Bonking/Hitting the Wall
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Bonking is something that can happens when you exercise in a long duration, without having adequate glucose replacement. Your body runs out of glycogen to use as fuel. I have experienced this twice in my life. This is something that is quite unpleasant and uncomfortable. Your body starts to shut down and it can become almost impossible to continue your training.
The first time that I had this happen, was when I was an inexperienced biker. I was new to cycling and was training for the Canada Games, a competition where you have to qualify to represent your province and compete against your country. For the training, I had to do a two and a half hour ride, which was the longest I had ever done at the time, and had brought no food or electrolyte drinks. Midway in my ride, I suddenly was hit by an intense fatigue that seemed to go beyond normal physical fatigue. I started to feel incredible irritability and became emotional. I started to feel dizzy and was slowing my biking speed tremendously. I had never heard of bonking and didn't know what was going on. I was still quite far away from my car and had to go to work. I ended up being able to finish my ride and was late by about thirty minutes to work.
After giving feedback to my coach later, he told me that I had probably bonked. Not having any glucose on a ride longer than an hour, like gels, dried fruits, food, electrolyte drinks or gummy had depleted my glycogen sources. I quickly fix the problem by bringing food and proper hydration to my training.
I however got faced with bonking once again recently. I was out hiking in the Rainbow Range in British Columbia, which was an activity that I had done many times before. I had brought food and water with me, however this was no normal trail. There was no trail to follow, so we had to do over twenty km of bush wack. This meant going through trees, around trees, over trees and under trees, so I was burning a lot more energy than usual. I also was working really hard to keep up with my friend as she was a natural mountain goat endurance nut. This took a total of ten and a half hour, and since it was not straight forward walking, I had under prepared and didn't bring enough food. We had hiked for over ten hours on the previous days with a forty pound pack, which had led me to already be tired. The day started pretty well, but after five hours of hiking, I felt that same crash that I had previously felt biking quite a few years ago. Since this is such a particular feeling, I knew exactly what was happening. We were about one hour away from reaching our destination and five hours away from our tent, so I knew I was in trouble. I felt incredibly irritable, and while she would have turned around if I would have set boundaries, I decided to keep going. Reaching our destination was well worth the pain as it was incredibly beautiful, however this meant I now had six hours of rough bush wack terrain to get back home with no energy.
We somehow found a very old trail that we kept losing on and off, which was leading us to our tent. It had a lot less trees in it, however being in the state that I was in, I had a hard time walking. I broke down and started crying, feeling incredible body pain, feeling dizzy and knowing that this wasn't good for my body. We were in a trail that if I were to quit or get injured, no one would have been able to get me out. While this took quite a lot of mental toughness and body pain, I somehow made it back to the tent.
The next day, I still had eight hours to hike back to the car, and I knew that I had very little energy in my body from having to hike six hours after bonking. It took everything in my body to make it out, taking a lot of short breaks and walking slower than a ninety eight year old lady with severe arthritis. Luckily, I got out of the trail with only an extremely tight Achilles tendon.
How to prevent bonking:
Prevention of bonking is mainly the key by eating properly before a long training, keeping well hydrated, fueling your body during a training and eating within thirty minutes after a training can all help prevent bonking from happening. Once this happens, try to go as easy as you can on your body. Food is the best best reversal of bonking and slowing down will start to use your fat to burn instead of your glycogen source. Rest will be needed after a bonk or as soon as you can. Here are some symptoms to be aware of to know if you are experiencing bonking.
- Slowing down
- Loss of energy
- Weakness or heaviness
- Loss of coordination
- Becoming emotional
- Extreme fatigue
- Light headed
Pay attention to your bodies signals and refuel as well as possible.