Beating the Bonk

I called Susan at home. “Hey, I’m going to the grocery store. You need anything?”

“No, what are you getting at the grocery?”

“Sausage. I’m getting my sausage for tomorrow.” Can you hear an eye-roll through a phone? I think I did.

When I got home, my house was active. My workplace, a public library, closes at five on Fridays. The building clears out and shuts down. There’s never a circumstance where I need to work late on a Friday.

Susan, typically home around four-thirty each day, weeded in the front garden. Sophie—back from a quick run to Hanover, twenty miles away, to feed her after school craving for Mexican food—filled her water bottles and applied sun-block for a bike ride. Eli wasn’t home. His band class went to Hershey Park for a competition. And, of course, to get shaken and stirred on eight or nine rollercoasters.

photo-1551135020-39e4ca508d9bI cooked my sausage. “Dad, why are you making sausage? I got you a burrito from Chipotle?”

“This is for breakfast.”

“You’re eating Hot Italian Dinner Sausage for breakfast tomorrow?”

In 2016, I was in awesome shape. A spin instructor in our local fitness center, I was assured two or three intense hours of aerobic/anaerobic effort each week. Before each class, thirty minutes of body weight exercise focusing primarily on arms, shoulders and core. And every weekend, a rambling trail-run exceeding two hours.

As you might imagine, I was pretty thin. Tough, ropy muscles and popping veins. My family ridiculed my inability to sit on hard surfaces. I had no cushioning. For the most part, I felt good. Bounding with energy (when not wiped out from a class or a run), but with a scary propensity to bonk.

In this context, bonk shouldn’t be confused with its homonyms meaning to hit someone in the head or to have intercourse. Bonk is a running and cycling term.

Bonk {verb} a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles.

When most athletes think about bonking, they envision something that happens in the middle of an exercise session. Enjoying a hard run, spiraling farther and farther away from home, and suddenly there’s nothing’s left. Certainly not enough to limp home. No remedy except to call your wife for a ride. This never happened to me. I’m a planner. I never start a workout unless I’ve got enough calories. Either in my system or in my running pack.

My bonking always happens in the middle of life. Usually, about the time I begin to think about lunch or dinner. One summer evening in 2016, I came home from work to find Eli sprawled over an easy chair staring at his phone. Not always, but often, this agitates me. My kids don’t have a neighborhood full of kids to play with outside, sometimes they need to be kicked out of the house. On this evening, in response to my badgering, Eli suggested we take a walk around the block.

My food pattern at work is unusual. I have a hard time putting off lunch beyond 10:30. Sometimes I make it until 11:00 but usually, I give in around 10:50. By 11:10, I’ve eaten my almonds, my sandwich, my carrot spears and whatever I’ve brought for dessert (usually ginger snaps). I need to get through the next six hours with the rest of the food in my bag… usually just an apple. Often, I come home from work hungry, but I don’t always feel hungry.

The day Eli and I took our walk, I wasn’t hungry, but it occurred to me that I should eat something anyway. The trip around the block is .8 miles. It takes twelve to eighteen minutes depending on whether you’re walking or strolling. As we left the house, I grabbed a handful of almonds. A handful of protein, the perfect food to tide me over. Midway through our walk, I bonked. Suddenly, my clothes darkened with the sweat pouring from my head, back and legs. I hyperventilated and I couldn’t catch my breath. And my thoughts became confused. “Dad, do you want to walk home or should I go get mom?”

Me: “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”

This happened all the time. On road trips or weekend shopping excursions we would be talking about what sounded good for lunch. Before we could decide, I fell apart. It always took a few minutes for my family to realize I bonked. At first, they thought I was being difficult, then stupid, finally, they knew I needed calories, fast.

Right now, more than half of you are thinking “Jesus, you know you have hypoglycemia, right?” I bought a blood sugar testing kit at Walmart and used it through various situations. It never showed variations in my blood sugar. I was always fine.

When I bonked, what I craved was fat. Burgers, bread and butter, chocolate bars. I’m a proponent of listening to your body. My body told me it wanted fat, so 2016 became the year of the sausage. I made sausage with eggs three or four times a week. Supplemented with trips to Burger King and a steady diet of Snickers bars, my bonking went away.

In 2017, my exercise program crashed. Plantar Fasciitis hobbled my running and an acute case of depression shut down my spin class. Now, three years later, my mileage is climbing. Yesterday’s run was just under two hours. As an experienced runner, I know where this will lead. So I started my long run yesterday with an egg and sausage omelet, and a slice of Dave’s Killer Organic Good Seed Bread glopped generously with butter.

When I got home, I ate an apple fritter donut, three Girl Scouts Tagalong cookies and followed up forty minutes later with two slices from Antica Napoli Pizza. That’s a lot of fat! Throughout the day, I never felt full, but I didn’t bonk either. Now, I just need to get a cholesterol test to see what other damage I’m doing to myself.

Runners, how do you fuel? Do you have problems maintaining enough fat to function?

Photo: Compliments of



11 thoughts on “Beating the Bonk

  1. My gosh, yes. I had such a hard time trying to figure this out. Hypoglycemia, huh? I used to be a vegan runner (really just a vegetarian but I don’t eat dairy so I just dropped the eggs too). And like you, I was very cognizant to eat calories, take calories with me, on my super long runs. And I would hit periods of utter exhaustion. Like head on the table as it was too heavy to lift. I diagnosed myself with adrenal fatigue thanks to Google’s help but all the supplements I took only cost me a lot of money and didn’t really do much. Then one day I just eyed the cooked ground beef in the fridge. Finally, I secretly attacked it. Felt so much better. Ran with so much more energy. I had a similar problem when I tried to do a Keto diet. I don’t know how runners do that thing – because my runs were awful and sluggish. I realized I needed my carbs too. I just stay away from dairy, gluten. oats and soy (mild allergies) now and feel fine on my runs and don’t have too many crashes. Can’t really say when the last time was that I had one. So the diet must finally be right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so proud that I convinced a vegan running friend to add sausage to her diet. I think if I was going to be a vegan, I’d need to keep a basket of food close at hand all day. Food really goes right through me unless I slow it down with some animal fat. Sad to say.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of my favorite things to make with sausage is an egg white casserole I eat in the mornings. I can make it on Sunday – egg whites, turkey sausage, green onions, flax seeds, dairy free cheddar cheese, mushrooms and sometimes I throw in salsa – bake it and enjoy it for breakfast every morning. So good. I am so glad I switched back to adding meat into my diet. I was upset because as a vegan I was gaining weight – I think I was just hungry all the time and just eating (and not just vegetables). Adds up!

        Liked by 1 person

    • My cholesterol has been slightly elevated since my 20s, but my HDL was always the driving factor. Doctors (many different over the years) have told me not to worry about it. I had an appointment months ago to see my doctor about a new round of blood work, I think my cholesterol has worsened. But my doctor got in a really bad car accident and has been off work ever since. Right now, I have an appointment to see him next month if he’s up for it. I’m guessing I’m about to go on meds, which bums me out because I’m taking so many already.

      Thank you for always reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had to break up with cheese for awhile to get mine down. I’m to the point now that I can have a casual love affair with it again, but no every day commitment. Good luck with your appointment.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you asked! It sounds like you’re a sugar burner, you might benefit from teaching your body to rely more on fat stores for energy. It’s more consistent and you’re not forever having to refuel. Low carb high fat is really good for endurance running too! Give it a Google! All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s