My last couple major races, I'm pretty quick to say that I never "hit the wall." And because of that, I've walked away from both thinking, "I could definitely have done that faster!" Which leads me to the question: is it necessary to "hit the wall" in order to get your best race time?
I guess before we really get into this, "the wall" must be defined. To me, "the wall" is different than a bonk. In the 2010 Harrisburg Marathon, I bonked. I didn't get enough carbohydrates into my system and I paid the price. In the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon I hit the wall. I hit it late, but there was a point where I realized I can't go any faster, but I can definitely hang on until the end. My legs were tired and sore, but I wasn't lacking in nutrients (at least not severely). I did not run my fastest possible race in Harrisburg. But I believe I did in Pittsburgh.
Fast forward to Pittsburgh 2011. I ran a steady pace and didn't feel like my legs gave out at any point and passed tons of people in the last six miles, including the final two tenths to the finish. It was a PR, but I can't help but wonder if I had pushed harder and felt that drain in my legs at some point, could I have had a better time? Granted, I would have paid the price on the walk back to the hotel, but unless my legs were going to get heavy just as the finish line came into view (which will perk you up on even a very bad day) there would have some value in hitting the wall and pushing through.
I also think about the Harrisburg Mile this past summer. I set a PR, breaking 6 minutes for the first time ever. And I felt awful. I wanted to quit about a dozen time in that five minutes and 52 seconds. Was that my best possible time that day? Probably.
The more I think about it, the more I think there is value in "hitting the wall" - provided you don't hit it too early. You might also say that the value is diminished as your race gets longer. I certainly wouldn't want to spend three and half hours feeling like I did at the Harrisburg Mile. But I'm also much more comfortable with how I finished the Oil Creek 50K with a little left in the tank - confident that I couldn't squeeze more than a few more minutes out of that course - unless, of course I hadn't made that wrong turn.
So what do you think about "the wall?"
How do you define it? Is there value in hitting it?