All endurance athletes have felt it. Hitting “the wall”. When you reach the point where your body is screaming, your mind is racing with thoughts of stopping, and you struggle to maintain even what feels like a slow pace. At this point, you give all you can to simply not stop, never mind holding pace.
Then, as you are fighting physically and mentally with all you’ve got, and you are grinding towards the finish you suddenly start to feel better. Then feeling better turns into feeling good, and you speed up feeling light and powerful right through the finish line.
Anyone who has ever gone for a run has experienced this burst of energy towards the end and can attest to its existence. However science concludes otherwise.
According to the classic model of fatigue in exercise physiology by A.V. Hill, once a muscle has been depleted, it’s done until it can recover.
So theoretically speaking, once you hit the wall you should be physically incapable of continuing on, and the spurt of energy at the end of a long race is physiologically impossible. But it IS possible. And you know this because you have done it.
So you hit the wall due to fatigue and depletion of energy in the muscles, but then are able to surge at the end, when you should be further depleted? How?
You are obviously not depleted when the dreaded wall shows up. The wall then, is simply a mental block put there by your mind, and fatigue is mostly all in your head. The research of Tim Noakes validates this with the Central Governing Theory. It states that fatigue is a combination of the brain reading various physiological signals and using them to pace the muscles to ensure that nothing in the body gets pushed beyond the normal range.
Setting your “normal” is a choice that’s fully within your control. You decide what normal is. It shouldn’t be easy during the final 15k of a marathon, since there is a lot going on within the body. And that is normal. It would actually be extremely abnormal for there to be no physiological responses at that point. Most athletes only identify feeling good as normal, which leads to an intense mental battle throughout a race. Physically, they are not depleted, but the second they stop feeling good, their mind sends a memo to the body that needs to slow down in order to protect it.
So define your normal. Once you do that, you can push the barriers during training. Practice going beyond your normal, and stay there for a little bitduring each training run. By doing that, you will make your brain familiar with the physiological signals generated by the increase in exertion, and your mind will come to accept it as normal.
As smart as our brains can be, they are pretty easy to trick. So why not trick them into avoiding fatigue and steering yourself right around the wall and towards a few PBs this season.