Perfecting the Art of the Bonk

The wall, hunger flat, bonk. I’m sure there are a lot of other terms, but there is nothing so horrible as running on empty in the middle of nowhere, no food, money, and of course no glycogen.

I am the master.

Over 15 years ago, I was training for my first long distance ride. I’d packed a bit of food, and had ridden probably only 100 km or so, feeling quite good. From memory I’d ridden around the Bellarine Peninsula, on a crisp winters morning, and hit Horseshoe Bend road, an iconic stretch of ashphalt in this area, that allows you to head south onto Torquay and the sumptuous sand and sea, or back to Geelong. Feeling strong and good, I decided to add what would be an extra 50km or so to my trip, go down to the front beach, and head back along the Surf Coast Highway, and home. No warning signs, and having eaten, no need to worry, or so I thought.

That’s the thing with a hunger flat. Unless you are attuned to how your body feels leading up to a crash, you have actually no idea its coming. Just after turning off, heading south, my legs started feeling heavy, and fatigue started to build up, and eventually become overwhelming. From strong to struggling within minutes.

The last 50 km of my ride that day, had to be the longest (literally and figuratively) I’ve ever ridden. At the time I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Worst of all, as the brain solely works on glycogen, I started to really struggle mentally, having to stop myself wobbling onto the wrong side of the road. A couple of times, I actually had to stop and lay down.

But of course experience is a good teacher. The next week I rode around the bay, I used some syrupy goo, that was the forerunner of more modern energy gels, that I picked up from my local bike shop.

Problem solved….well, sort of. I tend to forget things.

Over the last few years, as obvious as the problem is, and as easy as it is to prepare for, I’ve gone through exactly the same process, actually, I don’t know how many times.

Hunger, a slight feeling of numbness, a slight feeling of disembodiment, coldness, are all, in my case, things I have come to recognize as the onset of the dreaded bonk.

This Saturday was a cold winters day here in Geelong. I headed off around 8:30 am, not early, but then I’d had a pretty full on week at work, and was in no mood to go much earlier.

I’d ridden on my trainer the night before, until around 10:30 after work, so my legs were still fatigued, so I decided to do a relatively flat ride north to Werribee, and then head back south to Geelong. A loop of around 120km or so…not a particularly long, but still a decent ride.

The ride north is not that picturesque, and the road is a coarse gravel type which is fairly unforgiving. The main attraction is that the roads are quiet. It was cold, not freezing, but hovering around the 8 c mark. Uneventful.

I had a tail wind on the way out, but once I hit Werribee I knew it would be cross to head wind. Going northwest, back towards the highway to home, oh no, that feeling. I’d actually considered before heading off taking some food, or at least some money, but you know, I’d had a good breakfast, I felt good, what could go wrong?

The rest of the ride wasn’t terrible, but still, by the end, having to climb back up Scenic Road to my house, (which only totals a climb of 100 m or so) was just miserable.

Without going into detail, to burn any fat you need glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and in the liver, and normally there is ample stores as long as you don’t push too hard. Why on this particular day I ran low…well who knows. ¬†Regardless of those things out of my control, no food, money, and no towns on the way home anyway were all my fault.

Home at last, I grabbed about 10 cakes, ate lunch and collapsed for the better part of the afternoon. Never again (I’m sure there will be an again).

great ocean road

The Un-matchable Great Ocean Road

If Saturday was crap. Sunday was going to be better.

The forecast was for a nice westerly, and as I hadn’t been in the vicinity for a long time, my chosen destination was Lorne, around 60 or so kilometers from my home, along the Great Ocean Road.

This is just one of those rides that is difficult to match.


lorne foreshore

Possibly the best destination in cycling – Lorne

Lorne itself has grown from a sleepy village, to a bustling tourist destination. For a cyclist, rolling along the Ocean Road, climbing up to Cinema Point, Big Hill, past Urquart Bluff, through Point Lonsdale is just sublime.

My ride today was overcast, again cold, battling against tourist buses, but reminds me of why I ride. It just doesn’t get better.

From Lorne, in fact just before the village itself, my route took me right, up the Lorne Deans Marsh road. This is a great climb, which rises around 400 m or so, over 10 km. From the top of Mt Benwerrin, you head back down to Deans Marsh, a small township with just a handful of shops, but importantly, a spot for me to refill water, and take in a few treats…food, glorious food.

munchies at deans marsh

Learning from my mistakes – slowly

I’d packed some lemon slice, some food bars, and gels. Perhaps I had overdone it, but there was no way I was going to bonk two days in a row.

From Deans Marsh, the wind picked up, but in a good way, and I sailed back to Geelong with a predominantly tail wind.

In all it was a 140 km + ride, along one of my all time favorite routes. Even the forecasted rain held off, and I finished in a balmy 12-13 c. Best thing was that a got to around 1700 m of climbing over the course.

It had been a good weekend. Two days of good long rides (albeit with a bit of suffering). Earlier in the week, I had managed a few trainer rides, and the week before, a couple of longish rides of 120 km + each, so in all not a bad two weeks.

Its time though now that I have to step things up a bit. 2.5 months to go until Ohio…so time for some crazy stuff to begin. Next week I have some ideas, but I’ll wait on the forecast to really nail down my plans.

Until then…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s