Hitting the Wall in Berlin

BANG….. But I’m only at 30km (18.5) miles. It’s now about survival. Time targets are gone, this is a dog fight in the suburbs of Berlin. I’ve been a slave to the GPS watch staring down every 20 seconds for the last 2hours, checking my pace and adjusting it as needed. But ironically I’ve just hit the “wall” in the Berlin marathon. This wall is my Purgatory, It’s not a place but a condition through which I have to travel to be purified and cleansed before finishing this Berlin marathon. Any endurance athletes who have done long distances have at some point “bonked” or hit the wall.  “Bonking” describes the point at which the body’s glycogen (carbohydrate) stores are dwindling and the body starts to fatigue, making each step towards the finish line a vicious battle of mind over body. It’s painful ……. so painful – legs feel heavy, body weary, and the mind exhausted. My mind is betraying me “Just stop ….stop ….. It’ll be grand just stop.” Why am I doing this to myself??

Berlin marathon


Daniel Lieberman a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University and chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology believes we run marathons because we have evolved to be endurance runners. He suggests that we are anatomically, physiologically and behaviourally built to run long distances (Lieberman & Bramble, 2007) But if Daniel saw me at 30km  his opinion might change, I was a mess. So why do I continue? It makes no sense …just stop. But I can’t. Running a marathon is about sacrifice – financial, physical, time and family but it is also a very public thing to do. We often see ourselves through the eyes of others (Bem, 1967) and running a marathon is a clear indication to others that one can work hard, handle the pain and has a very understanding wife!

So there I was in the suburbs of Berlin in a world of pain with over 12km to go to finish this marathon. My target time was gone and I had no chance of beating my PB so surely I should have been upset and distraught, but I wasn’t.   I would rather regret having tried to achieve the time I wanted than being disappointed due to not having tried. I knew Michelle was tracking my progress at home, I had to keep moving.   I wasn’t alone, Over 40% of runners in marathons experience the “wall” but most will continue to struggle on to the end with only 1-2% pulling out (Rapoport, 2010).  Runners all around me were dropping off the pace, some were moaning, others incoherent and even more looking for toilets! But now the deal making started ……. run until the next turn…. get there and run until the next water station, just keep moving. I realised I wasn’t checking the watch, I jogged slowly but strangely I really enjoyed it. I knew what I had done in setting off too quickly and I was happy to pay the debt now, I wasn’t bitter. I had a go and it hadn’t worked. Over 40 thousand runners complete Berlin with 1 million supporters in the city. Like all the big city marathons there’s music, bands and cheerleaders every half mile and shouts of sincere encouragement – it is genuinely moving. But I have never allowed myself to enjoy this part of a run before because I am usually too busy chasing a time. I reached 40km and actually started to feel much better, it was nearly over. Turning the corner I saw the Brandenburg Gates with less than 1 kilometre to go. The crowd was overwhelming with grandstands on both sides, an amazing experience from which I learned running a marathon is about so much more than running a time, for me it’s now about having no regrets and enjoying the experience……. Can’t wait Until Dublin City Marathon!



Bem DJ. (1967). Self-perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychol Rev 74, 183-200.


Lieberman DE & Bramble DM. (2007). The evolution of marathon running : capabilities in humans. Sports Med 37, 288-290.


Rapoport BI. (2010). Metabolic factors limiting performance in marathon runners. PLoS Comput Biol 6, e1000960.


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I qualified with an Honours degree in Physiotherapy from Trinity College Dublin in 2004. Since graduating I have worked in St. James Hospital Dublin and have worked in all the areas of speciality within the hospital including cardiorespiratory, orthopaedics, rheumatology, care of the elderly, neurology, burns and plastic surgery among others . I have also completed a post graduate certificate in acupuncture in UCD 2009. The Physiotherapy Department in SJH has strong links with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate physiotherapy students on practice placements and also delivered lectures on the undergraduate academic programme in TCD. I have a keen interest in all sports and currently plays with Cill Dara RFC 1st team squad, and Milltown GAA. I have previously worked as Physiotherapist to Co. Carlow Senior GAA Team, Milltown GAA, Leinster Junior Rugby Team and Cill Dara RFC. I am an experienced runner and competed in the Dublin City Marathon in 2002. I continue to participate in running events and multisport disciplines such as Gaelforce West, Gaelforce North and the Motivate Challenge. I have a particular interest in strength and conditioning. I utilise this knowledge of resistance training in the treatment of his clients. I am committed to continuous learning and development in order to ensure the optimal level of care is offered to my clients, and with this in mind I am currently undertaking a certification in Strength and Conditioning (CSCS) with the NSCA.

2 thoughts on “Hitting the Wall in Berlin

  1. Well done on a great race! Haven’t done Berlin yet but it looks like an amazing course & great atmosphere. Hope to do Dublin in a few weeks too 🙂 Best of luck!

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