Lessons learned – Hitting the wall at the Dublin Marathon 2016

IMG_2247 copy.jpg Looking at this picture, I guess it’s safe to say I finished the Dublin Marathon. It was my second one and I certainly benefited from the lessons learned from last year in Barcelona.  And boy, what did I learn a lot this time about running, preparation and the influence of your ego after hitting the wall really hard.  


The major takeaways when it comes to preparation, next to training properly, were actually shared by a colleague who’s an experienced runner. I am more injury prone than average and this time around it was no different. Unfortunately four weeks before the race I got a lasting injury in my calf and shin splints (but that’s stuff for another blog). I started preparing five days before the race by:

  1. Sleeping at least 8 hours a night, especially the day before the race you probably are not going to sleep well.
  2. Drinking lots of water, so your body is fully hydrated and ready to support you during the race. No alcohol 30 days before to improve speedy recovery of the body.
  3. Increasing the levels of magnesium and vitamin B to support your muscle function and might help you prevent getting muscle cramps early in the race. The supplements from Powerbar helped me a lot. I wish I found out earlier.
  4. Increasing the intake of proteins to help your muscles recover from the training and get at full strength. I increased my daily intake to 1.5 x my bodyweight with a vegan protein.
  5. Daily 15 minute stretch routine and ‘massage’ the calves, hamstrings and full back with a foam roller to loosen the tight trigger points in your muscles that have been built up during the training period.

Hitting the wall and how to go through it

The common idea is that you hit the wall around 20 miles into the race because your body doesn’t have any glycogen left and is switching to other sources such as fat and partly the energy from the gels or drinks you might have consumed. I like to break down a marathon in three stages:

  1. The first 10 miles to find your place in the group, choose a race pace and balance inwards monitoring with outwards monitoring. I’ll come back to this essential part when the wall is closer.
  2. Secondly the 20 mile mark; between 10 and 20 the race changes from comfortable to feeling pain (hamstrings, calves or knees) and your ego starts telling you stop, basically the wall is getting closer. It is here where you need to determine which voice is the strongest and adapt for the last miles.
  3. The last 6.2 miles; where for most runners the race switches from physical to psychological.

Inward and outward monitoring

The biggest lessons from this race was the concept of inward and outward monitoring. Inward monitoring can best explained as checking in with your body (e.g. am I thirsty, hungry or do I feel pain) and outward monitoring as things that are going on in your surrounding (e.g. cheering people, the sun or thinking about crossing the finish line). The first 10 miles the adrenaline kicks in (reducing the need for inward monitoring), you notice the trees and the cheering people, everything is great. There is probably no need to check in with your body.

However things start to change between the 10 – 20 mile mark. Your body wants energy, in my case my calf injury started sending pain signals and your ego starts questioning the reasons and tells you it’s ok to stop. You shift focus from all the positive around you to inward self-analysis. Basically magnifying all the (small) things you experience within yourself.

‘You have been through this before and you know what to do, break that race down in small parts, finish and forget about the time. Enjoy!’

I remember at the 19/20 mile mark I consciously decided to slow down to stay in control to finish approximately in 3h35m. At mile 22 all of sudden my calf snapped and I had to stop, I could not hear the people cheering but only felt the pain and my ego screamed ‘STOP’. That’s hitting the wall. I called Wendy and shared that message. She would not hear it and said there is a first aid around the corner, go there. This was the best outward stimulation I could get. And she said; ‘You have been through this before and you know what to do, break that race down in small parts, finish and forget about the time. Enjoy!’. I snapped out of inward monitoring, walked a bit and start noticing the surrounding and I heard the cheering from the crowd again.

How did it finish?

I had to get a massage at mile 24 to fix my calf. After 10 painful minutes, cursing in three languages and biting myself to ease the pain I was back in the race. Luckily a colleague came by and provided me with much-needed outward motivation. Time to break the ego and cross that finish line. I learned if I listened to myself I would have stopped, but the mind is capable of finding a bit more motivation to push you forward, I just had shift attention from inward to outwards for the final miles.


What am I going to do differently?

I am going to do a new gait analysis to figure out which shoes support optimally to reduce tension in the body. Going to a sport masseuse earlier in the training to release lactates and improve the strength in my calves and most importantly after every long training (plus 15 miles) analyse the inward and outward thought process, let my ego have a say and start ‘lying’ to myself to change the bodily expectations and my mindset to break through the wall (at a slower pace probably). Eventually what you think you become.. And I like to think I can accomplish what I set out to do.

What’s next?

Next stop and the boldest goal I have ever set for myself when it comes to running; Marathon des Sables in 2018, can’t wait! Maybe I should write regularly about that process..


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