Out There: Respect The Bonk

There’s a lot of opportunity to be humbled in endurance sports. Difficult race courses, embarrassing trips and falls, challenging weather, and stronger competitors can often keep the ego of the endurance athlete from becoming too inflated. Perhaps most humbling of all? The Bonk.

Written by: Susan Lacke

Picture this:

Phoenix, July 2010. The Ironman training plan called for my very first Century ride on Saturday. Earlier in the week, I texted my friend Josh, a cycling coach by trade, to see if he wanted to come along. He did. We made plans to start riding early in the morning to beat the desert heat.

Josh arrived at my apartment at 4 AM, just as I was sucking down the last of my cup of coffee. We set up our bikes and started pedaling out of the parking lot at 4:15.

“Any last-minute advice?” I questioned.
“Eat and drink, early and often.” He replied. “Otherwise you’ll bonk later on in the ride. Did you have a big breakfast?”

I nodded, only semi-lying. It wasn’t a huge breakfast, but I’d be fine. Even Lance Armstrong probably skipped breakfast in favor of hitting the snooze button before long rides.

Let’s take a moment to file this under the category of “OBVIOUS FORESHADOWING.”

The ride progressed smoothly as we transitioned from riding in pre-dawn with our helmet headlights to watching the beautiful sunrise. At about mile 20, Josh dropped back and touched base with me:

“Have you had anything to eat?”

Aww. Who says chivalry is dead? I took a gel out of my jersey pocket and squeezed it into my mouth, dangling the empty foil packet in front of his handlebars with a smile. He shook his head and laughed.

We hit a stretch of road with a wide shoulder and rode through the desert, side-by-side, talking about family, life, and (of course) bicycles. Around Mile 30, he changed the subject:

“Have you eaten?”

“Yes, Dad.” I ribbed good-naturedly. “May I be excused from the table now?”

It was a lie, but he didn’t need to know that. I simply wasn’t hungry yet.

Then again at Mile 45:

“How’s your nutrition?”

“Josh, I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m sure you can. But have you eaten?”

“Yeah, I had that gel at mile 20, remember?”

“You told me you ate at mile 30.”

SHOOOT. Busted. Josh handed me a gel and one of his sport drink bottles. “Take it. Now.”

Mile 60:

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you eat. When was the last time you ate?”

“I’m fine, Josh.” I rolled my eyes. This shit was starting to get old, and was making me crabby.

“Eat this.” Josh held out a package of chews. My stomach turned at the thought of digesting something semi-solid. I shook my head. Josh opened the package and held it in front of my left hand. “I’m not going to tell you again. EAT.”

SHEEEEEESH. Look who became a Bossypants. I thought to myself. I ate the chews, mocking him in my head. OOOH! LOOK AT ME! I’M JOSSSSSH! I’M A BIKE COACH! I KNOW IT ALLLLL! EAT! EAT! EAT!

We rode on. Around Mile 85, Josh checked in with me again, this time with concern in his eyes.

“You’ve been kind of quiet lately. How are you feeling?”

“Great!” I smiled, not wanting him to think I was weak. I made a mental promise to stop lying to him. After the ride was over. “I feel GREAT!”

He cleared his throat. “How fast do you think we’re going right now?”

“I don’t know…I’m tired. Maybe twelve, thirteen miles per hour?”

Josh cleared his throat again. This time, I saw he was suppressing a laugh.

“Susan, we’re going four. I’m surprised you haven’t fallen over yet.”

Oh, <BLEEP>.

We rode to a nearby convenience store, where I sat on the curb and hung my head in shame.  Josh disappeared in the store, reemerging a minute later with a bottle of cola and a small bag of potato chips.

“Eat.” He coaxed. My stomach churned and I shook my head. Josh sighed, “Susan, you haven’t listened to me at all today, and look where it got you. Now would be a good time to start realizing I know what I’m talking about. Now eat.”

I obliged.

Never in my life has junk food tasted so good. For a bonking cyclist, sugar, salt and caffeine are amazing life-giving elixirs. After a bottle of cola, I was ready to give up my life savings to building a shrine to cool, bubbly soda pop. I envisioned a fountain of cola, my body backstroking and dolphin-diving in the bubbles. Holy shnikes, COLA WAS DELICIOUS!

I downed the last of the bottle and looked up. Josh was smiling knowingly.

“Feel better?”

I let out a small burp and smiled meekly. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.” I finished off the last of the potato chips. So this is what it’s like to eat crow. Hmm…salty. “How far are we from home?”

“About 15 miles. Can you make it?” He looked at me and grinned. I nodded. “Let’s go.”

We eventually made it back home, weakly rejoicing in the completion of my first Century ride. After a shower, a plate of the greasiest and saltiest Mexican food in Phoenix, and a heavy nap, I felt somewhat human again. Josh quickly forgave me for being a stubborn ass, and since that day, I’ve held Josh in the highest regard.

The moral of the story, kids?

If you’re fortunate enough to get the advice of an expert, don’t be stubborn. Listen and follow their directions. Admitting someone knows more than you can be humbling, but trust me – moaning on the curb outside the Circle K with cola stains and potato chip crumbs on your jersey is far worse.

And for the love of god, eat something already.

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