Monday, 19 July 2010

The Wall

75 days until the Loch Ness Marathon


After the Maddy Moss hill race on Wednesday (last post), I took Thursday off.

On Friday, I did my “town” loop of 5.4 miles after the children were in bed. I was a little tired, but it felt good work out some of the stiffness from the race.

On Saturday, I mowed the lawn, which involves a bit of effort because our yard is on a signficant slope. I also chased the children around the garden, dropped off the hedge clippings at the dump, and did various jobs around the house. So, when I came to run in the late afternoon my legs didn’t feel too fresh. I did a warmout half-mile with my daughter, who rode alongside on her bike. I then did my “hilly” loop of 6 miles or so. I’m calling it 6.5 for the whole thing.

On Sunday, I went for a walk in the morning with my wife and children. We went to a nearby wood where there’s a river and a small cave. The cave is called Wallace’s Cave, as, presumably, William Wallace (Braveheart) hid here at one time. I’m somewhat suspicious of this, as every cave seems to be a place where Wallace hid, but I haven’t looked into it exhaustively.

I build a small fire near the river, which the children enjoyed adding sticks to. All told, the walk might have been 2-3 miles. Suprisingly, I felt a bit tired after this.

After lunch, a rest, a play with the children in the back yard, and their baths, I was o.k.’d to depart for my long run by my wife.


My goal was to do the town loop three times. Each loop is 5.4 miles; the total is
16.2. I’d done this the weekend before – I was hoping I’d feel a bit stronger this week.

The first loop was fine. I had some stiffness, but this seemed to work itself out as I warmed up.

It was warm, for Scotland, about 20c, or 70 degrees. It was also humid, and sweat dripped down the side of my face.

The loop goes through a nearby neighbourhood, around a loch, on the other side of which is the ruins of a castle. My route then follows a road through some countryside, and then goes back through the main street in town.

I hid a running bottle of gatorade in the bushes near the start of the loop. After my first loop, I drank nearly half of this.

The second loop was good. I was loose now, and when I got to the countryside, the tarmac underfoot felt good.

I told my wife I’d stop at the supermarket at the end of the run to pick up some cold-cuts, bread, and fruit for the children’s lunches the next day. The supermarket is near the end of the loop, and closes at 8 p.m. on Sundays. It was 7:11 when I arrived at near the end of the second loop, and I figured that waiting until the end of my third loop might be cutting it close – each loop taking 42-45 minutes.
So I stopped my watch, and picked up some groceries.

I then completed the half-mile of my second loop, running with a plastic grocery bag in one hand, and a bunch of bananas in the other. I dropped these off at my house, had a good drink from my hidden bottle, and began my third loop.

I was slightly stiff to start, but felt o.k. I wondered whether the Galloway run-walk approach to training might have some utility for me - my walk through the grocery store seemed to make the subsequent run easier.

I was fine through the neighbourhood and around the loch.

However, when I hit the road through the farms, I began to tire.


At the back of my mind, particularly on long runs, I think about the wall.

I’m pretty confident that I experienced this complete level of exhaustion in the late miles of the Edinburgh marathon, a few months earlier.

What I wonder about is how the wall happens. I know that it’s due to a lack of glucose in the muscles, but can it be pushed back? One of the views I’ve taken on as motivation for my long runs is that they are efforts to push back the wall – the longer I run in training, the longer I should be able to run (comfortably) on race day. Can the wall be overcome by will-power? It's hard to imagine, when one isn't exhausted, why it's not possible to put in a last sprint to the finish line, no matter what the level of tiredness. However, in Edinburgh, I couldn't do anything but shuffle across the finish line.


So, I'm interested in the experience of fatigue. As I turned onto the high street of my town, on my third loop, I began to feel fatigued. Probably, I’d done about 14 miles to this point. My pace slowed to an easier, "forever" pace. However, I felt that if I had to, I could still push.

The high street has some mild up-and-downs, and on the ups the tiredness was apparent in my legs. On the downs, I felt a bit better.

In the last mile, I was really tired, but kept moving. I knew I was nearly there.

I made it back home. As I entered the house I felt a wave of nausea, but wasn't sick. I drained a glass of orange juice, diluted with water, and then sat on the sofa with my sweaty head in my hands. My wife asked if I was o.k. I told her I just needed a minute.

After a few minutes I was up and about. I took a long shower.


So, from an empirical perspective, I'd estimate that after the onset of fatigue - an involuntary slowing my pace - I probably have a mile or two in me before I get to the wall.

Once there, based on my Edinburgh marathon experience, I can probably shuffle on for five miles or so. But these miles have a cost in terms of long-lasting fatigue afterwards.