The Bonk and why I’ll never do a century

It’s become part of nearly every long ride I do.  I pour myself onto the road and the road eats me alive.  I have been trying to push myself by doing longer rides.  I have shied away from them because the aftermath is ugly.  Headaches that turn into migraines, exhaustion, confusion, stomach issues–I’m a complete mess.  I’ve tinkered with hydration and nutrition and there have been some improvements, but nothing has been 100% effective.

It’s been something I just sort of live with, but it’s been under my skin for a while now that I can’t do a big mile ride without suffering profoundly for several hours afterwards. Usually, the rest of my day is pretty worthless. I’ve never done a century, and it bothers me, but frankly if I attempted one, I think it would level me completely.

A discussion was prompted with a friend about this.  She’s a lifelong runner, and compared my not feeling capable of completing a century with her own experience of never competing in a marathon.  “Maybe you just don’t have one in you, and that’s OK.”  I considered this a moment. It’s true, I judge myself negatively for not having a century under my belt.  But maybe I was being too harsh to myself. (It would not be the first time….)


Still, I’m happy I’ve been focusing on bigger rides, attempting to build more endurance and resilience against my inevitable bonk.  Heat is a factor, sun is a factor.  I drink every 20 minutes (it’s like a drinking game) and eat every hour even when I really don’t want to.  I eat a high protein and glucose rich meal within 20-30 minutes after a ride, and drink for hours after the ride to replenish fluids.  Advil is a required ingredient in each post ride ritual to head off any serious headaches and prevent a day-killing migraine.

I’m going to keep pushing these longer rides this summer, at least until mid August, when I’ll switch up to cyclocross & intervals and all of that craziness.  But I might just let go (for good) the idea of a century.  I shouldn’t need that to validate me as a cyclist or an athlete.  And sometimes things like this are funny.  Sometimes as soon as you let go of an idea, sometimes, it finds you, or something better comes in the replace the preoccupation. Century or no century, I just love riding my bike.



About Karen

Mid-life female amateur athlete focused on cyclocross, mountain biking, and road cycling.

4 responses to “The Bonk and why I’ll never do a century”

  1. bgddyjim says :

    What do you drink, and do you include salt in that after ride dinner/lunch.

    I know you’re an experienced cyclist and I actually struggled to ask, but you never know…

    Anyway, what you described isn’t quite classic electrolyte imbalance, but the general nausea and headaches is half of it.

    I’ve gone to all-Gatorade the last couple of rides (did 98 Friday and 72 yesterday) and I feel quite chipper… after a nap. I hope you get it figured out though.

    Oh, another thing…. McDonald’s French Fries. Don’t let ’em skimp on the salt. Combine those with the sammich of your choice.

    • Karen says :

      Jim, Yup–I do Gatorade as a standard but recently tried moving to hydration tablets by Nunn and / or Hammer Nutrition. Less sugars–Gatorade does a number on my stomach. I’ve considered bringing pickle juice to see if it will make a difference–but I’m not there yet. And salt is something I tend to be liberal with. I think the eating during the ride has helped. I don’t think I can let my tank go empty without paying for it dearly later. I’ve definitely been able to minimize the after effects of a big ride but not eliminate it completely. It makes me think that I might just not be built for it.

      • bgddyjim says :

        Sweet. I’m writing a post for tomorrow about my experiences with centuries. You inspired me. Please check it out, there’s a twist at the end you might appreciate.

        You’re too right about Gatorade and all of the sugar. Try Hydrus concentrate. It’s on the pricy side, at $0.50 per serving, but it’s tangy, wonderful and zero sugar.

  2. bgddyjim says :

    Oh, one other thing… Centuries are cool, I won’t lie. When people ask, “so how far did you ride that bike”? It is badass to be able to say, “Meh, a hundred miles”. Then they’ll ask “Well my God, how did that take?!”

    And you go, “Meh, five hours, give or take a couple of minutes”.

    That is cool. However, you get the exact same reaction for 62.5 and 75 miles.

    I actually prefer the 100k to 75 mile distances because I get to finish with a little gas in the tank. In other words, you’re not missing out on much.

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