Posted by: Joe English | March 28, 2012

Training — Why Did I Bonk Early in My Race? Three Factors Revisited

running-advice-bugMarathon runners know that they can “hit the wall” or “bonk” in a long race. The “Bonk” as we call it normally happens when either our muscles or the brain runs out of energy. But sometimes the bonk comes hard and early in a race. If by mile four or five, you’re out of gas then something else is amiss. Today I handle one of my athlete’s questions to illustrate what kinds of factors can cause the early or “Pre-mature Bonk”. First, the question:

“My half marathon yesterday sucked. I finished in 2:07 and I was going for a PR of 1:58. I had to stop and walk a few times. Then I would get bursts of energy just like you described. . . .But I was completely tanked. I didn’t have any digestive problems at all, just a total lack of energy. . . .I felt so depleted. I finally pushed through at the “1/4 mile to go!” marker but nearly dropped after stepping on the finish mat. Oh, and did I tell you it was 85 degrees yesterday?”

Post-race Fatigue at WMA 2011

There’s a couple of things that I want you to think about here in regards to why you might have bonked so hard and early in your race, keeping in mind here that we’re talking about a half-marathon so your bonk comes even earlier than your longest workouts. Here are three things that I want you to focus on:

First, is the impact of your training itself on your energy level. The fatigue you’re describing can be a symptom of what you’re doing in your workouts leading up to the race. The amount of recovery (or lack of recovery) is a big factor in how you feel during any particular workout. So if you think about your muscles as having a fuel tank, those tanks may not be getting refilled after your workouts and leading up to the half-marathon. One of the key differences between an “A” race and all the others (meaning one that you’re really training for rather than one that is just on the schedule along the way) is the taper period that comes before the race. This is a period of weeks that comes right before the race in which the body gets a chance to fully recover. What you’re describing below sounds typical of what happens when you run a race without a taper (or rather without recovery from your workouts right before it.) This isn’t actually a bad thing. It puts a level of stress on the body that ends up being helpful to your training in the long run, but it doesn’t feel great.

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