Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Near-Bonk Experience

I am here to tell you that 45 miles SUCKED and it's all my own damn fault. WARNING: this is a long post because there is much to tell even if I leave out the part about the cupcakes and whatever, so sorry for my inability to condense it down. If you don't have the time or inclination, just stop right here because the essential part is that this ride was crappy and turd-like and I hated it and the end.

Allow me to list the factors that contributed to this suckage:

  1. I ate maybe 4 bites of cereal before getting on the bike, and that's all. This is stupid, and the only reason for it is that I am just not hungry at 6am. Or even at 7am. This is a real problem for me, but I do usually manage to choke down a decent breakfast. Not yesterday.
  2. I also did not drink a full bottle of water in the car on the way to the ride. This is because I stayed at Dan's house that night and so the ride meet-up point was all of 15 minutes away. And because I (obviously) was just not thinking. DUMB.
  3. We rode in Barrington, which is universally acknowledged to be the most difficult course because it is filled with hills and so called for probably twice the energy I usually use on these rides. Maybe more. It was HARD, yo.
  4. Also I think my allergies were kicking in some, because I just had this constant need to rub my nose and eyes and I just wanted a damn nap. This is mostly important because allergic reactions dry out your body, so I needed even more hydration than usual (see #2).

Okay, there's the set-up or foreshadowing or hind-sight being 20/20 or whatever you want to call it. Alls I know is, after about an hour, I really was not enjoying the ride. It just felt hard, and 10-15 miles felt like 30 or more. And the hills- MY GOD THE HILLS. There are two truly awful climbs - the team calls one of them Double Decker, because it's like two hills in one. It is shortly followed by the steepest hill, called Serendipity. So basically you go up a hill that looks kind of like this, except not so loooong:

And then it is quickly followed by a little bit of flat terrain, then you turn, then a  little bit of a dip to get your momentum - but very little - and then there's another hill that looks a little bit like this:

I could be exaggerating. But not by much.

So I fought the good fight and made it over the first double-decker hill, but then everything went wildly wrong and  I only made it maybe halfway up the crazy steep hill. First, my feet came off the pedals, which has never happened before, so I was trying to get my footing back - and then I somehow shifted wrong and was spinning out, completely missing the opportunity to gain any momentum. So I flailed about desperately trying to get in the right gear, but I have no idea what happened. I just did it wrong, and when I hit that hill it was like hitting a brick wall. I got off, walked it back a little, tried again, but it was a no go. My bike was going so slow on that hill that it was slowwwwly falling over. So when I was about an inch away from hitting the ground, I gave up and walked it. Sometimes I have to admit to myself that even my stubbornness and inability to give up is just not enough for some tasks. So I realized that I wasn't good enough yet, for that hill.

Stupid hills. Coach Matt was with me, and he is awesome (in ways that will become apparent when you learn how much whining I did) and about 5 miles from the rest stop when I started moaning about how icky I felt, he asked me about what I'd had for breakfast. I confessed, he berated me a little, and we agreed that I would eat a good amount at the rest stop.

And I did. The best thing is that my brother Dan was there. He volunteered to help the team! So there he was in front of a table filled with granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels and trail mix and all sorts of stuff. I had a banana and a pb sandwich and chugged some Gatorade (blech, I HATE Gatorade). Then I asked for a hug. Which he gave me. Because honestly, you guys, it was really harrrrrrrrd and I just didn't want to get back on the bike. And I'd only gone 25 miles! Not that 25 is oh-so-easy, but I would normally not get tuckered out til about mile 40 or so (sticking with my pattern of hating the last 5 miles). I just wanted to go home, honestly, and the thought of going another 20 miles made me want to cry.

But I got back on the bike, and off we went. And for the next 8 or so miles, I had a near bonk experience.

At this point, I'd like to thank Lance Armstrong for bonking once. It's this thing I've heard over and over: Even Lance Armstrong bonked at the Tour de France. And thank god he did, because it is a comfort to the rest of us and proof that even the best can really screw it up.

Omigosh, my non-cyclist audience, what if you don't know what bonking is? It's what they call it (possibly a cycling-specific term, since this is the first time I'd heard it) when your body just runs out of energy. It's like hitting the wall, and it can be caused by a lack of nutrition or hydration or both. I don't know that I was in full-on Bonk Mode, but I'm fairly sure I was pretty damn close. It felt like exhaustion, but weird abnormal exhaustion. Here is a sampling of things I said to Coach Matt over those 10 miles.

"My body is freaking OUT. What the hell?"
"Why is this so harrrrrrd, it shouldn't be so painful, it's flat here!"
"This doesn't feel like a normal tired. It's not normal."
"I will never get off this bike,will I. I will die on this bike. I am going to die on this bike, Matt. The end of my existence, pedaling into the afterlife."
"I hate this. I HATE THIS." (Matt said, "Hate is a strong word." I replied, "Yes, and I use it. Hate.")

Basically, it felt like I'd done like 75 miles already. I found myself almost falling asleep on the bike - yawning and my eyes half-closed, and I kept looking at these big lush fields of soft green grass... and wanting more than anything in the world to go lay down in the grass for a nap. I dunno, it just felt like I was bruised and beaten and bleeding. But I wasn't. I found myself trying to think of ways to say "I want to stop now". But I know if I said exactly that, the answer would be "Of course you want to stop, everyone wants to stop sometimes. That's normal." I wondered if there was some cycling-equivalent of a safe word, where I could just be like "No seriously, dude: rutabaga," and we'd stop and the call would be made and we'd get towed home. I even began to think like a little kid, scheming plots the likes of which have not crossed my mind since about age 14. Like, hey if I fall over then this would totally end, and I could fake like I hurt my ankle or something, that would get me out of it ... You see the level of distress I'm talking about? At one point, I even thought to play the girl card - start crying and that'll work! But then I realized I was thinking that because I kind of already WAS crying and I was trying to justify it to myself.

Dude, I am just saying: it was a whole new level of bad.

Meanwhile, poor Matt had to listen to all my pathetic whining, And he was behind me, so he really couldn't see the yawning and all, or else maybe we'd have figured out sooner that it was primarily dehydration that was the problem. When I said at some point that I felt nauseous, he told me to drink, drink, drink. And a few miles after that, I began to feel normal-tired. Not freakish vampire-sucking-my-strength tired.

The thing is, I only sometimes feel hungry on the bike rides, so I have to just make myself eat regularly and ignore my usual "only eat when you're actually hungry" rule. Obviously my appetite signals are not a reliable news source when I want to know what's up with my body. And most importantly, I have to figure out a hydration system. Because see this?

I am not capable of this, the drinking-while riding thing. I might be able, with practice, to manage reaching down and retrieving the bottle, but the idea that I would then be able to keep my hand off the handle bars, squirt water into my mouth, then replace the water bottle - all while remaining in motion - is frankly just absurd. That's like varsity-level coordination, okay, and my powers of physical coordination are at a level that even Pop Warner wouldn't admit to its ranks. So generally, I've been stopping every 45 minutes or so and chugging a bunch of water.

And obviously, that is not working. I keep thinking I'll figure it out, but now the time has come to actually figure it out. Which means I think I have to investigate (heavy existential sigh) a CamelBak solution. God I am SO SICK of spending money. But then I'm even more sick of having a horrible ride due to dehydration. (Yes, once is enough to make me sick of it. It's a horrible, horrible feeling and I never want to experience it again.)

Anyway, after The Miserable Time followed by focused water-drinking, I got to feel more normal and we had 10 miles left. Funny how 10 miles now seems like "oh, just ten miles, that's doable." Coach Anne and teammate Gary came back to find us. I think everyone else probably finished more than an hour before me, honestly, so they were probably wondering where in the hell I was and when I'd be getting back. So Coach Anne asked how I was, and I told her I'd been feeling epically awful and whiny and tired, but now I just felt normal whiny-tired. She gave me the option of going forward to where all the hills were, or turning around and doing the same distance on the less hilly terrain.

I chose to go forward to the hills. Which might sound like a slightly heroic choice, but honestly I just figure you might as well try. You never know til you try, etc. As I said to them, "I'll try and I'm not expecting much but if I can't make it up a hill, so what? I get off the bike and walk it, it's not a tragedy." That's how I think of it - it's only a tragedy if you don't even bother to give it a whirl.

And you know what? I made it up that goddamn hill this time. I was heaving and huffing and making noises like a dying walrus, but I actually got over that hill. "You. Are. Awesome!" they all shouted. "But I want to lay down and die right now," I replied between gulps of air.

Then we rolled back in to the small group left waiting for me. Which included Dan, who will officially reign as Best Brother of All The Brothers, who hugged me and told me I am awesome. It really was so terrific to have him there, and being a real part of it. I looked at the clock and realized it took me like 5.5 hours to do 45 miles. So it was much slower than my average 10 mph. I expected to be slower because of the hills, but this was just insanely slow - probably because of the bonk, but still. It's just not acceptable to me, to finish so late when people have to wait for me, and I took that time out of their day. I freaking HATE that. Ifeel like such a burden, and a drag on the team. It sucks.

So my goals for the coming week are: get a good hydration system in place, and work on speed. And ride to work every day, weather permitting. And eat a full breakfast before next week's long ride, come hell or high water.

There's my story. And a shout-out to Dan for being a part of it, because it does feel great to have someone really share the experience.

Next week: 50 miles. FIFTY MILES! Honestly, after dehydration and monster hills, fifty relatively flat miles sort of sounds like a piece of cake.

Mmmmmmm cake.


Aaron said...

Beth, your writing is so endearing.

OK, first, bonking definitely sucks. I almost never bonk now, but that's only because I graduated from the school of very hard knocks after repeating several grades. I think my two worst bonking experiences were on tandem tours with my wife, and they're the worst only because of how I behaved. (The last 50 miles of a 100 mile day between two podunk towns on a solo tour was probably the worst, only because I would suddenly be overcome by a ridiculously strong urge to pee---as in, like, get off the bike NOW and go no matter who was driving by, or else face riding on a wet saddle---every few miles. My salts were totally out of wack that day. It was incredible.) Anyhow, one afternoon, I just started whining nonstop. I could barely push the cranks (which meant Sarah was doing all the work) or steer. Worst of all, I started blaming her for why we were going so slowly. Not cool. Anyhow, we had very little food left, and all the stores were closed in the small towns we rode through. We finally found a soda machine, and we had one large can of baked beans left. The next year, we were doing a mountain tour, and I bonked really hard. And, again, I blamed her. Gee whiz. The good news is that that was years ago and we still happily ride the tandems. She's forgiving (plus, she's bonked many a time, too).

I could go on about my many memorable bonking experiences from my early days of cycling, but I won't. OK, maybe one more. There was that time when I fell into my front door and ate two whole boxes of cereal before even taking off my sweaty clothing. I think I could've walked the last few miles of that ride faster, except that I wouldn't have been able to stand.

OK, onto how to prevent it. The last three years of touring and long rides, I haven't bonked once. The secret, I found, is that as soon as I start thinking about food, I eat. I'll be riding along admiring the trees, the grass, the clouds, the road kill, whatever, and suddenly I think about, say, a bowl of pasta. And then I know: eat. I've worked it out that for my weight and condition, I need the equivalent of one Snickers bar every twelve miles on top of three large meals, if I'm going to ride comfortably all day.

So, yeah, bonking sucks big time. Don't let this experience influence your attitude about cycling. And when you're on the bike and you think about food, eat.

I was really happy to get to the ending of the post and see that you not only finished the ride, but finished it with class. Yay Beth!

Beth said...

Oh, that made me laugh - your wife deserves a purple heart, sounds like! The only thing worse than finding yourself whining non-stop is having to to listen to someone whine non-stop. She's a gem, to get back on the bike with you after that sort of experience.

My problem with nutrition is that I just rarely feel hungry on the bike. You're right about the regular eating, though, so I think I'll wear a watch and make myself eat something once per hour, as a minimum, no matter if I feel hungry or not.

AND I found a CamelBak on clearance yesterday (only $33! regularly $55! I got the last one!) so my hydration issues should be entirely manageable now.

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