When you and I run out of steam on our solo or group rides, we feel wasted and desperate and possibly a bit embarrassed that we’ve gotten to this point. When a superstar like Alberto Contador bonks at Paris-Nice and loses the race as a result, that’s got to be more than just awkward. And just what is bonking? It’s a generic term that covers a number of similar conditions, but the bottom line is that once you bonk, you cannot operate at a level anywhere near your normal capabilities until you cure the cause of said bonking.
Contador is certainly not the first pro to experience this phenomenon. Back in 1996, trying for what would have been a record-setting sixth Tour championship, Miguel Indurain suffered from the “fringale” on an epic stage seven that crossed the Madeleine and ended on Les Arcs. “Fringale” is a French word literally meaning extreme hunger, but when used in the cycling context it is a synonym for bonking. Indurain had crested the Madeleine with all the other serious contenders and had started the last climb to Les Arcs looking as imperturbable as ever. But less than 5k from the finish, he was in obvious distress as the other members of his group simply rode away from him. As it turned out, he had a bout of “fringale” so bad that he asked for a bottle of sustenance from his team car, an action against the rules of the Tour. After the stage finish an incredulous Richard Virenque had this to say: "I could not believe it. We were all there with Indurain to the fore and then when the others broke he just appeared to cycle on the same piece of road. Truly, it is the most remarkable sight I have seen on the Tour."
Indurain’s bout with the fringale turned out not to be the one factor that kept him from winning. He finished 11th that year and retired shortly thereafter.
Even uber-champion Lance Armstrong has had bonking experiences, mostly insignificant, but in one well-remembered instance in 2003, he blamed lack of adequate hydration on his less than stellar performance during the stage 12 time trial which he lost to Jan Ullrich by more than one and a half minutes. Dehydration is not the same thing as low blood sugar, but they are both considered to be a form of bonking.
Lance's first bonk in the 2000 TDF.
What this all means to us recreational cyclists is this: if inadequate food and water can slow the world’s greatest cyclists to a crawl, that same condition can ruin our much more modest endeavors just as easily.
You might say, 'Yeah but Harley, I aint no cyclist, my daily activity is work, clean, look after my family etc and walk the dog...'. My reply is' Exactly, so you need still need enough glycogen so you aint bonk'n during your daily activities and making life hard for yourself and those around you.'
The harder we are going, the more severe the bonk is. But we can still bonk when we are just doing our daily business and mistake the mood swing and drop in energy as something else but in reality its just that we need more carbs and water.
I bonked extremely hard during my last run in the Grand Canyon in Arizona this past January. It was clearly from a lack of carbohydrates both pre-workout and en route. I didn't properly fuel up the night before and didn't carry sufficient calories with me during the 5 hour run down to the Colorado River and back (4,500 feet of elevation loss & subsequent gain over 17 miles). I did fine on the descent, but finished off my calories halfway up the climb (I think I only carried about 300 calories with me!). The trail was covered in a couple feet of snow in the final couple of miles from the top of the South Rim (elevation around 7,000 feet) and I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
Despite the cold temperatures, I began sweating profusely (literally sweat streaming off my head without warning), became dizzy, and my vision started going black. I somehow made it out just in time and quickly scarfed 5-6 bananas just to keep from passing out. This was a real scary experience and not something I plan to ever run into again! I've learned I must eat sufficient carbs before any workout and be sure to carry some along for the ride!
Yea, about one week ago I went out on my bike for a fast 55 km. I thought I didn't need food so I didn't took anything. It goes very well up to the top of the first climb but a bit after, almost suddenly I had no more strength/energy. Still 25 km to go and at the bottom of an other climb (4 km). Even going very slow was difficult. Difficult to focus. The vision beginning to go black a few times.
I 'had' to finish so I went as slow as possible, and stopped a couple of times. After the climb I felt a bit better but I felt very cold (the weather was cool but not a reason to felt so cold).
Once at home at hit the bananas.
Not a pleasant experience. But it was a good lesson.
Have I ever!!! In 2002 I was cycling across from adelaide to perth (2800km) and one day was not organised with carbs and ran out with 90km to go to the next road house...I was crying and just hating life for about 1hr till I just sucked it up and realised I must be a winner and learn from the mistake rather than a whiner and being a 'victim'.
Ive bonked many times but that was the hardest. Once I ran the adelaide marathon 9hours after coming 2nd in the South Australian 24hr solo xc champs. I bonked hard in the last 5km of the marathon and finished in 3:42.
The first time I bonked was in 96 and I didnt know what was happening. I ate green apricots off a tree and laid down for an hour and limped home. It was my first ride over 100km and one that I will remember for ever.
Bonking is rare these days, and if I do bonk (its been over 2 years) I know exactly what is going on and just roll easy to the nearest fruit stash. Good thing about bonking is that you get some signs that you are running low on carbs.
In last saturday's race again, the strongest rider in our Div 1 bunch failed to eat enough and got dropped. It happend 3 weeks ago as well. Some of these young punks have the big motor but not the smart fuel tank..Its sort of funny to watch them just go backwards..but you cant tell em..they know it all. :)
What we eat today powers us tommorrow. We can still eat a 5000calorie breakfast and bonk on a 3hr training ride. How? It takes around 24hours for a really really fit individual on a high carb low fat diet to replenish glycogen. It can take over a week for an out of shape person.
Another reason why its so so rare to find really, really fit people. I mean in my home town of Adelaide we have the city to bay and I dont run much but can still get in the top 100 each time out of 5000+ runners in the 12km.
Have a society paranoid of gaining a lb and tell em carbs are the enemy and fatten em up on fat n salt and you got em..