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An Observation Confirmed

by on November 23, 2012

This morning at breakfast with some other riders, I made the observation that when I’m “bonking” (see note below)  on a long ride, I go through a series of symptoms that should be a big tip off.  One of those symptoms is that I get mad at other riders and start blaming them for my struggles.

On Flatbread a couple of weeks ago, I recall that I was having some trouble keeping up with the group and rather than understanding that I was nutritionally deficient at the time, I started to blame the other riders for going too fast and pushing the pace too hard.  I was mad.  I was grumpy.  It was all their fault.  I got them to stop for a bathroom break, and they all peed, but I couldn’t.  I was mad that they took advantage of my break.  Then, it hit me: I’m bonking.  I ate.  I felt better.  Soon I was keeping the pace fine.

When I mentioned it, Chip suddenly looked up from his coffee and said, “Me too!”  He described a ride where he was grumbling and was mad at everyone.  He was having trouble keeping up.  It was all their fault.  He was ready to sell his bikes and give up riding entirely.  Attending to nutrition solved it.

So here are the symptoms I can notice when I’m nutritionally in trouble on the bike.

  1. I’ll find that I’m having trouble keeping up with the group.
  2. My heart rate will climb, usually into the 155+ range and will resist coming down quickly when the effort eases, such as when I drift back to draft.
  3. I start to get mad at the world, but especially other riders.
  4. I want to slow down.  I want a break.  I want to quit.  I hate bicycle riding and wasting my time on this narrow saddle.
  5. It is not fun anymore.

The funny thing is that this is clear to me now.  When my brain is deprived of the basic fuel needs, I have a really hard time seeing that these are symptoms rather than the fault of everyone else around me.

A good friend is one who will tell me to quit whining and eat something.

Note:  “Bonking” is a biking term similar to runner’s language of “hitting the wall”.  It is a condition where you have transitioned from burning carbohydrates to burning fat as the body’s primary source of fuel.  It is not as efficient and performance suffers.  Suffering also is mental acuity.  Combine that with some dehydration (which almost always accompanies nutritional deficit) and bonking can become quite dangerous.  Eating for fuel an hour from now is very different than what we normally do.  In endurance events, if one eats only when one is hungry, it is too late.

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