Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday Night Bonk: Tale Of Nutritional Miscalculation

Bonk: The miserable result of the depletion of blood glycogen resulting in the absolute collapse of the body engine. Runners call it “hitting the wall”. You are out of gas. No amount of will power can overcome the bonk.

Lance Armstrong has famously bonked on a critical stage of the Tour de France. Last year, the bonk cost Alberto Conatador a victory at  Paris-Nice. Tonight, on a casual Thursday night ride, I bonked. I rationalized, I denied, I suffered, I bonked. And I deserved it. My ride started as usual, running into a couple of buddies and doing a loop of the River Trail. As my partners pealed off one by one, I turned around and jumped on to another group of friends that we'd run into downtown. As we headed down Riverfront Drive, I swapped a couple of pulls with another rider and we soon had a gap on the group. It wasn't a really hard effort, but I started faltering at the end. As we regrouped as the foot of the Big Dam Bridge, several riders decided to climb Overlook, which is a little less than a mile of 8-9% grade. No big deal, but that's where I completely ran out of gas. I was done. Within 30 yards of the top of the climb, I got shaky and just didn't feel like I could turn the crank another revolution. I was 20 miles into a casual ride and I struggled 10 miles back to my car while being passed by every kind of rider on the trail. I kept expecting the ultimate humiliation of being dropped by an overweight mom pulling twins in a bike trailer while chatting on her cell phone about her Jenny Craig plan. Fortunately for my already bruised ego, that scenario did not materialize.
In retrospect, my problem was obvious. I didn't eat to support my ride. I usually eat a pretty hearty lunch and don't give much thought to weeknight ride nutrition.  I watch the fat intake and avoid greasy fare on days that I know are going to end with a hard ride, but typically on a 20-40 mile after-work ride my lunch will get me by when supplemented by a bar or a couple of gels. Today, I stepped out of my usual habit and had a big salad for lunch. I felt pretty good about it, as the salad had a good mix of fruit and vegetables, a minimum of dressing and it was quite satisfying. Unfortunately, 7 hours later there was nothing left. I was missing the long lasting fuel that protein adds to a usual lunch for me and I had also broken my habit of sticking a bar and a gel in my pocket for almost any ride.
Some folks are fat-burning machines and can put forth incredible efforts while taking on very little food. On the other hand, I know that my body wants a good base and steady fueling for any ride much over an hour. I typically do rides like tonight's 4-5 days per week, some harder and a few easier, but I got careless and paid. Even now, after a good meal, I'm still feeling depleted and I don't like it.

Eat well. Ride well.

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