How Can Runners Break Through “The Wall”?

The Wall (also called The Bonk) is something many long distance runners have faced during their lifetime. It is a feeling of being totally unable to carry on running any further. Your energy totally drops and you are hit by absolute feelings of fatigue. Some victims even report suffering hallucinations and dizziness.

You may have seen long distance runners seemingly just lose the plot when their race seems to be going so well. They veer off course, or their legs wobble and give way, or they just look like they’ve entirely forgotten they are meant to be going for first place.

What Causes ‘The Wall’ In Long Distance Running?

There are a few variations of The Wall, caused by different things. Each has its own symptoms and can be broken through with different techniques.

Glycogen Drop

One of the ways The Wall is caused is by a drop in your glycogen levels. In essence, your body stops burning off energy from carbohydrates and switches to burning off your fat stores.

This drop in glycogen can affect runners differently. A drop in glycogen that hits the muscles causes runners to feel like their limbs won’t obey their brain’s commands to keep on running. When the drop in glycogen is felt in the blood, it can seem as though the body is fine but your brain is not behaving correctly.

And of course, unlucky runners can be hit with both, where it seems as though your body and your mind have been shut down to prevent you continuing the run.

How Can I Break Through This? In this case, prevention is always better than attempting a cure. Take a sports drink, some gummy sweets or an energy gel to top up your stores. Don’t wait for severe fatigue to hit, keep topping up every 40 minutes to 1 hour.

A Psychological Sabotage

Some runners suddenly find that the miles ahead seem totally impossible. More than a drop in confidence, The Wall, in this case, is overwhelming. Your motivation can just fly away, leaving you lagging and ready to quit. This can come on no matter how much training you’ve put in.

How Can I Break Through This? While you have to check in with your body to ensure you don’t ignore any physical issues, try and keep your mind elsewhere when you can. See how far you can get up to with your times tables, for example, or try and remember all the words to a rap.

Some people find breaking down your time left into small portions to tick off helpful. Another two hours may seem daunting, but thinking of it in terms of 10-minute segments to complete can feel much less stressful when you feel panic rising.


Long distance runners are certainly at risk of mild dehydration. This can make you feel very sluggish, and tellingly, pretty thirsty. Temperature, the wind and how hard you are pushing yourself can all mean you need more H2o than usual.

How Can I Break Through This? Always keep water on hand or use the facilities on hand if you are in an event. As with your glycogen stores, it is better to take little sips frequently than to end up feeling like you need to swallow a gallon of water to right yourself.

A key thing to remember is that The Wall, in all its forms, can be broken through. Even if your last attempt ended before the finish line, that isn’t to say you will experience the same next time or that if you do you won’t be able to overcome it. Grab hold of the perseverance that makes you a long distance runner in the first place, and get back on track.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye has a MSc in Sport Physiology and Nutrition, and puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. She enjoys a pun, and in her spare time loves dog walking and eating out.

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