The Bonk Post
|April 3, 2018||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
I went for an awesome 20 mile run on Sunday with a friend (see the pics on the facebook page) and had the easiest/best/fabulous 20 mile training run EVER.
My friend, unfortunately, did not. In fact, she spent the last hour in a pretty serious “bonk”. After she started talking to me again (she probably spent the one hour bonk silently swearing at me inside of her head. It’s OK Jo, I didn’t take it personally) she told me I needed to write down my approach to fixing a bonk.
First off, for those of you not familiar with the term “bonk”, here’s a quick explanation. It can be physical, mental, or emotional. For example any (and all) of these things could happen during a bonk:
- GI distress, nausea
- Weird cramping pain either GI, muscles, or connective tissues
- Can’t keep your eyes open
- Sudden tiredness where before you were bouncy
- Feeling like it’s impossible to take another step
- Hard time formulating sentences.
- Seriously thinking about DNF’ing or Rider optioning
Here’s Mel’s approach to the bonk.
First, recognize the bonk. How fast you can fix a bonk depends on how fast you can recognize yourself (or your friend) barreling towards it. What used to take you an hour to fix, might be fixed in 15 minutes next time (or faster) if you recognize the subtle signs earlier. Here’s what I look for.
Early signs that I’m bonking
- When I’m talking to someone there’s a 2 second delay between me speaking and me hearing myself say the words. So far only happens at night.
- My mind is no longer active. Hard to explain, but the constant background of my mind goes silent, It’s not a pleasant “in the moment” type of silence, but a negative “dark” emptiness.
- It’s all I can do to get motivated to run a flat or downhill portion of the trail.
- I’m annoyed by my normally delightful friend or comrade.
- Sections of trail that should be a green or yellow effort taking into consideration time of day, mileage etc. are orange or red (I use colors to designate run effort). If you consider run effort according to colors (green, yellow, orange, red).
Middle of full-on bonk
- Any upset stomach type symptoms
- Weird cramping or pain that comes on suddenly and sharply, especially if it’s not at a site of any previous actual known injury.
- Can’t keep my eyes open let-me-sleep-on-that-rock tired (usually an afternoon bonk thing).
- If I let it go past this, that’s when I actually start getting nauseous, might have actual muscle cramps (like calf cramps) etc.
- One word answers, and later grunts when before they were chatter boxes.
- I’ve peed 3 or 4 times and they haven’t peed at all.
- They are complaining of stomach cramps or nausea.
- They are needing breaks or need to hike where before they were bouncing happily along and we have similar fitness levels.
- I haven’t seen them eating anything in forever.
Second, ask yourself these questions
- When was the last time I peed?
- When was the last time I ate real food (not gu, elyte drink, or gummies)?
Commonly the answers are “a while” or “I dunno”. This along with any signs in the previous section increase the likelihood that what you are feeling is a bonk, not just normal fatigue.
Third, follow an algorithm
Why have a structured plan? Because getting out of a bonk is the *only* time I can’t rely on “feel” to do what my body needs.
My body needs calories, or water, or electrolytes (or some combination).
What my body wants to do is…nothing.
My body’s strategy is maybe if I ignore it, it will all go away and somehow get better? Yeah…..not very likely.
Here’s the process I go through for *correcting a bonk.
*This isn’t medical advice. This isn’t going to work for everyone. Don’t be a dumb-ass.
1.Slow down. I try not to stop. I can do that later if needed. Reduce the effort to a green or green-yellow light, even if that’s a slow shuffle. I try to pick a pace where my brain isn’t having to spend lots of effort forcing myself to go forward. I want my effort to be an easy autopilot while I figure this out.
Paradoxically, I (and I’ve noticed others) will start pushing themselves HARDER in a bonk. We are walking, but walking really fast – at the limit of our effort. The brain has told us to “just get this done” and while that may be appropriate near the end of a long race, it isn’t going to help us get through a bonk. This is an example of not being able to trust what your brain and body wants.
“It feels so inefficient,” my friend moaned when I told her to slow down her charge up a hill when she was too queasy to eat. Just remember. Going forward at any pace trumps stopping. And getting through a bonk and being able to run with an easy effort again trumps fast walking while feeling miserable and sick.
2. Check in with hydration and elytes first. If it’s been a while since you peed then spend more time here. If you suspect it’s a fueling issue, at least check in with your elytes and hydration because if it’s out of whack it’s difficult to get calories in.
- I drink water until my stomach feels full and sorta sloshing. Then I pop 1-2 electrolyte capsules, depending on conditions.
- Evaluate in 5-10 minutes. Do I feel better or worse or same?
If you are more likely to be dehydrated than elyte deficient, spend more time drinking water before going heavy on the elytes. However, if you aren’t getting results (feel the same after 15 or 20 minutes of drinking lots of water, or feel worse after 5 or 10 minutes) don’t be afraid to pop elyte capsules.
When working through a bonk it’s helpful to keep an eye on your watch and set deadlines – give “x” strategy a certain amount of time and if it’s not working, move onto something else. With experience you will know what that “x” time is and when you usually respond to a strategy. For me, if I increase my water consumption and don’t feel better in 5-10 minutes, then it’s usually my electrolytes. If you’ve let yourself get further into a bonk or don’t have a lot of experience getting yourself through one, you may need 10-20 minutes.
Overhydration and dehydration can feel very similar. It’s a scary thing to have to decide which needs correcting in the middle of a bonk with a fuzzy brain. Experience helps. I know I’m more likely to have an elyte issue than a water issue, unless I’m at altitude and it’s at the end of the day and I have a headache. Then it’s water I need to correct, followed by elytes. If you’ve started drinking a lot of water and have been feeling progressively better but now improvement has stalled, that’s another sign you may need to pop some elytes. My preference is to choose an electrolyte capsule with ginger in it. It really helps prep my GI tract for step 3.
3. Eat real food. What do I mean by real food? Anything that isn’t a gummy or a Gu like product. I’ve had good luck using applesauce packets if you need a liquid sweet consistency with no chewing. Whatever seems to the tastiest, take out of your pack (or a friends pack, or out of the pack of the person passing you…). Again, like all the other steps above, your body probably doesn’t want to eat. But remember, that’s why we have these steps. Because if you listen to your body at this stage, you won’t do anything or do it half ass and it’s going to take forever to get out of this bonk.
- Take one bite.
- Evaluate in 5-10 minutes.
- If you feel the same or better, take another bite (but keep it at one bite). If you feel worse, try a different food.
- If you still feel worse, try rinsing your mouth with some sort of liquid that has sugar in it and then spitting. If that doesn’t work, reevaluate steps 1 and 2. This is where I might start stopping and taking breaks (step 1) if I’ve gotten this far and it’s still getting worse.
- At some point instead of forcing a bite time at timed intervals, you will feel hungry before the 5-10 mark. Feel free to eat according to how you feel at that point, making sure to take at least one bite every 20 minutes.
Hopefully at this point you have to pee if that was one of your “dunno” questions. I don’t wait until I pee (if I haven’t peed) to start eating but I keep an eye on it.
4. Pick up the pace. It’s important not to do too much too fast. I usually don’t force myself to run again, but during step 3 I usually find myself wanting to pick up the pace. It’s not a desperate push like in step 1, but an honest “I want to take a couple of running steps on this very runnable section.” I choose strict end points for these running stretches, until at some point I completely forget to stop at my end point because my mind has wandered and the pace is easy. I either count strides (20 works well for me), or choose a physical land mark. If there happens to be a nice down hill I’ll shuffle down it faster than a walk but not truly running until the hill stops. During this time I’m still drinking, elyting, and eating. Usually by now any weird bonk pains in muscles or tissues have disappeared. The pace should still feel easy even though I’m going faster than step 1. If it’s not…..make sure you have…
5. Taken care of your internal governor. Our brain has a huge role in how we feel as we cover the miles. It allocates your body’s resources as it sees fit and makes you feel different things independent of what subjective reality is. If you have taken care of any pacing, water, elyte, and food issues and still find yourself dragging along, do a little brain self-care. I also try to do regular internal governor checks outside of a bonk. Here’s my favorites.
- Suck on mentos or some other favorite delicious thing.
- Change up whatever I’m listening to – switch between silence, podcasts, music
- Pull out the map and calculate likely time to the aid station and see how close you come to the second of being there (or try to beat your estimated time).
- Do walk run intervals based on landmarks.
- Make an aid station plan – what are you going to do, what are you going to eat.
- Play games with the distance – you only have to get to the next aid station, the rest of the distance doesn’t exist.
- Help someone else out on the trail that’s having a tough time.
- Take some pictures
Other helpful hints and tips.
- Getting through these steps during a bonk is so hard, that it often takes a constant dialogue from a friend, or self talk to remain focused and doing them. It sounds so stupid as I sit on the couch and write it out because it really is simple, but during a bonk you are stupid.
- The most important thing is not to copy my bonk system point for point. The most important thing is that YOU HAVE A SYSTEM for working through your personal bonks. You can’t do nothing. You can’t wait 30-60 minutes and then try one thing and then wait another 30-60 minutes and sorta try something else.
- Sometimes there is a point where your body is under so much stress that you have to go to extremes to get back on track. I remember seeing my Western States runner puke at an aid station in the late afternoon/early evening after eating and being grilled by an EMT there about what he had been eating/drinking up until that point. He was told – no more sugar, no more sugary drinks, lay off the solids for a while, and try to stick to chicken broth. After a couple of hours of chicken broth, things finally settled down and he was able to start his normal refueling again. If nothing is working that usually works, and you can’t trust what your body wants because it’s obviously lying, then trust the most trustworthy person around you. An EMT at a western states aid station is a good choice! As is a more experienced runner or endurance rider, or your crew that has helped you through this in the past.
- Often just getting to an aid station and getting caught up in the excitement and thanking the volunteers, and eating the yummy food and executing your aid station plan is enough of a distraction and a boost that on the other side of the aid station you are running again “accidentally”. This happens more frequently when I’m dealing with an internal governor issue and my hydration/fueling is adequate but I’m just struggling mentally.
- A common negative thought during a bonk is that you may as well give up because obviously it’s never going to get better. That’s a LIE. You cannot predict how you will exit a bonk. Sometimes on the other side is the smoothest easiest running of the race. I’ve had some of my best running miles at 60 miles into a race which is CRAZY. How should running at the 60 mile mark be easier than the 20? Trust in your body and trust in the process.
- It is my preference to be able to handle my water, electrolytes, and the bulk of my calories separately. It allows me to micro-manage and balance them. I do have a few “all in one” products that I use as part of an overall fueling strategy. But, if I’m using those products I’m also carrying plain water and elyte tabs. I’ve heard some people swear by products like tailwind and say they don’t need anything else even for really long races like 50 miles. However, in my personal experience I’ve seen friends and others around me bonk harder and more often using these products. Experiment. If you are regularly bonking and bonking hard, try something else.
- The further I’m into a run/race, the faster a bonk can progress from “mmm…maybe there’s a problem” to full on “whoa baby”.
- I always tell people who are nauseous and trying to puke that they will feel better if they puke. I have no actual experience but it’s what I’ve always been told. *shrug* Getting nauseous is really late stage bonk for me and I rarely get to that point. BUT, I’ve walked a ton of people through bonking nausea and they all told me how it helped so I continue to say it.