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Archives: October, 2013

How to Avoid Hitting the Wall


At some point, it’s going to happen. Maybe it’s happened already. It might be in the midst of a grueling run on a rainy Seattle night or during a routine workout at the gym. For some, it may well happen the day of the race. “It,” in this case, is hitting the wall.

You know the feeling: You’re not making much progress. Maybe you aren’t running faster or longer, or you’re stuck at a certain point on the training program. Bad workouts happen to everyone, but you know you’ve hit the wall when you forget the feeling of progress and think about throwing in the sweat-covered towel.

That’s the bad news. The good news? There are valid reasons for hitting the wall, it’s entirely scalable, and you’re not alone. Just ask Daniel O’Rourke, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Washington. “Everyone hits the wall,” he said. “It’s like a plateau.”

You hit the wall when your body gets used to the rigors you’re putting it through, O’Rourke said. “After a certain point, it’s not challenging enough for the body to adapt.”

But, lest you retreat to the couch and fire up the Netflix, O’Rourke has a handful of tips for avoiding the wall – or scaling it once you’ve run headfirst into it.

Make changes.

The changes can be any number of things, from a new route to the music you jog along to. O’Rourke suggests switching up a few particulars:

  • Try running different distances. “If you’re always running 5ks to train for a 5k, maybe some days, do a 2k pretty quickly. Some days, do a 10k slowly,” he said.
  • Find a new route. If you usually train on a treadmill, find a park or sidewalk.
  • If you usually run alone, find a friend or running group to train with.

No matter what you do, “switching it up allows your body to adapt,” O’Rourke said.

Set SMART goals.

Entire courses have been taught on goal-setting, and for good reason: It can be tough to know what to strive for. “If you don’t know what you’re going to try and achieve, then it’s very difficult to achieve it,” O’Rourke said. To that end, keep this pneumonic device in mind when figuring out the next step. It stands for the five components that go into setting good goals.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant/realistic
  • Timely

Read more about SMART goals.

Keep the bigger picture in mind.

When slogging through a program that last several weeks, it’s easy to think about how frustrating or difficult the current workout is, rather than remembering the big picture. Says O’Rourke:

  • “Get in touch with why you’re doing this. Is it to come in first? Is it to look as crazy as you can and wear the weirdest costume? Is it to have fun? If you’re having a tough time, try getting back in touch with why you’re doing the run and what makes it fun.”

O’Rourke also recommends making a deal with yourself when the motivation isn’t otherwise there. Something like “If I make it through this, I get to go to the movies tonight” can be a powerful motivator, he said.

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