The time you underestimated how much you should eat whilst on the bike, the time it would take you to get between water stops in 100+ heat, or you learned how eating a clif bar, alone, is a bad nutrition choice.
Verb: “Describes the condition caused by depleted glycogen stores, which generally results in a sudden loss of energy and/or fatigue.”
That loss of energy…that horrible feeling of fatigue…
Bonking is the worst. I’m sure you’ve all had the spectacular moment where you needed the push home, or the emergency stop at the service station to buy some food or a can of Coke. I’m pretty good when it comes to managing my nutrition on the bike, and bonking is not something that I ever want to happen. But let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Whether it is cause by being caught out in the elements, pushing harder than you anticipated on a training ride, or just bad nutrition management, it can happen to the best of us.
My most memorable bonk moment came at the pointy end of an endurance event I was riding in. This Gran Fondo covered 240 km and 4000m elevation and it was on a hot day. The event had full support with plenty of food and water stops provided along the way. My riding partner and I decided to not stop for lunch, due to the large crowd, and to keep riding and eating on the bike in order to finish before time cut which as 12 hrs.
It was at about the 200km point that I started feeling terrible, emotional, a little distressed and the thought of the final 10 km steep climb felt completely overwhelming, my legs were like jelly. I remember riding along and suddenly feeling a sense of euphoria, giggling uncontrollably, which in hindsight was obviously the beginning of my bonking. As we approached the final climb, I had a second wave of energy – I was off, out of the saddle and sprinting up the climb like it was flat. As I was dancing on the pedals, I was passing many people walking their bikes up the steep incline. I was feeling great…That was for a couple of kilometers at least.
The wave of fatigue hit me.
Like I hit a brick wall.
Those last few kilometres home were what felt like some of the longest kilometers I’ve done on the bike. I felt tired, sensitive, teary, and my mind was irrational. I really didn’t think I could physically make it home, and it seemed like an impossible task to turn my legs over. My riding partner emptied her pockets of food for me and pretty much pushed me home. Of course, these feelings all vanished when we rolled into the finish, those last few kilometers weren’t as far away as we thought, and bonking quickly fixed by some proper food and water. You couldn’t wipe the smile, and sense of relief, off my face.
The bonk for me generally happens in three phases. It starts with phase one, a wave of emotion (my friends will agree). The wave of emotion is generally followed by phase two, a short burst of energy, where all of a sudden I’ll be in my drops, half wheeling my friends and feeling amazing. Then phase three hits, a sudden and unforgiving loss of energy comes. This is that wave of fatigue – where the bonk sets on and I am pedalling backwards. These are the moments when I lose all concentration and sometimes I need to sit on the gutter for a moment, eat anything I can find to regain composure. Nothing a bit of sugar can’t help.
Bonking for me is an emotional rollercoaster. There are definite waves of ups and downs – the down, being the dreaded bonk. Over time I’ve learnt to recognise the pre-bonk signs, so that I can attempt to catch it before I end up going backwards or receiving the helping hand to get me home. You live and you learn they say, and with bonking – it’s totally true. Here are three lessons from other Strava athletes you can learn from.
1. Don’t ignore the signs.
Try to catch the bonk before it gets crazy!
“I bonked on a 140 mile ride and I literally think I started to go insane. I guess I didn’t realize just how much I needed to eat and drink. I remember having to stop at a gas station to buy more food and laughing hysterically for no apparent reason. I think I scared the guy I was riding with.” – Nicole Justice
2. Always be prepared for where you are riding.
If it’s hot, bring enough water, if it’s a long day, have enough food!
“My most dramatic bonk story is when I got stuck in the desert in 100+ degree temps without any food or water. I was riding for about 2 hours with empty bottles before a friend got to us with support and it was the first time I had experienced the effects of true lack of nutrition and dehydration. During times like that you go into a dark place, mentally. But today, it’s an adventure that my friends and I still laugh about to this day. Both at our horrible planning, and the crazy tricks your mind will play on you at times like that. And I definitely learned my lesson. You will always find me topping off my water bottles any opportunity I get!” – Jennifer Hannon
3. Learn from your mistakes!
“I remember my first bonk. I rode 80 miles which was the most I’d ever ridden in one day, and I think I only ate some oatmeal and a clif bar. It was a relief at the end of the day to find out bonking was indeed a thing, and it wasn’t just that I was weak and bad at cycling.” – Ginger Boyd
We all bonk sometimes, let’s learn from our mistakes and help each other better avoid that inevitable rough day. Why’d you bonk?
Share your story in the comments below or tag @StravaCyclingand @MachinesforFreedom on Instagram with a photo and the hashtag #FreedomStories. We’ll be reposting our favorites
Photos by George Eklund and Tracy Chandler.