Walled Out and Bonked?



“Hitting the wall” is also known as “bonking”, and it is that point in your run where running becomes very difficult to do. It is a challenge to continue, both physically and mentally, and probably the only thing that will bring you to cross the finish line is sheer willpower.


What’s really happening?

Your body has a fuel tank to supply you with the energy to run. This tank is made up of fast burning fuel, muscle glycogen; and slow burning fuel, stored fat and carbohydrate. Training and periodization allows your body to use these energy sources efficiently, that is, to cope with the demands of the activity you’re doing. Sometimes, however, especially after a long duration, the activity can be very demanding, and your body may use up the fuel in the tank or it may not be able to produce energy fast enough. That’s how our energy output decreases, and your movements start to slow down rapidly. This is when you “hit the wall”. The feeling is usually that of fatigue, pain and the loss of spirit to continue your run. Therefore, you should try taking these steps to beat the wall:


Put in the mileage

The first step to beat the wall is to train for your run. This goes without saying as with more training, your muscles grow to meet the demands of the sport. An untrained body would not be able to use its energy systems efficiently. This will result in your leg muscles burning up all the fuel too quickly. So, if you have set your sights on a race, have your training plan laid out. Put in enough mileage in your week. Make sure you have enough time to squeeze in long slow distance (LSD) runs at least 2 or 3 times before the actual run event, as these will help improve your muscular endurance. 

Supplementing your running training with some strength and conditioning workouts will prepare you for challenges like running uphill. When your core and lower body muscles are strong enough, your body will run more steadily, so energy can be used more efficiently for running.


Know your pace

As a half or full marathon runner, pace is everything when you run. Some runners get caught up in the excitement and run a little too fast at the beginning. If you start off your run feeling a little less comfortable with your pace, then you should slow it down a little. This is to ensure you reserve your energy to finish the race. Pushing yourself to keep up with your usual pace, or with other runners, will only cause you to deplete your energy tank faster. When running a long distance event like the half or full marathon, it pays to be conservative with your energy output. Anyway, you can always up your pace later in your run if you start to feel stronger.


Hydrate & Recharge

The main reason runners “hit the wall” is because their fuel storage has depleted. Luckily, race organizers today are well-organized and provide plenty of water and isotonic drink stations along the route. In our humid climate, it is critical to stay hydrated so drinking water and isotonic drinks at every station is highly recommended. Some runners don’t want to slow down their pace, so they skip a few water stations. You should do this only if you’re sure you are able to keep your pace going. The electrolytes in the isotonic drinks will help replenish your fuel tank a little bit. To top it up some more, it is recommended to consume energy gels which contain fast absorbing electrolytes for your body to use to produce energy.

A research in Harvard has shown that, assuming you are running at your race pace, your body burns about 1kcal per kg of body weight per km of your run. So a 60kg body will burn a rough estimate of 60kcal per km of running. By the 10km mark, this body would have burned 600kcal, which is already more than half of the energy stored in the muscles of the legs. So, you see, it would make sense to consume isotonic drinks and energy gels to replenish your fuel tank before it is completely depleted. A recommendation from sport scientists is to consume an energy gel before you start and from then, every 45 to 60 minutes of your run to avoid “hitting the wall”.


Play the mind game

Let’s face it, the half and full marathons are a really, really long way to run. There will be a point in time during your race when you will start to feel uncomfortable. The sun will come up, raising the temperature, your shoes will start to become tighter and warmer, your sweat will get in your eyes or you might even experience chafing. These are all bound to happen, and the only thing we can have control over is what we think of it. Beating the wall has a lot to do with beating the little voice in your head that tells you to give up. Shut out the negative thoughts by motivating yourself internally. A little “Come on, Karen!” has always helped me in my runs, and most of the time I say this to myself. Find the words or the things which will give you a reason to continue running, for with every step you take, you’re one step closer to the finish line.

Now that you have these tricks up your running socks, go forth and run that marathon! You will feel a lot more confident in achieving your personal best, knowing how to avoid or overcome hitting the wall.


Karen Siah

Karen Siah is a certified Fitness Coach and Founder of KiaKaha Fitness – a fitness company which provides personal training, group exercise classes and corporate fitness programs. Being the only girl in her family, Karen grew up strongly influenced by her father and brothers who are active swimmers, runners and triathletes. She started as a rhythmic gymnast in school and competed in national gymnastics meets. Now, she is a keen marathon runner and triathlete and has competed in many marathons and triathlons. She has a strong passion for living fit and healthy, and aims to spread the good word of an active lifestyle to the people around her, with hopes of brightening the future for fellow Malaysians through healthy living. Follow her article series in Running Malaysia Magazine for tips and advice on how you can live a healthier and fitter lifestyle. If you have any queries, you can contact her via e-mail at karen@kiakaha.com.my.