Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Running into 'The Wall'

The two men dressed up like "The Blues Brothers" were full of energy - dancing and singing as runners trotted by at Mile 21 of Saturday's Fargo Marathon.


The two men dressed up like "The Blues Brothers" were full of energy - dancing and singing as runners trotted by at Mile 21 of Saturday's Fargo Marathon.

Steven Ilg, one of the 825 marathoners, was running out of energy.

"It doesn't help," the 57-year-old Ilg said, pointing to the Jake and Elwood Blues impersonators. "I knew I was in trouble at 12 miles."

Ilg had hit "The Wall."

It's a phenomenon, feared by many marathoners, in which they basically run out of energy. It usually happens near the 20-mile mark of a 26.2-mile marathon.


Saturday, it happened as marathoners crossed the 12th Avenue toll bridge while making their way back into Fargo from Moorhead. A sign that read "Welcome to Troll Bridge," held by a statue of a troll, was like a warning to the runners.

"I'm a little tight," Ryan Webb of Brandon, S.D., said after walking a few yards on the bridge. Webb finished the race in 3 hours, 36 minutes, 13 seconds.

Martin Strandberg had to stop on the bridge, lean over its barricade and stretch his legs.

"I'm a little sore but I'm making it," said the 28-year-old Strandberg, who finished in 4:00.29.

"My legs are giving out," said49-year-old Rod Brostrom of Huntersville, N.C., who finished4 seconds behind Strandberg.

Daniel Eiler of Fargo started running backwards on the bridge.

"I'm on one leg ... the other one is cramping up," said the 21-year-old Eiler, who finished in 4:07.07.

According to Marathon and Beyond magazine, more than half of all non-elite marathoners report having hit the wall at least once. Even world-class marathoners like Dick Beardsley have hit it.


"It felt like an elephant had jumped out of a tree onto my shoulders and was making me carry it the rest of the way in," Beardsley once said.

When runners hit, they have depleted their glycogen reserves - the muscles' preferred fuel for aerobic exercise. Runners then have to rely increasingly on fat as a fuel source.

When runners burn more fat, they slow down. And in some cases, they stop.

Diane Farmer of Shoreview, Minn., hit the wall in her first marathon three years ago in Jamaica.

"I couldn't even slow down ... I had to walk," said Farmer, who finished in 4:23 then.

Saturday, Farmer finished in 3:38.08, qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

"I learned that pacing is really important," Farmer said. "You go out too fast and you will feel it at Mile 20. I was sore today, but I knew I wasn't really hitting the wall."

Even if marathoners race at a reasonable pace and have done a good job of loading up on carbs in the days before the marathon, they still have only about 2,000 calories worth of glycogen stored in their muscles and liver, according to Marathon and Beyond.


That's about enough to get them to Mile 20.

But, marathoners like Randy Kenninger of Fargo have discovered they can hit the wall later.

The 39-year-old Kenninger said he felt good crossing the toll bridge.

"I hit the wall at Mile 23," said Kenninger, who finished his 10th marathon in 4:05.21. "I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt pretty lightheaded."

Long training runs, at least 20 miles long, help runners become more fuel efficient. While the customary high-carbohydrate diet days before a marathon tops off a runner's fuel tank, long runs help the tank become bigger - teaching the muscles to store more glycogen.

But Ilg, who was struggling while The Blues Brothers were singing, proved that long training runs are no guarantee for avoiding the wall.

"I put in four 20-milers before this so I thought I did everything right," said Ilg, who lives in Surprise, Ariz. "Except I may not have given myself enough time to rest up."

Ilg managed to finish, needing 70 minutes to cover the final five miles. Jake and Elwood were distant memories.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549


What To Read Next
Get Local