The Dreaded Bonk – What It Feels Like and How To Avoid It

It Happens

This is one of those feelings that no cycler welcomes. It’s not one of those things you wake up and aspire to have happen or do. No one wakes up and says, “I’m ready to bonk today.” It’s a feeling that every cyclist who rides, either competitively, or not, has experienced at one time or another.

It can result from burning every last match. It can result from forgetting to hydrate or improper hydration (lacking in sodium), neglecting to refuel and eat something during a long ride, from a day of training and all out intervals, or simply from the elements of heat and wind. Or a combination of all the above.

The Bonk

Very few words can describe this state of being once you have reached the point of total emptiness. This void of energy and life when there literally feels like there is not one more calorie left to burn. You’ve gone way past the communion of suffering that cyclers share. Past the point of a nagging pain, a sore back, saddle, or arms or legs or neck. Past the point of giving up (perhaps multiple times), and it feels as though there is nothing left in the core of your being to go on. Your computer tells you that you’ve burned 5000 calories already. And you know that last trail bar sitting in your back pocket is not even going to come close to making up for the deficit. You’re still moving. But barely just enough to maintain your balance. The slightest reaction to anything and your muscles are set to a hair pin trigger to contract and cramp up on the spot. And you know it. You stopped doing the distance math a long time ago. At 5 miles an hour of 15 to go, the numbers are not in your favor. If you’ve ever reached this point. Then you know exactly what it feels like to bonk.

How to Avoid It

Eat and Drink Early. Both on the day of the ride and the few days preceding.

Ride in a Group to Conserve Energy.

Pace Yourself. Conserve energy focusing on efficiency especially in the first half of the ride.

Proper Rest and Sleep Before a Ride. Don’t go on a 15 mile trail ride the day before the event – unless that is your typical regimen.

Stay Cool. Water on the helmet helps to cool off.

Drink a Coke. This is not a sponsored ad and while I typically don’t drink this stuff anymore, it still hits the spot after a long ride – or in the latter 3rd or 4th part of a ride. Perhaps it’s the one time where drinking this stuff actually has multiple benefits? High source of calories, sugar, sodium, and caffeine? All in one gulp?


What do you do to avoid bonking on a big ride? Comment below!




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