying to run....your telling your body to keep going, and it's just not moving any quicker. In fact, it feels as if it's actually resisting your forward motion. You feel extremely heavy. Your body is screaming from the inside out, telling you to stop!
In the next 8 months, Brian and I will have the joy of hitting the wall 3 more times. Yes, we ' get to', we look forward to it, we are excited to meet that friend/nemesis that waits at mile 23. Which brings us back around to "why?"
In the words of Scott Dunlap -
"The Wall, The Pit, and The Abyss - What Defines You Lies Just Beyond Each Of These Challenges.
Most people have heard about "The Wall". It's that physical challenge most of us hit around mile 20 in a marathon when your glycogen gets dangerously close to "E" and your body starts messing with you to get you to stop. Cramps, fatigue, twitchiness, fluctuating body temp, and an ego ready to throw in the towel. It's not fun. But in truth, it's a defining part of the marathon experience. When you push yourself through this barrier, moving forward despite everything your body is signaling, you learn to trust your will. You find, on the other side of that wall, that you are far more courageous than you thought. You engage, and build, your character. You finish a stronger person.
In a nutshell, that's really it. What lies beyond the challenge is what defines you. By overcoming your own perceived limits, you face the undeniable truth that you are stronger than you knew, and thus must redefine your self image as a stronger, more capable person. It's not always a conscious thought, but it's always there. It's what gets you to sign up for the next one."
He hit the nail on the head. After watching Biggest Loser Finale last night, I can't help but reflect back on Brian and I. The contestants now get to go out and start living their lives. What are they capable of? What are their limits? What things can they do that they would never have dreamed of? For 10 years, Brian and I pretty much did nothing to challenge ourselves. We were 'comfortable' with our lives, going with the flow, day in, day out. I didn't wonder about things like what's my limit? Or, 'could I ever do that'?I knew the answer was NO. Our biggest challenge was deciding where to go get our next meal. That was our excitement, Jack in the Box or McDonald's, hmm, well, what's in the happy meals? Which toys will the kids like most? Just typing that makes me want to cry, but that's how it WAS.
The how, and why of our changing is for another post. But change we did. That process was one big challenge....but we came out the other side, having "redefined our self image". Our daily challenges now consist of things like, how far do we want to run? What all can you make with eggplant? Do I want to do a fartlek now or after another mile? How much more would I have to train to finish a sprint Tri? When will Brian do a century bike ride?
Every time we go through the training, the process of preparing for and then running a marathon, and we get to mile 23, we are so happy to have been able to even get there, and have the experience of hitting the wall and running through it is a privilege for us, one that even 3 years ago I would have never dreamed was possible for us. So far, the 2 marathons that we have finished, we have come across the finish slightly different people. We are 5 weeks into training for marathon #3, and each training run we do, every mile we log, puts us closer to being able to have that amazingly challenging growth experience at mile 23!
I firmly believe that every finish line one crosses results in growth, and a redefined self image on some level....but again, that's for another post!
So, there you go, a little insight into our "why".