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July 19, 2015

Staying fit is vital to avoid “hitting the wall”

This past week I spent a few days visiting my sister in Maine. She lives in a home just across the street from the ocean, on a large piece of land with lots of big pine trees.

One day was spent helping her husband clean out old trees, and trees that had broken during the winter’s heavy snow. I tried to compare moving branches and logs and stepping over uneven ground to lifting weights. It was quite a workout, to say the least; and it resulted in about four hours of exercise.

I wondered if there were similar situations that would take the place of running on neighborhood streets, or entering a 5K or 10K race.

Having just finished watching the Women’s World Cup in soccer, and considering how large the playing field is, and the fact that the game is 90 minutes long - that has to be considered a good substitute for running. There is a difference in World Cup play versus leagues that are a step or so behind that level of play.

A research study by Ross showed that elite players may jog less than other players; but they spend more time doing medium-paced and high-paced running, and they run more sprints during the game. They average about 108 sprints during a game lasting from two to five seconds, compared to only 75 for the lower leagues.

When lower-league players try to play the top-league players, they find that they just can’t keep up the pace. The comment heard from the announcers is that, during the second half, “play has opened up more.”

There are several factors that may contribute to this; but the one that Ross emphasized was fatigue. During the second half, the players were more tired and moved at a slower pace. It comes down to the player who is in better condition is now faster than the those players who are out of condition; the player who is more fit gets to the loose ball first, and the result is often a chance to score a goal.

It made me think of runners in races, and the difference between fast, or elite, runners and the rest of the pack. A fast runner can cover a half-marathon distance of 13.1 miles in under one hour, with many good runners just a few minutes over that. The average runner is shooting to finish the race in 90 minutes, or maybe even 2 hours.

Elite marathoners are approaching the 2-hour mark for the 26.2 miles. The majority of runners in a marathon finish closer to the 4-hour mark. A good marathoner likes to think of 2:30, or maybe even 3 hours, as a good time for running a marathon.

The main thing that long-distance runners worry about is that fatigue factor that they refer to as “hitting the wall.”

With runners who run races from 10Ks to marathons, the talk is often about “splits.” They are referring to the time it takes to run the first half of the race, compared to the second half; and it depends on whether the second half was faster or slower than the first half.

For some runners in a 10K (6.2 miles), the pace for the second half of the race (5K) is often faster than the first half. That is a “negative split.” Most runners are happy if the two times are close to the same.

Average runners who go out too fast, trying to keep up with the fast frontrunners in the first half of the race, often find that it is in the second half of the race that they “hit the wall.” It is the same situation as the lower-league soccer players playing against the elite teams. They just run out of energy sources and lose the ability to take in enough oxygen to supply the muscles to keep up the pace.

It may sound a bit strange; but split-timing a 100-meter dash will show that runners start to slow down after about 60 to 70 meters into the race. The runner who looks like he has a finishing kick at the end is not really going faster as much as the other runners are starting to slow down.

Think of the statement from marathoners that the 20-mile mark is the halfway point of the race. The body can store reserves and energy from the muscles for about two hours of near-maximum effort; and after that, if there is no reserve, the runner must slow down or hit the wall.

It all comes down to getting as fit as you can, and hoping that the fatigue factor does not prevent you from achieving that PR or goal that you have set.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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