The Indignity of the Bonk (aka, the “hunger knock”)

My wife set a new personal best in the 5k this morning. She’s my new hero. Cadel Evans just won the Tour de France. Go Cadel.

I, on the other hand, didn’t have such a great athletic day. I set off on a 40-miler—what shouldn’t have been such a big deal. Of course, I knew it would include a whole bunch of climbing along the way. And I should probably mention that I’ve become the epitome of a short distance specialist in recent years. I train for hour-long races because I don’t have to spend my whole Saturday preparing for them.

The first part wasn’t bad—a few strength-endurance climbs past the hill I usually use for hill repeats. The trouble is, after I get on top of those climbs, it’s all rollers from there out: up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, etc.

The last roller was particularly brutal. It lasted for at least five minutes before I got to the summit. Finally, I was overcome with relief when I came to the end of the pavement at 20 miles in, which was to be the turnaround point of my ride.

There, I bumped into another rider who shares my first name. Nice guy. We got to chatting, and I discovered he was riding an $11,000 titanium bike. Awesome, but ouch, is that ever a lot of money. Anyway, we were yapping about LOTOJA and the Ultimate Challenge and this and that, so I figured I’d just ride with him. Now, bear in mind that it was rollers there, so it was also rollers back. Up and down, up and down we went. When we went on the downhill, he’d gap me a little, so I started tucking in behind him. When we came to a hill, I’d roll back up beside him and resume talking his ear off about it. He was a good sport about it, but I have to wonder if he’d have preferred a quiet solo ride.

After perhaps a half-hour of hard-easy rollers, we got to the descent and started rolling down at a decent clip. But that’s when it happened: despite not really pedaling, I found myself bonking. Weird. I’d only brought water along for the ride, so I guess it wasn’t a surprise, but still, on the descent? Weird.

I rolled up to my riding buddy, told him I was bonking and said, “I’m going to let you go; have a great ride.” He said goodbye, and I watched him pedal off into the distance ahead of me.

Fortunately, the rest of the ride to my house was downhill, so I figured I could coast most of it. Still, I found myself overwhelmed by bonk on the way down. Yuck.

Have you noticed that when you’re bonking, everything feels like an insult? Everything. For some reason, the road was coated by this sandy dirt, and when the semi trucks would zip past going the other direction, they’d kick up a cloud of this dust. It would hit me in the face and sting a little. For whatever reason, I was feeling a little humiliated by this whole scenario, but, since I was riding without a cell phone, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I just slowly coasted and then spun my way back to my house, daydreaming about pizza—always pizza—along the way.

When I walked in the door, my wife asked, like she always does, “How was your ride?” This time, my response was, “I’m completely bonked. I need something to eat.” I quickly downed a couple of bite-size Toblerone bars, poured myself a glass of milk, opened a granola bar and started munching. I inhaled a dozen crackers, sliced off a good-size chunk of cheese and sucked up a few fruit snacks. I swear fruit snacks are like bonk medication. For you hypoglycemics who have to deal with this on a regular basis, my condolences.

I followed my eating binge with an hour-long nap and a shower, part of which I took sitting down. I’m feeling better now, but, ugh, I’m not exactly itching to get out and do another long ride again anytime soon.


2 thoughts on “The Indignity of the Bonk (aka, the “hunger knock”)

  1. I feel ya on the bonk. So far this year no bonk. To avoid it, 2 hours prior to the ride, I check my blood sugar, then eat some carbs with protein and only dose half of my normal insulin. I then take 1 energy gel 15 minutes before I ride (if it’s over an hour ride). Every 45 minutes into the ride, I ingest another gel, along with staying hydrated. Dehydration can often feel like the bonk, so stay hydrated. Being a diabetic, I’ve learned the lessons the hard way – like riding 20 miles and not being aware of where you are and what you are doing. Scary!

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