Yesterday I went for a 3 hour ride. It was a pretty normal ride with some max efforts in the middle. The sort of session I would do multiple times a week. When I was about 30 minutes from home the wheels fell off and I bonked. Now if you are reading this'd you have no idea what I am talking about, lucky you. If you are an athlete who has no idea what I am talking about, take note. Bonking is when your body completely runs out of energy. When you hit the wall. I believe scientifically it is when your body puts itself into a state of sedation. Whatever you want to call it, it is not fun. I was finished with my hard efforts and just doing the 30 minute ride home from the M7 where I ride when I could tell I was a little off. I ran out of water and before I knew it I barely had the energy to spin the pedals. By the time I got home I had a headache and my mouth was completely dry. I was shaking and carrying my bike up the stairs was an effort. When I got home I quickly tried to top up my nutrition. Drank a lot and had a True Amino protein shake. After a while I started to feel better but I know from past experience that digging that deep can have a lingering impact.
Imagine your body is a bank account. You save up a certain amount of energy which you can burn. You can borrow from the bank as well sometimes. What is important though is that you don't want to run out of money. Even worse is when you run out of money and borrow too much. By recovering properly you are able to top up your savings and by progressively overloading your body your savings will go up. But if you 'break the bank' by borrowing too much or having your account in the red, like in life, expect their to be consequences. Now those of you who know me will also know that I am a MASSIVE Superman fan. In fact I am just a huge comic book fan full stop. Last night after my incident on the bike I went to the midnight screening of Batman V Superman. This isn't really related to the story but what was significant was that I didn't get home and to bed until 3:30am. With an alarm set for 7am it means that I have had only 3 and a half hours sleep. You wake up and you feel ok. Because I am that big a fan, I had tickets to see the movie again at 12. On my schedule today is a 1 hour run set of hill repeats and a 2 hour big gear ride. I decided to get my run out of the way this morning. It was a struggle. The funny part is the actual hills which were intervals of 45 seconds, were ok. But as soon as they were over I felt ill. Even the recovery jogging felt hard. While I am confident that doing the set was the right thing I am also aware that I do not want to break the bank.
I wrote an article for True Amino last week about the importance of recovery to your training. I also wrote last week here about being willing to suffer when you train and race. But what I have neglected to write about is to know when it is time to listen to your body and back off a bit. Now to make you all understand my history of bonking I thought I would recount those times where it has happened to me. Lucky for me I can count them on one hand (not for too long though). The first time it happened was one of the first longer rides I had ever done. Where we were living meant that the last 20km of the ride was uphill. I got into town knowing this and I knew something was wrong. It was the first time I bonked. It took me a full day to recover. The second time it happened to me was in a bike race. There were 2 options, a 254 and 207km option. I was going on a cruise ship that evening so asked if I could do the shorter race but start with the longer athletes. I jumped onto a pack and rode the first 80km with the group. I then took a turn around and they kept going. This meant that I rode for the next 50kms completely by myself. Being a young idiot I tried to ride too hard and at the 130km mark I realised I was very thirsty. I had not had a drink for over an hour. I stopped at an aid station and grabbed some sport drink. I emptied the bottle, grabbed a spare and rode for about 500m before pulling over and projectile vomiting. It is a long story but I eventually made it to the finish line for my longest ever ride (turned out to be 212km) mostly thanks to my wife who went and got coke and would drive ahead and wait for me to pass. That incident took me 2 days to recover from (lucky I was on a cruise ship). The worst experience I ever had was at Western Sydney 70.3 in 2014. Read my race report here. That experience took me a week to recover from. Then there was yesterday.
Now I am a much smarter athlete than I used to be and while I think in the scheme of things my bonk yesterday was relatively minor, it is still cause for concern. No I do not mean I am going to wrap myself in cotton and be precious. Instead it means that I am going to be a little careful. For today's ride (yes I am going to do it) I will go to the local park where there is a 3.2km loop. I will ride there today. That way, if something does go wrong, I am no further than 2km from home. I am also lucky that tomorrow is a scheduled rest day so I know that I will be able to boot my recovery tomorrow. Basically, bonking isn't the end of the world. It is something that happens to many athletes, probably the majority. The thing I find funny about talking to other athletes about bonking is that while we all agree it is terrible, we also agree that is a valuable lesson. Some of just take a few more times before we learn that lesson...
So what are you able to gain from a horrid experience like bonking? For me, bonking can be an incredibly mental experience. Yesterday when I knew what was happening I could have stopped. Called a taxi or my wife. But instead I used it as an opportunity to have a discussion with myself. In fact it was very much like a race. While I may not bonk in every race, there is definitely a point during the race where I am not feeling like my normal amazing self. So by working out how to deal with the negative thoughts that you rarely get in training you are able to apply those lessons on race day. The other big benefit to actually bonking is the ability to work out what went wrong. Now for me, I am doing a little experiment with my diet at the moment (I will write all about it once I am finished) and I had heard that when you start training can be hard. That is why I am completely ok with it happening yesterday. In fact the only thing that was different yesterday to every other day I ride is the new diet. If this had happened to me on a regular day or a day I was trying a new drink or something I would have a good understanding that a certain practice does not work for me. Then you are able to take those lessons and again, incorporate them into your race day strategy. If this keeps happening to me over the next few weeks I am not going to force the fact for an 'experiment' I will stop doing it and go back to what I know works.
In reality we do need to train hard and sometimes this mean we push ourselves too far. It really will happen to most athletes. Even if you just go to the gym a couple of times a week, you have a big day at work and don't eat then try and do a spin class... It might not end so well. What is important though is to not make a habit of it. Learn from the experience like I have suggested. The better you recover the better you will be able to train. It isn't rocket science. Spending too much time with your account in the red will lead to sickness and injury and ultimately mean you train less. So pay attention to what you are doing, how much of it you are doing and what your body is trying to tell you.
So I am just going to finish typing this and jump on my bike. I had a lot of fun racing the Sydney Corporate Triathlon on the weekend for Nestle Professional. It was a very short and hectic race but it was probably the best location for a race I have ever seen. Right on Sydney Harbour with incredible views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Other than that I am looking forward to spending some time with friends and family over the Easter break.
So happy Easter everyone! Eat a little bit of chocolate and remember to TRI!