25 Jan

How To Avoid “Bonking” in a Race

By Angie Spencer on January 25, 2019 in

Here’s an important question we received about bonking -that dreaded feeling when your body refuses to cooperate and no matter how much further you have to run your legs just feel like lead.

Hi Angie, My question is: Can you please recommend some tactics to deal with bonking at a race or even during a long run? I was lucky that Coach Athena’s training plan really worked for me at the Chicago marathon and I didn’t bonk a single moment. But I fear that I may run into a ‘wall’ in the future, as I have experienced during a couple of long training runs before, when I had to stop for a really long time before I could run again. Aside from repeating some personal mantras, what can one do to quickly get the legs moving again? Many thanks, Vicky

How To Avoid Bonking

As a newer runner it’s common to fear and even experience what’s called “bonking” or “hitting the wall” during a marathon or long run. This may be experienced as that “out of gas” feeling, where your legs feel heavy, you’re feeling sluggish, and you may start having negative thoughts and doubts that you can finish. Many people start walking during this time and find that they can hardly get themselves moving again. There are a couple of different reasons for why this occurs and we’ll differentiate between bonking and hitting the wall.

Fuel Intake

Bonking may occur when you don’t take in adequate carbohydrate replacement during your run. The average runner burns approximately 100 calories per mile and your body will have depleted its fuel store of stored glycogen at around mile 16-18 (depending on what you’ve eaten earlier in the day). This is especially true if you’re running at an intensity above the fat burning mode where your body is primarily relying on carbohydrates for fuel. If you bonk your body has burned through its reserve supply of glycogen and what you’ve put in your body hasn’t kept up with the demand. This can easily happen to people who deal with a touchy stomach or GI upset while running because certain fueling products can be hard to get down. You may feel a sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Other symptoms include shakiness and rubbery legs which may indicate that your blood sugar is low.

If you’re running out of energy midway through your long run it could be because you started out too fast or that you aren’t getting the calories you need to keep the engine going. To avoid bonking make sure that you have an easy to digest snack 1-2 hours before your long run. It’s also better to start your fueling strategy early on in your run and take it during regular intervals. Your long runs are the time to practice and find out what you need.

Most runners can digest between 150-250 calories of fuel per hour so make sure that you find something that settles well with your stomach and keeps your energy levels stable. We switched over to using Generation UCAN back in 2013 after traditional fueling products left me sick to my stomach and unable to take anything in after mile 16. Since this product has a slow release carbohydrate it keeps the blood sugar levels more stable, often requiring me to take in les fuel. If you decide to try it, use the code “MTANOBONK” to save 15%.

Hitting the Wall

Somewhat different than bonking, the experience of hitting the wall may be caused by physical symptoms, but can also have a mental component. If your body is struggling to keep its energy level up, the mind can also chime in with its doubts and fears. The body is very protective and wants to keep everything in equilibrium. If it senses that your energy levels are getting low then the central governor can kick in and make you want to slow down or stop. If you hit the wall during a long run or race take stock of your body systems.

Do a head to foot assessment to find out if the way you’re feeling has a physical or mental component. If your body still feels fairly strong and you’ve been fueling well, check your mental chatter. It could be that you have a stream of negative thinking that needs to be counteracted. Remember, the body will respond to the direction the mind gives it. Make sure that you are giving yourself plenty of positive affirmation. Focus on running the mile you are in and don’t get overwhelmed with how far you need to go. Tap deep inside for your why to find inspiration and repeat a strong mantra. It can even be helpful to look outside yourself for distraction to get through a bad patch which we all have at one time or another.

Related Posts:

How to Avoid Bonking and Cramping During Your Marathon
Taking Action and Setting Big Goals in Running and Life -we talk about bonking in the quick tip.
How I Use Generation Ucan -Youtube video

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