Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sweet Sixteen

The age when little girls become women, the moment when college basketball players’ dreams come true, and the number of miles I must run on Saturday. Sixteen just doesn’t seem so sweet anymore.

It’s only Thursday and I’m already a little anxious for my long run this weekend. I’ve finally reached the phase of training where every long run is a new personal record, and this is scary as hell.

Each new mile comes with equal amounts of satisfaction and struggle. About 75% of the way through a long run, exhaustion and a tenderness in my joints set in. It’s at this point where the intrigue of a new route or the energy of a new song really matter. So far though, this pain and fatigue have been bearable and typical. I’m really starting to enjoy it in a weird, twisted sort of way.

What I am really afraid of is that I’m going to hit the wall soon. Don’t ask me to describe the wall. I’ve never hit it, and a google search returned a bunch of articles which defined it as “indescribable.” Thanks google! That really helps me out.

Biologically speaking, the wall refers to the moment when the muscles run out of glycogen. Glycogen is “calories” stored in your muscles for energy. It’s not fat (sigh, I wish I could run out of fat on my race), but rather energy created from the food consumed within the past few days. There is also a neurological component whereby the brain tells the body to stop sending energy to the muscles to conserve calories to run vital organs. The inexplicable effects include hallucination, numbness, fainting, loss of control over limbs, and delirium, to name a few. All of which lead to the worst symptom of all: quitting.

The wall is rumored to be around mile twenty because the body can typically store about 2000 calories in glycogen and common wisdom assumes that the average runner burns about 100 calories a mile (give or take 20 depending on how fast and big the runner).

Which leaves me where I am today...nervous about Saturday, obsessing over every calorie of food I consume and minute of sleep I catch. I’m compulsively drinking water, generously salting my food, and avoiding walking far in high heels.

But the pain and fatigue doesn’t scare me. What scares me is the when and where of it all. Will I hit the wall and faint in front of a raging cyclist with no time to stop? Or will I become disoriented and get lost in a neighborhood I don’t know very well? Maybe I’ll crash when I’m out of gels and with no store in sight, and maybe my feet will go numb as I’m running across a bridge. But I’m letting my imagination get the best of me. These are worst case scenarios.

I probably won’t hit the wall this weekend or the next few either, but I want to take the time to prepare myself for the moment and perhaps even avoid it completely. By far, the two biggest factors identified in conquering the wall are energy consumption and mental strength. So to fortify my mind, I’m taking up yoga. For my energy consumption, I’m going to add some more whole grains and carbohydrates to my diet. I am also going to try to run faster on my long runs. For a while now, “just finish” has been my motto.

Then finally, I’m going to accept the fact that I’m going to crash into The Wall. It’s not a road block but a rite of passage. It will be the moment when I go from runner to marathoner. After all I didn’t get into this marathoning business to play it safe.

1. Runner's World, "Avoid Hitting the Wall" by Paul Scott,,7120,s6-238-267--11428-1-1X2X3-4,00.html
2. Marathon & Beyond, "Hitting "The Wall"" by Sara Latta,
3. Running Planet, "The Marathon Wall – What it is and How to Beat It" by Rick Morris,

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