With Columbus Marathon less than 6 days away I’m going to talk about how you can avoid hitting the wall.

My two fastest marathons, 3:21:05 and 3:23:43 are the only two marathons I felt that I properly executed pacing, eating and hydrating during the race. It is no surprise that these are the two marathons out of 16 where I did not hit the wall.

If you start out too fast in a marathon, even just the first mile, it is a mistake you can not recover from. You can not get your pace under control and expect the last miles of the race to feel good. Most likely you will feel like death, as if there are 50 lbs weights on each foot. You will wonder how it is possible to move so slowly when you felt so great the first 20 miles. The first 20 miles of a race are easy compared to the last 6.2.

Some of the best advice I have ever been given about racing the marathon is this:

The marathon is a 6.2 mile race that you run after you do a 20 mile warm up. If you go slow the first miles – you will be able to run fast the last miles. I’m going to use one of my long runs this cycle as an example of how this works.

My first mile was a comfortable 9:29 which allowed my body to finish mile 24 at a 7:21 pace.

The second and third worst mistakes you can make in a marathon, is not eating or drinking enough and not doing it soon enough. Starting to hydrate after mile 5 or eating after mile 8 just won’t cut it. When you start to feel like you need a gel/gu/blok it’s probably already too late. Drink before you are thirsty, eat before you need energy. Often people complain about a sloshing tummy from drinking too much – it’s not really that you drank too much it is that you didn’t do it soon enough. so your stomach starts to essentially shut down. Our body tries to protect us from ourselves. When it wants us to stop and slow down it will stop at nothing to try to make us do so.

When you eat during a marathon, always make sure you follow it with water. Your body can only digest the energy if taken with water. Don’t drink with it and your body literally pulls the water away from other areas of your body, and so begins the dehydration process. Even slight dehydration can have an effect on your race performance.

The trick in the marathon is to keep your body hydrated, fueled and happy so it keeps moving at the pace you want it to.

Coach George of Capital Area Runners is my go to guru for all things racing. When I was a 3:59 marathoner he believed I could be faster – MUCH faster. It came as no surprise to him when I ran a 3:36 only 6 months after having my 2nd baby. I listen to everything he says. Well almost. He thinks I run too many marathons, I agree with him, but don’t want to stop. I’m STUBBORN.

I’m reprinting some of his advice here with permission. If you want to learn more about his coaching services or group visit www.capitalarearunners.com

Manage Your Marathon!
Many marathoners fall into the trap of believing that hitting a wall late in their race is inevitable. That mistaken belief is what drives them to set out at a pace that they can’t possibly sustain for the entire marathon. The logic they use is that if crashing and burning near the end of the race is an inescapable fate, then they might as well put as much “time in the bank” as possible before they reach that point. However, if you manage your race properly, there is nothing inevitable about a late-race collapse.

Runners hit walls in marathons because they make mistakes. Those mistakes are usually some combination of pacing errors, combined with a bad hydration/nutrition plan. If you set out at an unreasonably fast pace early in your race and run yourself into oxygen debt, your body’s ability to efficiently metabolize glucose to produce energy for your muscles becomes severely compromised. Going out too fast will result in you running out of energy long before you would if you were to start at a more moderate pace. Even if you do pace yourself correctly, your body can only store enough glucose in the form of glycogen to get you through approximately 20 miles worth of running. Because of that, it is absolutely necessary to be eating during the course of a marathon to replace the glucose that your body is burning while running. Similarly, you’ll be sweating during your race and steadily depleting your body’s water stores, so it is important to be drinking fluids at every opportunity along the course. If dehydration begins to set in, your blood will thicken, making it more difficult to pump, which will compromise your body’s metabolic processes.

Any one of the above pacing, eating or drinking mistakes can result in the late stages of your marathon turning into a very painful experience. Combine 2 or more of those mistakes during your race, and things will turn extraordinarily ugly for you. But the good news is that you can control your late-race fate simply by paying attention to managing your race properly and avoiding making mistakes. Start slowly early in your race and focus on keeping “energy in the bank” as opposed to trying to put “time in the bank”. Pay attention to doing some carbo loading in the days leading up to your race, have yourself a good pre-race meal about 2-3 hours before the start, and make sure that you’re eating a gel or some other nutritional supplement every 40-45 minutes during your race. Stay well hydrated in the days leading up to your race and grab some fluids at every water stop, even if you’re not yet feeling thirsty. Runners who employ some clear-headed race management skills will always have a huge advantage over those who get caught up in the excitement of the moment and let their exuberance force them into race day mistakes.
Like mommy like daughter – I’ll be nuun’ing it up all week!

Questions? Who’s excited for race day?


  1. Miss Erosion says:

    I wish I would have read this before my marathon. I will def. be implementing this advice on my next race. Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Good luck this weekend! Can't wait to track both you and your mom!

  3. Great, informative post…and good luck this weekend!

  4. Rachel McPhillips says:

    This is awesome advice!! I'm so glad you posted this! Good luck this weekend!

  5. This is all SO TRUE! I read way too many race reports where people go out too fast, or try to start at their goal pace and end up bonking. Good luck this weekend and run a smart, fast race!

  6. Lauren @ The Running Cook says:

    Thank you for the info! This is one of my biggest concerns for my upcomming first marathon. I'm so worried that I will get caught up in the excitement and start out to fast and I'm also worried that time will go by faster than I think and I will forget to eat something every 40 minutes (which is what I have been doing in training and it has worked great…but I sometimes forget even then!!). Any tips on that?

    Good luck to you in your marathon this weekend! You are such an inspiration and I always love reading your blog.

  7. Shellyrm ~ just a country runner says:

    Great post! I agree that it is the days before the marathon, not just the day before. Your diet carb heavy for at least several days and your sleep needs to be a little longer a few nights prior too. We all know little rest is gotten the night before the race.
    Also, if as a racer you find you comitted the sin of starting too fast, don't throw the entire race away thinking you WILL hit the wall. Adjust your pace as soon as you realize you've done it and get right back to your race plan.

  8. Excellent advice. I believe that the "wall" is something everyone talks about so much, that they just start to believe its inevitable. If you are well-trained, and race smart (ie. even/negative splits) there is no reason you should fall apart at 20 miles! THERE IS NO WALL!!! :-)

  9. Nicole Wagner says:

    I loved this post! all great advice! thankyou!!! so…I'm probably not the only one who wants to know…what is your pacing strategy? I'm curious to know if someone has a goal say for an overall 7:15 average…what does he say to start off at???

  10. I really appreciate the posted advice. I'm going for the OTQ in six weeks in my very first marathon (a pretty big feat, I know) so I'm trying to absorb as much information as possible to feel 100% prepared. Love your blog – keep it up! Go Saucony Hurricanes :)

  11. I needed to read this. I'm doing my second marathon this coming sunday. I'm starting to feel a little anxious. Your so right I got caught up in all the excitement and my pace was way to fast for the first half . I started to feel the very tired around 18 miles, than at mile 22 miles, I was thinking I'm ready for this to be over with. I kept plugging away and got to the finish line. I learned a lot that day. So thank you for all the good advice. It will be fresh in my mind come sunday. Good Luck to you on Sunday too.

  12. This is an awesome post. I sooooo agree with how going out too fast leads to paying for it at the end. BTDT!!!!

  13. Great post! Very informative. I especially LOVE the quote- "The marathon is a 6.2 mile race that you run after you do a 20 mile warm up." I have not heard that one before but will keep that in mind as I continue my training.

    Good luck this weekend! I know you will FLYING!! :-)

  14. Great advice from our great coach!! Good luck this weekend, you are going to do amazing!!! I'll be cheering you from home!

  15. amyfinishingstrong says:

    I'll be running the Columbus Half! Maybe I'll see you there! I'm sure you'll rock it! :)

  16. Kristin Miller says:

    THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS! I'm loving your blog. I have my first 20 miler this Saturday, and my first marathon (NYC) November 6! GOOD LUCK on your marathon! You give me hope for when I have kids that I can still keep running!

  17. Really good information here.

  18. Great information! I always have a lot of trouble with my tummy on long runs. I started to drink a little every mile and cut down my fuel (small amounts, but more often) and I felt awesome! Fueling and running the right pace is so important! With those little changes I avoided hitting the wall at marathon #2 and PR'ed by 33 minutes!! :)

  19. running4thereason says:

    This is great advice, thank you! I am running my first marathon this Sunday so this is perfectly timed. Best of luck at your marathon, too, looking forward to reading all about it!

  20. Run with Jess says:

    Excellent post!

  21. Suz and Allan says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I will definitely be coming back to this post in the future!

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