If you’ve done any kind of endurance sport, you’re familiar with hitting the wall.
Hitting the wall is what happens when athletes deplete their stores of glycogen — a form of glucose that stores energy. Glycogen is the body’s preferred fuel to burn during exercise and when we run out of it our brains signal the body to slow down.
That slowdown feels more like running face-first into a brick wall than a gentle denouement.
Most marathon runners hit the wall around the 20-mile mark. With proper training and nutrition, runners can overcome the wall. But for some runners, pushing past the wall when they’re not prepared can be dangerous, even if there are only six miles left in the race.
This pandemic has been a marathon and it’s feeling a lot like the 20-mile mark these days. None of us were given the luxury to train beforehand. As British Columbians stare down the third wave of COVID-19, plenty of people are hitting the wall.
So how can we overcome the wall?
Tim Noakes is a professor of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Noakes has found that the brain plays a central role in hitting the wall. Noakes, along with several endurance athletes, have found that positive self-talk can go a long way to overcoming the wall.
Noakes also recommends focusing on stimuli outside of running — looking at the trees, watching the road unwind in front of your feet — basically anything except thinking about the strain on your body. Noakes also suggest snacking to reduce glycogen stores.
These strategies can be applied to the COVID wall too.
It’s been a long 14 months, but if government estimates hold, every British Columbian who wants a vaccine will get one by July 1. That’s two-and-a-half months away; we’re at the pandemic equivalent of the 20-mile mark.
Now is the time for positive reinforcement, recommitting to our goals, and focussing on the outcomes we want to achieve in these next few months.
We don’t need to be hard on ourselves or each other. Instead, we can overcome this COVID wall and finish the marathon strong, together.
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