The Bonk or Hitting The Wall.

Have you ever felt so totally drained of energy that it’s incredibly difficult to continue doing anything requiring physical effort? This drained feeling I refer to is nothing to do with illness, pain, legal (or illegal) drugs or alcohol. It is pushing the body physically beyond it’s stored supplies of glycogen energy and not replenishing the body’s needs during excessive and/or prolonged exercise. If so, then you’ve suffered the bonk by “hitting the wall”.

The bonk is not something suffered only by runners, it can be associated to anyone who is excessively physically taxed by burning calories of stored energy faster than replacing them, such as long distance cyclists, runners, swimmers, mountaineers and many other activities. To avoid the bonk you should be eating and drinking highly absorptive carbohydrate energy foods during regular intervals of your planned prolonged activity.

I’ve had the bonk at least twice and it’s most debilitating. Once during the Houston Marathon in Feb 1991 when I hit the wall at mile 16 or 17 and the feeling lasted through till about mile 23 or 24 when I suddenly perked up and virtually sprinted the last mile to finish in a personal best time. The other time was Jan 2012 during the Orcas Island 25K (16 miles) when I became totally drained at mile 14 and could not recover for my normally fast finish. It took me almost half an hour to recover with carbohydrate / protein energy drinks and gels before I could eat!! In both instances I had pushed myself too hard during the initial stages of each run and not taken enough (if any) energy gels or liquids.

I knew what I was doing to myself and familiar with the overall energy depleted feeling, but an insidious side effect is how it affects the brain. I had the drive to continue, as best I could, but either couldn’t decide that I needed fast acting replenishment instantly, (if I had the supplies), or could not be bothered to look for them due to brain fog. I suffered the consequences and took quite a while to bounce back. In each case the finish line meant more than completion, it meant food and drink. It must be stated here that I was running faster than my normal pace in the early stages of each race, which forced my body to burn it’s stored calories of energy at an accelerated rate. My training regimes had been fine both with distance and energy intake during running. The only difference was getting caught up with adrenaline rush early on and trying too hard. Not only was it arduous but it sapped the enjoyment factor, even though finish times and positions were respectable (by self-imposed limits).