The Marathon "Wall" and how to avoid hitting it!

The bad news is that “the wall” is a very real thing. The good news is that you can avoid “hitting the wall” if you follow this advice.¬†This article takes only about 3 minutes to read, so read to the end … on race day you’ll be happy you did!

before we start

Obviously anyone attempting to run a marathon needs to properly train. We like to say that if you don’t put in the training miles you won’t even make it TO the wall! That said, marathon courses are full of runners that have followed a training program and yet they still hit the wall.

what is the wall?

Your glycogen stores (energy stored in your muscles and liver) are your primary source of energy when running a marathon or any endurance event. When you properly carbo load prior to your event your glycogen stores will have approximately 2,000 calories, regardless of your body shape and size. Think of your glycogen stores as your “on-board fuel tank”. When your tank runs out you’ll have to rely primarily on body fat as fuel. One pound of body fat contains enough energy to run approximately 40 miles, so we all have plenty of fat to finish a marathon. The problem is that fat is a “survival fuel” … it’s designed to keep you alive. Fat is not a good source of fuel for high performance and it is slow to convert into usable energy. So if all you have left is fat, you’ll still be able to move but you’ll feel like a ton of bricks. You’ve just hit the wall!

why is the wall around mile 20?

When you run you burn approximately 100 calories per mile, give or take about 10% depending on body type, running pace, conditions (wind, hills), etc. So if you do the math at 100 calories per mile, after 20 miles you will have burned about 2,000 calories and your tank will be empty.

what's the solution?

To avoid hitting the wall you’ll need to take in a minimum of 600 to 700 calories during the event. It’s vital that the calories you consume while running are rapidly absorbable, meaning that you’ll want liquid calories from sports drinks or energy gels. Solid foods with fats, fiber and/or protein can cause all kinds of problems while running and detract from performance. You also want to use products with complex carbs instead of simple sugars. These two short videos explain why you want liquid calories and why complex carbs instead of simple sugars:

energy gels are the best choice

Energy gels are the perfect choice because they are: (1) liquid calories, just what you want as explained in the video above, (2) easily transported compared to the heavy weight of carrying your own sports drink, and (3) allow you to use your own nutrition as opposed to what’s offered on course. Usually the on-course options are loaded with sugar (think Gatorade) and what ever else the race is able to get cheap or donated. If you want to perform well, plan on carrying your own nutrition products that you have trained with.

how do you use them?

With Water! The biggest mistake that athletes make with energy gels is that they take them with a sports drink or other food. Bad idea. One of the advantages of an energy gel is that it is absorbed through osmosis with no digestive requirements. But for that to all happen the way it’s supposed to you have to drink water. Taking other drinks and food can slow the absorption and cause stomach distress, not what you want while you’re running. So just take your energy gel and water, it’s that easy.

what energy gel should you use?

The problem with most gels is that they are either high in sugar (see video above), or they don’t have the electrolytes you need. Electrolytes are critical to help maintain hydration and avoid muscle cramps and injuries. Only e-Gel Electrolyte Energy Gel gives you everything you need right in the gel!

  • 4 x Electrlytes to avoid cramping and injuries
  • Loaded with complex carbs, just what you want!
  • Low in sugar to avoid spikes and crashes
  • Multi-carbs source (read why you want a little fructose)
  • Thinner consistency, no more choking on thick gels!
  • 150 calories per pack, fewer to carry, less trash to deal with
  • no artificial colors, sweeteners or sugar substitutes
  • no caffeine (read why)
  • no fat, fiber or protein (video)
  • aminos and antioxidants to reduce lactic acid, soreness and speed recovery
  • large easy-grip top
  • we beat the competition (see for yourself)
  • customer proof (read below)

Keith Castleton

"Figuring out how to stay hydrated, not get upset stomach and prevent muscle cramps during long runs and races has been one of my biggest challenges. In the past my muscles would ache and twitch and cause me a lot of pain after long runs. I came across e-Gel energy gels this summer used them during the Top Of Utah Marathon, took 17 minutes off my previous marathon PR and easily qualified for Boston." ...
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Maricopa, Arizona
Sport: Running

Jeff Rommel

"I broke the golden rule and tried e-Gel for the first time on race day. I ran the Houston Marathon and it was a great experience - no stomach issues and no muscle cramping. Water in my bottle and an e-Gel every hour got me through the race. I'm not the fastest runner, but I set a PR!" ...
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Houston, Texas
Sport: Running

David Ball

"I've been using e-Gel for 2 years exclusively and will not go with anything else....I qualified for Boston with a 3:18:16 and felt great. One e-Gel 15 minutes before the race and one at miles 6, 12, 18, and 23 mile marks and then the last three miles were my fasted splits" ...
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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Sport: Running, Triathlon

Adam Lecompte

"This is by far the best energy gel product on the market, and I have been through them all. I have had nothing but positive training and racing experiences with this product. I trained on and used e-Gel in a half half marathon and busted a 1:32.44! My personal best of 5 half marathons. The sustained energy is incredible! I absolutely love this product." ...
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Houma, Louisiana
Sport: Running and Triathlon

Sam Albrecht

"40 miles into a 56 mile ride in the desert with two big hills I started cramping, and had to stop several times. The next week I did the same ride with e-Gel and had no cramping despite it being over 100 degrees. My hydration was the same, so I have little doubt the e-Gel played a big part in keeping me going that day." ...
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Big Bear City, California
Sport: Triathlon

Bruce English

"I recently completed a half-iron distance triathlon with a brutal bike course. At the end of the ride my quads started to cramp. I nursed an e-Gel over the first mile of the run and the cramps abated. I thought it may have been coincidence, but when the cramps resurfaced at mile 7 only to resolve with another e-Gel I was sold. I only drank water on the run and took e-Gel, so I feel confident that this product made the difference. " ...
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Waynesboro, Virginia
Sport: Triathlon

Mary Rogers

"I used e-Gels exclusively and exactly as directed in training for the Lakefront Marathon. This was my fourth marathon and I did not expect to PR, but just to complete it well. With the help of e-Gels taken at miles 2, 7, 13, 18, and 23, I took 10 minutes off of my marathon time and never hit the 'wall' or cramped as I had done in previous events. Some guy laughed at me at the start asking why I had so many energy gels. I told him I had a plan and I was sticking to it. I'm pretty sure I passed him somewhere around mile 22." ...
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Springfield, Illinois
Sport: Running

Malcolm Campbell

"I looked for a gel that had less sugar and more potassium/sodium than some of the other energy gels. I came across e-Gel and used them is the US 50K Championships in Caumsett Park, New York. I finished 2nd in 3:04.22, so I guess they worked pretty good!" ...
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Marietta, Georgia
Sport: Ultra Running

Jeff Domenico

"I was running my best marathon ever in Detroit, had five miles to go and I took my e-Gel 100 yards before a water station. I got to the station and it was a bunch of guys handing out beer! GU and other energy gels are so thick that I would have needed water right away, but the e-Gel was so thin and easy to digest, I got through it just fine when I hit a water station about a mile later. Not only did I finally hit my sub-three hour dream, I hit 2:57!" ...
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Battle Creek, Michigan
Sport: Running

Dave Kumler

"I am an on-ice official in the AHL and I want to share my story about e-Gel ... My job as linesman requires me to sprint repeatedly and physically separate anyone who fights throughout the game. We get no breaks, no downtime, no relaxing...I need my energy level to remain constant. I had yet to find any product that satisfied my requirement. I tried GU, Clif Shots and other energy gels, but found that I was still needing something to get me thru the last half of the game. With e-Gel, I found it." ...
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Cleveland, Ohio
Sport: Hockey

Joseph Swenson

"I am an Ultra-Runner and a proficient sweater and I need to take in large quantities of salt to keep from shutting down during training and races. I was relying on salt caps along with other Gel's like GU to try an maintain my metabolism but it was easy to get the mixture wrong and bonk....I plan on using e-Gel as my main electrolyte / energy gel at Western States 100 mile this June, bypassing the aid station's GU which made me so nauseous by mile 80, I almost did not finish the race." ...
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Livermore, California
Sport: Ultra Running

Nadine Echeverry

"I just finished my first marathon, and I am singing the praises of your product! I have been training with Team In Training/Greater Los Angeles Chapter/Long Beach since May. .... At first, I bought them just because I LOVED the taste compared to the Clif shots I had been using. Also, I LOVED the consistency of your e-Gel, in that I didn't feel like I had to chew it!" ...
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Lakewood, California
Sport: Running

Dan Cadriel

"I competed in my very first Ironman at Ironman Arizona after 17 years in triathlon. With horrid winds on the bike, I was nervous about my marathon. I packed my 6 Cherry Bomb e-Gels and I was off to a sub 4 hour marathon including a sub 7 minute mile at the finish line! The Ironman distance is all about nutrition and pace. I was so pleased with the experience and the endurance that the e-Gel formula gave me. I plan to continue to use Crank Sports products as I conitue to set PRs. Thank you Cherry Bomb!" ...
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Glendale, Arizona
Sport: Triathlon

Steve Bull

"My buddy and I were riding home after a 40 mile training ride-1/2 downwind, 1/2 upwind on the way home. My friend bonked 10 miles out against a 25 mph headwind. We stopped. I administered to him my coveted e-Gel. He complained-wondered if it would make any difference. 10 minutes later he was back on his bike, riding hard, and saying, 'This stuff is incredible.' He now buys from Crank Sports. I always thought our experience was a simple but elegant testimony." ...
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Burns, Oregon
Sport: Cycling, Mountain Biking

Kevin Williams

"I wasn't sure which energy gel to purchase, as there were a ton on the market. After some research I went with e-gel because it didn't have caffeine and it was the best bang for my buck. Man was I thrilled to have it with me on Tough Mudder! We took one every hour or so on our adventure and I didn't once feel fatigued. I can definitely attribute my success on Tough Mudder Tri-State 2011 to the use of e-gel. We killed it and none of my 7 person team were exhausted thanks to the electrolytes and sodium in e-gel." ...
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Burtonsville, Maryland
Sport: Adventure Racing

Ken Brown

"Three hours into an agressive 5 hour ride, my legs were cooked, and my body needed electrolytes in a bad way. I shot another brand of energy gel and come to find out the gel had gone bad. I had no other means on me, when a training partner handed me what turned out to be the best tasting, quickest reacting energy gel I had ever used. Not only did the Tropical Blast e-Gel get me through the remainder of our ride, it made an immediate impact on my new gel of choice. I don't leave the house without a supply of my new best friends: Tropical Blast and Cherry Bomb. Thanks for finally making a gel that works AND tastes great. " ...
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Dunwoody, Georgia
Sport: Triathlon

Barbara Riesser

"I ran my first marathon in 2003 using Clif Shots but they really bothered my stomach. My trainer recommended the e-Gel and I have had no problems on my long runs now. I have told all my friends who are runners or starting to run about your products and have passed out sample gel packs too! You're e-Gel is awesome! No blood sugar drops either like I had with other products.Products always arrive sooner than expected! You guys (and girls) are awesome!" ...
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Columbia City, Indiana
Sport: Running

Sandra Marbut

"I learned about the value of gel products through training for marathons. So when I returned to coaching basketball at a very academic school, I decided to see if I could combine the two worlds. With a small roster, our players are on the court for long periods of time and need to sustain high intensity for a solid 90 minutes. After learning what impact fuels have on your body for endurance sports, I decided to try it with our players. It has been brilliant! ..." ...
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Pasadena , California
Sport: Basketball