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The Upside of Bonking

Most days, the bumper sticker on my car says it all:

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But, there are some days – some really awful days – when the love I feel for running is replaced by an emotion that more closely resembles hate. And it’s during these days that I start questioning my sanity…and my reasons for putting myself through such awful torture. This past Sunday was one of those days…

The morning started off well enough. It was another beautiful spring day, the kind of day that carries an excitement in the air that just calls for you to come outside.

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I ate a good breakfast of oats (mixed with flax, berries, almond butter and topped with granola), and started preparing for my long run. But, through a series of some unexpected events, my morning got a little messed up. And before I knew it, afternoon had settled in. Suddenly, I was overcome by a “racing against the clock” feeling, and, anxious to get going, I just sort of gathered up my gear and took off. I figured I’d be fine.  After all, I was just going to be doing an “easy” 15, since it was technically an off-week in my marathon training.

But about halfway through the run, things started going downhill fast. By 10 miles, I had to stop and rest. Even though I had been drinking water throughout, I was feeling lightheaded and exhausted. To make matters worse, my sciatic nerve was beginning to flare up (an injury I’ve had to contend with every so often since I initially had a sciatica in high school) and the top of my foot was killing me – the result of accidentally tying my shoes too tight during my long run last weekend. Worst of all, I had brought nothing with me besides water – no energy gels, nothing. And I was bonking big-time.

Man Holding a Gas Can and Hitch Hiking After Running Out of Gasoline Cartoon ClipartThere are a lot of terms to describe the state of complete exhaustion that occurs when an athlete’s glycogen stores run out  — “hitting the wall”, “running out of steam”, “out of juice”, “dead tired”, etc – but whatever way you say it, the  simple reality is that it sucks.

The good news, however, is that it can [usually] be avoided with the proper preparation.   (What’s that they say about failing to prepare…? ;) ) And a little too late, I realized I had broken some pretty cardinal rules in the “preparation” department.

What I did wrong – and how you can avoid it

  • (Im)roper fueling before the run –> While I had a good breakfast that contained a mixture of carbs, protein, fat, and fiber, it was way too long before I water glassran. By the time I set out after 2, the only thing I had had for “lunch” was a piece of a Clif Bar. Before you run, it is important to make sure that you’ve eaten enough to not be hungry, but not so much that you feel bloated or sick. I was hungry before I even started – not a good sign. Furthermore, I drank my coffee slowly over the course of the morning. I always have coffee before a long run and the caffeine can be a good energy boost…provided you drink enough water along with it. Since I drank it over the course of a couple hours, it meant that I was not drinking water during that time. As a result, I started OFF the run dehydrated. So even though I was drinking regularly, it didn’t do much to make up for that deficit.
  • The temperature –> Sunday was a beautiful spring day, but the temperature was much higher than what I’m used to training in. It can be a bit of a shock to your body to go clip_image001[13]from running in 30ish degrees to 65. Of course I can’t control how warm it is outside, but there are important things I could have done to combat the heat.
    • Wear sunscreen! The majority of my run was in the sun. A couple hours out in direct sunlight can zap your energy.  Even though it’s still early in the year, I should have been protecting my skin with sunscreen….or at the very least a running cap (something else I forgot).
    • Hyrdrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Not only did I start off the run dehydrated, but I was so afraid of running out of water that I probably didn’t drink enough during my run (even though, at the time, I was convinced that I had).  This was especially bad since the higher temps made me sweat more than usual.
  • (Im)proper fueling during the run –> As I mentioned above, I had nothing with me besides water. This was a huge mistake, especially in light of the first two points. Even though I have successfully run that distance without any sort of energy drink, gel, or food in the past, I should have brought something just in case. As I said before, it is important to always be prepared on long runs. Even if you don’t think you need it, you should bring a packet of GU or some sort of supplement along with you – especially if you are going to be out for well over an hour (like I was today).

The upside of all this?

After stopping and stretching for a few minutes (while drinking extra water), my head seemed to settle back down on my shoulders and my legs loosened up a little.  Not wanting to call it quits yet, I decided to give it another go. I’m proud to say that I finished the run…even though I felt like I was dragging myself along, every step of the way.

It’s pretty easy to get discouraged after a run like this. And I’ll admit that I had a lot of negative thoughts going through my head during the last few miles. Thoughts about being inadequate and out of shape and totally unprepared for this marathon. Thoughts about giving the whole thing up altogether.

But later — after I had showered, and eaten, and started feeling normal again — reason returned.   My pity-party ended and I was able to look at things more objectively.  While these runs that take so much out of us absolutely suck, they only serve to make us stronger in the end. Not only did today serve as a harsh reminder to be better prepared next time, but it helped me to once again realize that I am strong, and I can do it. It may not always be fun, and I may not always feel great, or run my best pace. But at the end of the day, if I can make it through the tough times, then I am stronger for it.  And that’s what I love most about running — it’s such a great parallel for life.  Just like anything else, the reward often comes from simply knowing that you’ve made it through some incredible challenge.

Sometimes, just “making it through” is enough.

2 Responses to The Upside of Bonking

  1. Thanks for your encouraging comment on my blog! I really appreciate it! And thanks for this helpful post…I am just starting to get into longer distance running (ran 8.3 miles this morning – my first time running that far!) and so I love reading people’s tips and suggestions.

    • Of course – I really do love what you wrote :) And congrats on the long run!! That’s awesome! It’s always exciting to conquer a new distance and I love hearing about people getting into long distance running :)

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