Breaking through the wall

Managing your miles a tricky feat, but here’s some advice from experienced marathoners

It’s a dreaded point in race that novice runners hope to bypass, but rarely avoid.

Sometimes, it happens around Mile 20 of a 26.2-mile marathon or Mile 10 of a 13.1-mile half-marathon. Sometimes it comes a little sooner or later.

Only the most well trained and fortunate beginning runners make it through a full or a half-marathon without hitting ‘The Wall.’

“It’s all about managing your effort over 26 miles,” Columbus marathoner Danny Fisher said. “If you’ve never ran that far in training, or if you’ve never raced that far, it’s expected to hit that. You talk to anybody that runs it, that’s one thing they’re worried about — when and where it’s going to happen.”

Fisher would know. He’s run several marathons and was the winner of the inaugural Mill Race Marathon in 2013.

In that race, Fisher hit ‘The Wall’ at about 23½ or 24 miles.

“It’s different for everybody,” Fisher said. “For me personally, I get sleepy. It’s like a light switch. Things just kind of slow down over time. One mile, you’re running a 5:20 pace; the next mile, you’re running 6:00 pace, and the effort for me is the same.”

That was a contrast to one of Fisher’s first marathons. He avoided the wall in winning the 2009 Louisville Marathon.

The endurance coach at Tipton Lakes Athletic Club and an assistant cross-country coach at Columbus North High School, Fisher was fortunate in that race.

“It’s kind of good not knowing what to expect going into a marathon in a lot of ways,” Fisher said. “I think I was just so excited and out of my mind that I’m leading a marathon in Louisville, I either didn’t notice it or didn’t care. It’s just trying to keep that gap over the second-place guy.”

Dr. Chris Carr is the Sport and Performance Psychologist and Coordinator for Sport and Performance Psychology at St Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis. He is the team performance psychologist for the Indiana Pacers and consulting sports psychologist for the Butler, Purdue and Central Michigan athletics departments.

Carr, who also has worked with numerous U.S. Olympic athletes, has worked with a lot of distance athletes in the past 28 years, including collegiate distance runners, as well as elite athletes and ultra distance runners.

“I try to keep it simple in that ‘The Wall’ has psychological and physiological components,” Carr said. “How an athlete manages ‘The Wall’ is how they prepare. I like to challenge runners to not see there’s that perceived wall. I encourage athletes to see all the aspects of their performance from a positive aspect.”

Initially, Carr wants to find out if runners have had negative experiences or injuries related to hitting the wall. He has an underlying philosophy that failure is part of growth.

While the first goal for runners is to get to the starting line healthy, for people who never have run a marathon or don’t run that much, 26 miles at one time is a tough distance, more than a lot of people run in a week. Fisher said it’s all about bridging the gap from where a runner currently is in their training to the distance they are trying to race.

Some people only get up to 15 or 16 miles because that’s all they can handle. Fisher said if they can stay healthy at 15 or 16 miles and do a lot more harder long runs at that range, that would be preferrable to just going out and running 20 miles.

Carr talked about mental preparation and having specific and cognitive goals.

“Now, rather than seeing that 20-mile mark as a wall, they see it as a more positive experience of their run,” Carr said. “They manage their energy, and they manage their self-talk, and they manage their process goals from the first hundred yards of the race to the last hundred yards of the race. If you’ve prepared that and visualized overcoming that, you’ll be more prepared and confident.”

At a glance

Sept. 1 is the deadline for runners to have their name on the poster for the Fourth Annual Mill Race Marathon.

New tho this year’s marathon and half-marathon will be pace groups for specific times. The target times are 3 hours, 35 minutes, 3:40, 3:55, 4:10, 4:25, 5:00 and 6:48 for the marathon and 1:40, 1:50, 2:00, 2:10, 2:20, 2:45, 3:00 and 3:57 for the half-marathon.

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5628.