Methods of Hitting the Wall

Race Advice


Recently someone posted a question in our Facebook group about their experience bonking during their first marathon.

His question was based around nutrition. Specifically stating this his seemed to have failed him at mile 18, and he was on the search for alternatives to the gels he used.

My first question to him was, “why do you think your nutrition failed you?

He stated that around mile 18 or 19 he hit the wall.

I suspected other factors were at play here. We continued the discussion. Below, I’ve laid out the three main factors that I feel cause runners to hit the wall, during a marathon.

1) Going Out Too Fast

Nothing can save a runner who goes out too fast during a marathon. American marathoner Laura Kleppin describes her recent 2015 Tokyo Marathon as “I went out too fast. The last 10k was the longest of my life.

A safe recommendation is to aim for 5-15 seconds slower per mile than goal pace for the first 10-13 miles, and ramp it up from there. Runners Connect suggests viewing a marathon as a long run plus a 10k race effort.

2) Not Training at Goal Pace

If you have a goal pace in mind, you must spend time running near goal pace during training. The golden rule of coach Renato Canova is to gradually extend the distance you run at race pace, during training. This means starting out with a few miles at goal marathon pace, but gradually extended that until 3 weeks before the race you may run 25km at goal pace.

Developing specific endurance is very important, this is the ability to resist fatigue at goal pace. Doing workouts both at 90%, 100%, and 110% goal pace can help with this!

3) Inadequate Fueling

It has been my experience that many people under-fuel during a marathon. Going without a specific fueling strategy for a race may leave your tank dry at the end. A recent study found that a fairly specific strategy of three gels per hour with water was superior to going into the event without a plan for getting in calories.

Practice fueling (this can include all food 12 hours before the run start) during your long workouts before race day. Be mindful of what works and what does not!


It turns out he did go out faster than he should have, sticking with a couple experienced long distance runners. Chances are he probably could have taken in a few more calories as well, but again, he still would have likely struggled in the final 10k from his initial speed.

In your experience, what other practices help or hurt a marathon performance?

You may also like: Real Food Supplementation / Why People Slow During a Marathon

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