Train to be Bonk-Free

posted Mar 6, 2017, 12:42 PM by Running Club   [ updated Mar 6, 2017, 12:45 PM ]
We've all been there. Running along, pace feels good, legs feel strong... but another half hour and something is off. Head is getting foggy, legs start to feel like bricks being dragged along. Every step forward is a challenge. And that there's the Bonk. 

Bonking (or Hitting The Wall) was once thought to be solely a calorie deficit, but over the years we've found that it's much more than that. Current thinking is that bonking is due to the body and mind working together to conserve what energy you have left because the brain thinks you won't be able to complete the run with what you have stored up. Essentially, the brain is telling the body to shut down power to the muscles.

What can we do to avoid feeling drained during our long runs and especially on Race Day? 

We can train in such a way that we prepare our minds and bodies for the mileage. Greg McMillan's Bonk-Proof training plan is one way to get you ready for that upcoming race. His training steps are below, but the entire article, "How to Bonk-Proof Your Running," is a great read for those of us who have experienced The Bonk.

Improving Your Bonk Point

Once you know your bonk point, you want to challenge it every seven to 14 days with a no-carb run lasting 80 to 90 percent of your bonk point. From a two-hour bonk-point example, you’d need to execute no-carb runs of 1 hour, 36 minutes (80 percent of the bonk point) to 1 hour, 48 minutes (90 percent). Aim to get several of these runs in during the final 12 to 16 weeks before your half marathon or marathon.

Note: You won’t fully bonk on these runs—you’ll get tired and signal your body and mind to quickly adapt to this type of running.

Because training should be aimed at improving your bonk point, you should retest your bonk point every four weeks or so to see if it has changed. I suspect you’ll see that your bonk point is farther out, meaning you’ll then need to extend the distance of your 80 to 90 percent, no-carb runs to reflect your increasing bonk point.

There are [four] other ways to bonk-proof yourself.
  1. Run more. Within your race-specific training phase (the last 10 weeks before your race), add another run to your weekly routine. You don’t have to do this every week but if your body is feeling OK, with no persistent aches or pains, add another easy 30- to 60-minute run to your week.
  2. Extend your average runs. If your runs typically average one hour, bump it up to 75 minutes. These additional 15 minutes help teach your body and mind that long-distance running is nothing to get worried about.
  3. Add a midweek long run. You’ll need to be smart about how this fits in with your other workouts, but a midweek long run of 90–105 minutes is a great way to build resistance to the bonk.
  4. Do more carb-free running. As with the bonk-point test run, work toward doing more of your running with no carbs. Fuel for your key workouts—but on regular runs, begin to run carb-free.
A big part of bonk-proofing yourself means lots of practice running at your goal race pace. Your body becomes more economical at the paces you run, so race pace training is a great way to bonk-proof. Racing too fast, too early is often the demise of runners.

Lastly, make sure you focus on the duration—not the speed—of your long, easy runs. While you will certainly want to do some race-specific long runs (fast finish or pace practice runs), it’s better for you to run longer and slower rather than shorter and faster.

The image used is of the statue of the "Tired Man," referring to the poem of Attila Jozsef, a famous Hungarian poet. The statue is the work of Sozsef Somogyi, located in Mako, Hungary near the local museum. The photographer is Burrows, Public Domain,