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Breaking through the WALL in Endurance Events
7 Ways to Beat the Bonk

Breaking through the wall...
Break through the wall in endurance events.

We are capable of so much more than we think. People that compete in endurance events often talk about a barrier they hit that seems impossible to break through. The common phrase is "hitting the wall" or "the bonk."

Technically it's described as the point in an event when the athlete's glycogen, or stored energy within the muscles, is depleted. At that point, they have to slow down considerably or stop. It's most commonly associated with runners that compete in Marathons.

Here are seven strategies you can use to beat the bonk.

Train for the event. Yes, that may seem blindingly obvious, but I can't tell you how many people sign up for races or events that they haven't prepared for. Practice what you'll be doing and your body will grow stronger, allowing you to steadily increase your endurance and push that "wall" further out.

Train at the pace you'll be competing at. If you expect to complete a 5K in 40 minutes, you've got to train running that pace. You can't run slower while preparing and expect to miraculously do better the day of the race.

Load up on carbohydrates the last few days before an event. It allows your body to store away the maximum amount of glycogen possible so you have it when you need it, during the race. The more glycogen you've stored, the farther you'll be able to go before getting "bonked."

Don't start the race faster than you've trained. It's not unusual to see runners leave the starting gate moving far faster than normal, simply propelled by adrenaline and the excitement of the crowd. Unfortunately they often simply burn themselves out quicker and hit the wall sooner than if they were more controlled.

Consume calories during the race, if your endurance event is longer than 90 minutes. The first hour and a half, most of your energy will be coming from glycogen, that energy stored in your muscles. Once that's gone, your body turns to liver glycogen and the sugar in your blood. Taking in carbohydrates during the event gives your body additional fuel to push further.

Carbohydrates should always be combined with protein during a race. Protein stimulates insulin release. That's important, because insulin speeds up how fast muscle cells absorb blood glucose by up to 50 percent. During an endurance race, when you're burning up blood glucose, the faster you can replenish your energy the better you'll do. Protein and carbs work together to get your body what it needs quicker.

Protein also stimulates blood flow to the muscle and slows down the amount of stress hormone cortisol your body releases. During races, choose protein in liquid form that doesn't have lactose, so it's easy to consume and to prevent possible cramping.

Talk yourself out of exhaustion. You read that right. Speak encouraging phrases out loud, to push your body further. You see, contrary to what I told you at the beginning of this article, exhaustion is not JUST about glycogen depletion. It's also about a state of mind.

Researchers suspected that people might be hitting a wall before their muscles actually were depleted. They believed many people quit because they've gone as far as they were willing, mentally. So researchers split their test subjects into two groups. Both groups went to the lab on three separate occasions and they rode stationary bikes until "exhaustion."

What they found was that people who engaged in "motivational self-talk" had an 18% improvement in time to exhaustion. It's like the story of the Little Engine That Could. By constantly repeating the phrase, "I think I can" the engine was able to push beyond what he originally thought he was capable of.

Maybe Stuart Smalley was onto something when he spoke his daily affirmation. "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me." Just keep verbalizing those positive phrases and you'll find you CAN do it.

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Updated 1/17/2022