I was reading Bicycling the other day and they were talking about a new training technique they called Bonk Training. Now, from my very early days as a serious cyclist, I have been taught that bonking was a Bad Thing. Bonking happens when you ride for a while without enough food/water. You basically run out of gas, and it’s said to be very unpleasant. But now Bicycling is espousing doing this for some salubrious effects that I can’t quite recall. Of course, their so-called bonk training involved riding maybe twenty miles before breakfast. I don’t think that’s enough to develop a serious bonk.
Maybe we should call it hunger training.
I’ve been doing bonk training for years, not necessarily on purpose. I’ve determined experimentally that it’s possible for me to ride about sixty miles or so without any food. This happily coincides with the approximate distance to the first water stop on centuries and brevets. Of course, on last year’s fall century I blew by the first water stop without seeing it, and I was feeling a bit peckish by the time I reached the second one.
My initial calibration of the 60 miles find food or die metric was a ride I did down to the cape. I had spent the night at a youth hostel just before the Bourne bridge, and set out in the AM to complete the ride, finding breakfast along the way. Turns out that there aren’t that many places to eat breakfast, at least on the roads I was on. So it was about the sixty mile mark when I finally found food.
Another good exercise in bonk training happened in Spain. I was on a business trip, and decided to take my bike and go for a one week tour after taking care of business. So I’d head out for the day hoping to find lunch when I got hungry. What I didn’t realize is that they really do the siesta thing, and in the midday, all the shops close, and finding food was not an option. The best I could do was find a bar that was open and get a can of coke to keep me going (poor man’s energy drink). I eventually smartened up and started buying some emergency bread and cheese to take along.
The other thing was that Spanish people like to eat fashionably late. So I’d roll into town around six looking for dinner and discover there was none to be had until around eight at the earliest. My most vivid recollection of that trip is being hungry most of the time (and that cobblestones do a real number on your headset).
On day rides, I usually prefer to start out sans food and find somewhere along the way where I can find a decent sized turkey sub, optimally around the forty mile mark. This unfortunately doesn’t match the feeding habits of most of my riding companions who prefer to carry bars made mostly out of sawdust or semi-solid tubes of a substance appetizingly named “goo,” washed down with any of a number of vile looking fluids resembling antifreeze. Dining on the road usually consists of scarfing down said nutrients standing up in a gas station parking lot. When I do prevail and get my sub and bag of chips, and decide to enjoy my haute cuisine elegantly sitting on the curb in said parking lot, I get overcome with guilt that I’m wasting precious time that could better be spent in the saddle.
After numerous close brushes with Mr. Bonk, I decided I should always carry an emergency power bar. Mind you, I have never actually purchased a power bar, but there are many occasions where they give them out for free to encourage you to buy more. Not being one to pass up freebies, I’ve amassed quite a stash of these things, some of which date back to the 20th century, and they aren’t getting any better. Problem is I forget to do this, and usually end up remembering the absent power bar when I’m already in dire need of one. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I guess.