A better way to break through the wall

We’ve all hit the wall – that merciless phase of a workout or race where your lungs feel like week-old party balloons and your feet feel like bricks.

Runners will talk about “pushing past” and “breaking through,” but what does that really mean?  Usually gritting your teeth and battling through with sheer force of will, hanging on for dear life until you either bust through or cross the finish line, whichever comes first.

There’s a better way.

Running, especially as you start to feel challenged in the middle of a workout, becomes as much about mental toughness as physical strength.  By taking a step back (figuratively!) and evaluating your running, you can improve your form and get past the wall without even realizing it.

Next time you are really struggling to put one foot in front of the other, slowly think through a head-to-toe checklist of what your body is doing.  As you make small adjustments to your form and your attitude, you’ll start running more efficiently.

What’s more important, is that you’ve got your brain engaged in something other than your own discomfort and frustration.  More often than not, you’ll break right through that wall without even realizing it and come out moving faster on the other side.

Here’s a sample checklist, but by all means go with whatever works for you.  Starting at your head and working down to your toes is just an easy way to think through your major running systems without having to remember a lot.

  • Check your head.  Make sure that your chin is up and your jaw is relaxed.  Both will make it easier to breath and help relieve tension.
  • Shrug your shoulders.  Getting tired mid-workout is stressful.  A lot of us carry that stress in our shoulders.  Give them a shrug or two as you run and make sure you aren’t letting them tighten up and lift towards your ears.
  • Breathe deep.  Short, choppy breaths aren’t the best way to get your body the oxygen it needs.  Challenge yourself to breathe long and deep in the face of fatigue.
  • Wiggle your fingers.  Keeping your hands balled into fists or a death-grip on your phone creates tension and wastes energy.  Loosen up those digits.
  • Straighten your back.  For a lot of people, posture is the first thing to go.  Making that one quick correction can make you feel stronger instantly and deliver an uplifting jolt to your overall mood.
  • Lengthen your stride.  Poor running form can lead to spending lots of energy for very little speed.  Short, sluggish strides are the biggest culprit.  Stretch those legs out, add some speed, and feel the wind in your face.  Instant mood-booster.  While you’re at it, pay attention to how your feet are striking the ground.  Make sure you are using the same solid form that you were at the beginning of your run.
You can run through this checklist (or one like it) at any point during a run.  But methodically thinking through a list like this can be a game-changer if you’re hitting the wall — just the right combination of tweaking your form and getting your mind engaged in a positive way.
If you are doing an interval workout, you can even benefit from doing this during your walk time.  Really loosen up and think through how your body is operating.  It might make all the difference when your headphones tell you it’s time to power up for the next running interval.

5 responses to “A better way to break through the wall

  1. Pingback: Race day countdown: how to prepare | Bluefin Software Blog

  2. Hi Tanya
    The list definately helped, especially focusing on my breathing, keeping my head up and my shoulders down. My first run is always rough because of my breathing but i kept trying to keep control by regulating it, trying to belly breathe (which is really hard!). Because i concentrated on that i automatically kept my head up and my posture was better. I’m not saying that each run wasn’t difficult towards the end but i was surprised when the last run finished that I felt in control, my legs didn’t feel like lead and i didn’t feel defeated 🙂

  3. sorry that’s day 1 of the ease into 10k app!

  4. This is how i felt doing Day 1 run 1 this morning, the second run was the only one i felt okay with but i was fighting during all the other runs… i almost died when i realised afterwards that they were only 3 mins long!!! Looking at your list though, i always almost run with my head down and i have asthma so will always be fighting to breathe ‘normally’!! I definately will try holding my head up and trying to keep my shoulders up. Also the checklist helps so i’ll give that a go… Let’s see what happens on wednesday then! 😀

    • Angela,

      Thanks for writing and telling us about how your run went today. Let us know if the list helps you break through the wall on Wednesday. We would love to hear which ones helped you out the most.

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