The Anatomy of a Bonk

If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re interested in cycling. And if you’re interested in cycling, I imagine you’ve experienced the joys of a ‘bonk’, ‘hit the wall’, had the ‘hunger knock’, or any of the other term for that horrendous experience of finding your legs have given up on you (I always call it a bonk as it’s nice and short and has those humerous playground connotations).  If you’re a cyclist and haven’t bonked before, then you’re not trying hard enough!

A bonk can be a result of many things, but the typical definition of it is when you run out of liver and muscle glycogen. This manifests in your legs going to jelly, with every turn of the pedals becoming an act of indescribable misery. In the below, this is Bonk Type A.

For me, there are two types of bonk. There’s Type A, the ‘traditional’ kind, as described above. But I also think there’s another type, one which doesn’t really suit the above definition but is kind of similar – a mental bonk, where the fire in the belly gets extinguished, and the desire to be out training vanishes. Given how the head controls the body, this leads to a bit of a physical wipeout as well, although not so much of the crippling desertion of strength that the ‘traditional’ Type A bonk results in. The mental bonk leads to to a ride that becomes lacklustre and flat, and without the willingness to go deep. This is Bonk Type B and is less harrowing than Type A, but pretty rubbish nonetheless.

 Although a bonk of either variety is a highly personal experience, I thought I’d try to map out that ‘journey’ as I experience it. They both have a similar path, and share characteristics.

(Apologies for dodgy table formatting… WordPress is pretty basic…)

Time Scale Type A – Traditional bonk Type B – Mental bonk
Bonk minus 60mins Unpleasant occasional thoughts of ‘ooh, my legs don’t feel very fresh’, or, ‘shit, do I really have xx miles to go?! I’m knackered’ Unpleasant occasional thoughts of ‘this is a bit difficult / boring / generally shit’ (choose option as appropriate)
B – 40mins

 

 

 

 

 

Occasional contemplation of ‘If I go down this road, and miss out that hill and that hill, I can be home in an hour rather than two. After all, I’m pretty tired. Maybe that epic ride I did last week is still in the legs’ Occasional contemplation of ‘I’m not sure I’m in the mood. If I go down this road and miss out that hill and that hill I can be home in an hour rather than two. That will mean I have the afternoon free to do xyz‘ (insert a chore / social thing you’ve just made up that minute)
B – 30mins Start getting paranoid that a bonk may be approaching. Route around in pockets for a tasty bit of energy food to munch on and get some energy to stave it off. Eat a bit of that tasty energy grub in your back pocket. That will cheer you up
B – 25mins On the completion of a descent / after a spell of tailwind, decision that all is well with the world, the legs are feeling great, and the ride is saved, hurrah! On the completion of a descent / after a spell of tailwind, decision that all is well with the world, this ride is GREAT and I can be bothered to do it properly; the ride is saved, hurrah!
B – 23 mins Half way up a climb / when riding into the wind, decision, ‘No, am definitely running out of gas. I can tell everyone it was a recovery ride, or an intentionally slow easy base ride’ (even if it was supposed to be a full gas monster training ride). Half way up a climb / when riding into the wind, decision, ‘No, am definitely going to do that easier route I thought about earlier. I can tell everyone it was a recovery ride, or an intentionally slow easy base ride’ (even if it was supposed to be a full gas monster training ride.
B – 20mins Start heading home, which despite being the easy route, still features that nasty lumpy bit that always takes it out of you. Sudden feeling that you can’t get out of the saddle easily, and drop of cadence
B – 15 mins Feelings of mild dizziness and spots in the eyes Onset of a bad mood because the ‘epic’ ride you were thinking of the night before and spent a significant amount of time preparing for that morning has gone belly up.
B – 10mins Immediate consumption of a gel if you have one, or can of coke if near a shop, possibly immediately followed by the cramming of the remainder of that tasty morsel mentioned earlier into your gob.
B – 9mins Feelings of euphoria and sense of relief that you will get home under your own steam – no need to contemplate a humiliating train ride home, hurrah!
B – 2mins Consider a train home. Realise that the train would actually take you longer than riding, and that your mood for the rest of the day will be even worse if you totally bail. Resolve to slog it out on the bike.
BONK! Total draining of all brain and body function. Pull over for a few minutes and try to get yourself together and HTFU. Hideous realisation that you’re going to have to keep riding, at least to get to a train station. Whilst a train is humiliating, getting a taxi home or to the station would be even worse. Imagining the mojo crushing experience of explaining to the cabbie why you’re getting in his car when you have a perfectly good bike, then having to listen to them about the trials and tribulations of Crystal Palace FC supporters over the past 8 years. This in itself is enough to spur you on. Grind home, hands firmly on hoods and not moving for anything, too pissed off to even look at your garmin, think about cadence, consider technique etc.
B +10 mins Words cannot describe this. I wouldn’t want to subject you to it. Remember that feeling of when you’re 14 and are forced to clean your room? You feel like that.

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