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Breaking the Barriers

Breaking the Barriers . . .

Have you ever hit a mileage barrier? You get to a certain distance and it’s like you not only run into the wall, it falls on you?

Well in a race, walls are definitely no fun because if you haven’t prepared for it mentally, the wall can crush your will to run . . . can anyone say “Marathon mile 20” (give or take a mile or two)?

How do you prepare for hitting the wall and then climbing over it and continuing on?

There are two different ideas I want to share. First, let’s talk about training. Hitting the wall while you’re training can be totally frustrating. You want to increase your mileage to let’s say 6 miles, but every time you go out, you barely get to 5 (sometimes less) and the bottom falls out. Could be hydration issues, could be conditioning, could be mental. Here’s a key. Instead of shooting for 6 miles, shoot for 5.1 miles. Maybe even make a planned hydration stop at 4 miles, knowing you’re going to call it a day at 5.1. What you will probably find is 5.1 is achievable . . . you may even find yourself slipping and going 5.2 or 5.3. The following week you extend your goal to 5.2 . . . just a VERY short jump longer than the 5.1. You continue this (adding 1/10th mile a week) until you reach your longer distance goal.

Here’s the deal. Running is a very “mental” sport/activity. Giving yourself an “easy-peasy” achievable goal like 1/10th of a mile farther each week helps you break through barriers. I’ve found myself doing things like this to simply help my mind know that my body can do this . . . and typically I’ve achieved my breakthrough distance within a few weeks rather than months. Now, if you’re in the middle of training for a marathon, this plan probably won’t work well for you as your weekly distances typically go up by 10 percent or more, but if you’re just looking to increase your distance and have become frustrated trying to do so. Give this a shot.

Okay, what to do with the “wall” when in the race. First thing is, do whatever you can to make sure you don’t take off too fast at the beginning of the race, no matter what the distance. In long distance runs, if you go out strong (as in pushing your pace), chances are exponentially better that you’ll finish weak (as in, who replaced my legs with noodles . . . that cramp?). Next thing is, know thyself. If you have a history of struggling at a certain mile point, back off the gas. Too often runners set goals and then let their watch tell them what they should (I need to run faster; I need to run slower) rather than their bodies. So many factors come into a race that watches don’t typically account for: heat, hills, crowding, your physical health, wind, etc.) Sure, in order to achieve certain time goals you have to have a certain pace, but pace should be expected to vary based on the contour and conditions of the course . . . anyway, try to be as objective as you can about the challenges of the course BEFORE you set your goal time for it.

Another trick for endurance runners, if you’re falling flat at a certain mile marker, is to mix it up a bit. Let’s say, you run half-marathons and you are constantly burning out at mile 11. Well, let mile 9 be your “recovery mile.” Purposely take a little longer at that aid station, waaaaaaaalk through it, hydrate well, maybe have some gel or whatever to give yourself some energy, blow out your lungs . . . don't worry about people passing by. Take mile 9 EASY, knowing that mile 10 you go back to work at pace and mile 11, your wall, you’re going to blow that wall down! : ) Yes, you give up a little time over the course of mile 9, but it more than makes up for tanking at mile 11.

I wish I could say there’s a way to engage another fuel tank or get that magical “second wind” on command, but to this point, I have yet to find the right buttons to press for that. But I do think HOPE plays a huge role . . . hope as in “I believe.” I mean, you know that once you see the finish line, all the doubts vanish and you know, you truly believe, you’ve made it — everything gets easier even though moments before you felt like just giving up – belief changes that! So, train properly, run smartly, and believe in yourself and (if you’re a Marathon Mission runner) the person or charity you’re doing this for.

Kathi Barker, Marathon Mission Runner, Breaks Barriers

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