What To Do When You Hit A Wall

Brick Wall

I’m about 6 weeks away from running my marathon and it definitely hasn’t been all peaches and ice cream. I’ve been ramping up mileage the past few weeks and it’s been rough.

A few weeks back I was on a 15 mile run along the beach in Kailua in Hawaii. The sun was shining, the weather was beautiful and it was one of the hardest runs I’ve ever had in my life

I had run that distance before but for some reason that day I just didn’t have it. My legs were heavier; time seemed to move slower and the rougher version of asphalt started to blister my usually tough barefoot feet. I pushed and pushed but I felt myself running out of gas and right into a wall.

Walls come up a lot in life. The difference between the people that do the impossible and those that don’t, are that the people that do the impossible, don’t let the walls stop them.

Here’s what to do when you hit a wall:

Don’t Give Up

A temporary set back does not mean you have to quit. At about mile 10 in that run, I decided to walk. For the next 5 miles I alternated running, jogging & walking. The whole time I was just beyond mad at myself that I was so gassed. At this point in my training, 10 miles isn’t too difficult for me to knock out, so why was this so hard? But I didn’t give up. I went ahead and finished the distance, even if it wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t going to give up.

Take a Breath

You can’t figure out anything when you’re mad. Your adrenaline is pumping and emotion tends to take over logic, which is what you’re going to need if you’re going to figure out how to improve.

After the run, I was pretty pissed. 15 miles is not that far. But, as I was about to work myself up about it, I looked up and saw my scenery. I was on Lanikai Beach in Kailua which is absolutely stupid beautiful. As I thought about where I was, I took a few seconds to breathe, and regain my composure.


Like I Said, Stupid Beautiful

Think About What Worked

Once you’ve calmed down, you can figure out what’s worked in the past and what happened this time around. For me, running in Hawaii was a lot hotter than running in Indiana. Also, the asphalt roads were coarser asphalt than the ones in Indiana and put a number on my feet. To top it all off, I did a terrible job of hydrating myself. Put those together and it’s pretty easy to see why I might have been struggling.

Plot & Regroup

Using your newfound knowledge of what worked & what didn’t, plan out your next moves.

The next week I took it easy, rested my legs, ate well and drank a lot more water (like I should have been doing already). I used the time to re-think & re-do my hydration strategy and plan my route better. I had a new plan of attack.

Try Again

Most people don’t really fail. They just give up too soon. Always try again. One failure means nothing. Literally. There’s enough variance in almost any life experience that any one independent failure is not significant on it’s own to justify you quitting.

The very next week I had another 15 miler on the schedule. I went out and ran the thing. When I hit the 10 mile mark, instead of walking, I kicked it up a notch. Every mile after that, I kicked it up a notch and I dominated the run. Afterwards I stretched and while my legs were tired, I felt really, really good.


You won’t always break through a wall on your first try. You might run into the same wall multiple times or you might hit different walls as you pass different obstacles, but there’s always another wall. You have to have the discipline to keep going and keep trying in spite of your desire to quit.

Discipline is

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about discipline and got a lot of good feedback from it. Reader Dusti Arab created a desktop background from the post and put it as her desktop background. She shared it with me via email and I thought it was so cool, I asked if I could post it here for you guys and she agreed. Simply right click on this link to download the Discipline Is desktop background. If you like it, be sure to say thanks to @DustiArab. Hopefully it will help you have the discipline to keep going when you hit a wall.

[Brick Photo Credit]

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  1. James says

    Thanks for this, I think it’s time to tear down a few walls of my own. Although I think that it’s supposed to be “A temporary set back does NOT mean you have to quit.”

  2. says

    What? People who accomplish impossible things don’t hit walls.

    Or at least they don’t admit in public that they do. 😉

    Thanks for sharing the reality of working towards goals. Sometimes, you hits a a wall (and that’s often a best case scenario) and sometimes it feels like you hit a wall, turn to try something else, hit a wall in that direction, turn to try something else, hit a wall in that direction…you get my point.

    The question that sets people apart…are we willing to keep trying even with the walls?

    Thanks also to you and Dusti – I now have a wonderful new inspirational desktop to look at when the wall seems to stretch millions of miles.

  3. says


    1) That really is stupid beautiful.
    2) You’ve somehow inspired me to get moving with my physical fitness – long overdue. Wow.
    3) Love the desktop! Rock it, Joel!

    • says

      1. It really is, isn’t it? Gah, I love Hawaii :)
      2. If you come back stateside & do another US tour, I’ll totally do a 5k with you.
      3. Thank Dusti. She’s awesome :).

      Thanks for stopping by Ash!

  4. says

    “Most people don’t really fail. They just give up too soon.”

    So true. It’s all about maintaining a sustained effort. Good things take time.

  5. says

    When my husband and I were training, if I had a good day, his sucked. And vice versa. Why could I have a great 18 mile but when I had run 12 mile I felt like I was going to die? But you’re right, you just gotta keep going, even if it’s just to get the mileage in. Several times I just walked the last few miles to finish.

    • says

      Crazy how that works huh? Sometimes I feel like it’s not even about the mileage. It’s just about going out every day and getting through it. Got an 18 miler next week – I’ll let you know how it goes :)

  6. Kurt Swann says


    Another good post! Sounds like you’re on track to run a marathon! I read a book recently called “The Art Of War”. Book comes from the perspective of a writer about the overcoming resistance in the creative process. But his approach reminds me of what you wrote in your post . . . maybe you’ve read it . .


  7. says

    Another bullet point could be about “setting short term goals”.

    As I know you do some running as well, the key is to look ahead and pick something (e.g., a street corner, building, tree, etc…) as a short term goal. Once you get there, you set another goal until you break through the wall and finish what you set out to do.

    The wall is just that negative voice trying to stop you but setting these small short goals will help keep you focused on that instead of believing the negative voices.

      • says

        “Just the next light pole. The next one. The next one….” Guh, it feels so pathetic, but that’s my standard approach as well.

        What kind of time are you logging for these 15-milers? Just curious.

        • says

          2:20, 2:30 or so. Nothing super fast, but I finish.

          I’m hoping to be closer to the 9:30 range for the final race, but hope to be under a 10 minute pace. *crosses fingers*

  8. says

    As I very seriously consider my first marathon this year, this is good to know… Will you be doing any more this year?

    Hope the next one is much easier. It always is!

  9. says

    Hawaii is amazing. Did you say ‘barefoot feet’? You ran barefoot?! You’re an animal! (I mean that in the good way).

    One of my fitness clients runs marathons. He focuses on the view around him to get him into another zone. There are also a whole lot of tactics around breathing, length of stride, relaxing the body etc, which I’m sure you’re discovering.

    Keep it up, you’re doing great.

    • says

      Well, I ran in my Vibrams (pretty darn close to barefoot). Its’ definitely a new experience for me. I’m simultaneously beginning to feel like I know what I’m doing and also realizing that I have no idea what I’m getting myself into :).

  10. says

    First, I just need to say: Dusty is so right!
    And you with:
    Don’t give up
    Take a breath…

    No one wish is given to us, without possibility to make it;just have confidence in yourself ,no matter how bad it is and how hard you fail…take breath and go on…
    After each fall, you get up stronger.

    Analyze,but don’t hang on it:)

    And if we open our eyes more ,we can find more: just “stupid beautiful”


    P.S.I get up:)

  11. says

    I have been feeling the same way lately. I feel like I had so much more drive and motivation last year to run the 1/2 marathon that I am running again here soon. I feel like I can’t get passed that “wall” or hump. I almost feel like I lost the passion to run. But you are right, you have to re-group and realize what is happening and what can be changed to shift the negative energy. I am going to get back out there and try some of your techniques….. because I can’t imagine that I have lost the love to run. Thank you for sharing this great information….and I noticed…you run barefoot? That is very interesting. Would love to hear more about that!

    • says

      I think realizing that you’re “hitting” the wall, can actually help motivate you to move on past it. And yup! Barefoot all the way. I’ll be doing more posts on it soon. I love it

  12. says

    hi joel! yes, keep at it. great post! (hey, cool thing by dusti arab…you know what would be even better? your beautiful hawaiian background :)) i walked a marathon in cozumel, mexico in 2000. yikes! it took way look…and looking back i soooo talked too much (everyone wanted to hear about my trips to belize and around the world…) and yes, it was hot and humid, even though we started at 5 am. yes, great to look back at the lessons learned. you were blessed to go to hawaii! thanks for writing all these inspirations! :)

  13. Tonya says

    ThankS Joel. I have hit a wall two weeks in a row but I have pushed thru and got those miles in. I only have 2 weeks until my half and I will get thru it. It was nice to read someone with your experience have the same problems!


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