Bonking

I’ve come within a cat’s whisker of bonking twice this year – once in a long-distance bike ride last fall and, more seriously, during regular life this past spring.

Bonk: The term "bonk" for cycling fatigue is presumably derived from the original meaning "to hit", and dates back at least half a century… The term is used colloquially both as a noun ("hitting the bonk") and a verb ("to bonk halfway through the race"). The condition is also known to long-distance (marathon) runners, who usually refer to it as "hitting the wall". (Wikipedia, “Hitting the Wall”)
I first bonked last September while participating in a bike ride which I’d long anticipated since this one was on my home turf. Unlike other long distance cycling events I’ve ridden, this one was not a single loop course, but riders could choose to ride one, two, or three loops which all began and ended at a community center. All the other events I’ve ridden had rest and refueling stations located every 10-15 miles or so. Here you can stop and refill your water bottles and grab a banana or energy bar before continuing on your way. During the Popcorn Road Ride, riders could only stock up on calories and water at the beginning and end of each loop.

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Knowing that Kara and Collin’s baby was due any day (sweet baby Annie was born three days later, exactly on her due date), I was in a hurry to complete two loops and get off the course. Before starting off I ate my typical breakfast of a yogurt and a piece of whole wheat toast. I happily took off and rode the first 25 mile loop, “The Popcorn Trail.” No problem. Grabbing a piece of fruit and some water, I quickly headed back out on my bike, determined to complete one more loop, a 28 mile route this time, before heading home by noon. My big mistake was in not throwing a couple of granola bars into the back pocket of my Purdue cycling jersey! About 10 miles into the “Injun Joe” loop, I started feeling really hungry. My breakfast calories were totally spent, and then some. As I passed one country general store and then another, I was really wishing I had some money to buy something for fuel. Ten more miles or so brought me to the “rollers” (huge up and down hills) on Washboard Road. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back. I didn’t know the technical term then, but I was bonking. Somehow, I stayed upright on my bike and, in what felt like slow motion, made it back to the community center where I devoured a home cooked meal and immediately felt better.

When I got home and described what had happened, Tim told me I had been bonking. That was a new word to me, but back in my running days I had heard about “hitting the wall,” the expression used by marathoners for the same running- on-empty experience. Sara Latta describes it this way:

“The Wall.” It evades easy definition, but to borrow from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity, you know it when you see it—or rather, hit it. It usually happens around mile 20, give or take a couple of miles. Your pace slows, sometimes considerably. Some runners say that it feels as though their legs had been filled with lead quail shot, like the stomach of Mark Twain’s unfortunate jumping frog of Calaveras County. Others can’t feel their feet at all. Thought processes become a little fuzzy. (“Mile 22, again? I thought I just passed mile 22!”) Muscle coordination goes out the window, and self-doubt casts a deep shadow over the soul.
My second “bonk” experience took place this spring, and is harder to describe. In a nutshell, I arrived at the beginning of April feeling just like I had at the 40 mile mark on last September’s bike ride. Having two children in high school, one in junior high, three in elementary grades, and one in college who needed frequent chemistry tutoring sessions, plus other cares of life left me totally drained.

When an athlete bonks, it’s because he has run out of energy, notably in the form of carbohydrates. To minimize the possibility of this happening, runners often practice carbohydrate loading before a race. They make sure to stay hydrated and fill up on carbs during an event, and they practice helpful mental strategies. Starting too fast in a long-distance event is also a sure recipe for disaster, causing lactic acid to build up which bites a runner late in a race.

The solution to life bonking isn’t as simple as eating an energy bar or carboloading, but I think some parallels can be drawn between an endurance sporting event and the endurance race that is life. Life stresses come in many forms. Sometimes it is with a serious illness or a family death. Perhaps you have a child with special needs, financial difficulty, or your husband has undergone a major job change. Maybe it is the demands of keeping up with the needs of five children under the age of five. Parenting and life in general are endurance events, not sprints.

Here are some thoughts I’ve had. First, pacing is important, whether I’m thinking about getting through the next school year, parenting children at home for 40 years, or running the life race that has been set before me and finishing the course. Staying in the race for the long-haul is my goal, not dropping out because I ran out of fuel. I want to be able to say along with Paul:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Tim 4: 6-8)
When I was younger, I could go all out for much longer periods, but that’s not working so well these days. Pacing, and taking time to rest and regroup is becoming increasingly necessary. Make Sundays truly a day of rest. Take a nap. Eat simply. One recent Sunday my children suggested we eat cereal for lunch, something we’ve never done before. I also made a simple chicken salad from leftover ingredients, and voila! – an easy, if nontraditional, meal.

Often when life grows stressful, it’s difficult to find time for relationships, but maintaining friendships with dear ones who you can talk and pray with, especially those in the same phase of life as you are, goes a long way in helping you maintain perspective and carry on. As Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

Finally, don’t neglect your own physical and emotional needs. As moms we are givers, used to pouring out our lives for our children and our husbands. This is good and what we ought to do! (See II Tim. 4:5). But it is not selfish to take time out to care for ourselves as well. As we eat correctly, exercise, and get rest, we will have more of ourselves to offer to others. Actually, as my wise sister-in-law, Terri, recently said to me, it is more selfish to ignore our needs and then collapse than to attend to them in small doses. My children used to shoo me out of the house for a walk when the youngest children were babies. They knew that when Mom had a daily walk, she came back more peaceful and energized.

Tim watched me come near to “hitting the wall” this year and worried. He decided that I should get away for a few days, so next week, after taking Peter to Purdue for a 4-H science camp, I’m going to spend two nights at Turkey Run State Park. I’ll be taking my bicycle, several good books, my Bible, and a computer. I’m such a crazy driven woman that for a while I toyed with the idea of trying to hike all the trails in the park or visiting all the covered bridges in the county, but I’m going to instead try to just relax and not have an agenda.

I am hoping this break will give me the strength for the next leg of the race. With some rest, Tim’s hoping that my brain will be able to work more logically and creatively. And the number one question I have to wrestle with is how to survive the next couple of years, which promise to be every bit as intense as this one, without bonking.

Hebrews 12: 1,2 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
6 Responses
  1. Anna Says:

    Thank you! Thank you for the encouragement, and the strategies to keep going.
    With love,


  2. Jill Crum Says:

    Thank you Anne.

    On a different note, have you used English from the Roots Up and/or The Word Within the Word? How would you compare them? I expect to be teaching a derivitives course a half hour weekly with only a moderate amount of homework and am looking for a recommendation. Thanks.


  3. Anne Says:

    Hi Jill!

    I used English from the Roots Up many years ago, but not The Word Within the Word. When I used EFTRU it was with a co-op and it seemed to work pretty well. It's very straightforward - students make a color-coded card for each root, listing the meaning and derivatives. The teacher's book also includes "Teaching Notes" with additional information on each root.

    I seem to remember that we incorporated Rummy Roots and a homemade bingo game which motivated the kids to learn the roots. It looks like Amazon carries both books, so maybe the reviews there would have some helpful insights.


  4. Kim Says:

    Thank you Anne,
    I am "reaping the "unbenefits" of not caring for my needs as I am now dealing with various health issues this summer. Good news is a husband who has recognized this and keeps telling me to rest. It's hard though!

    Enjoy your break!


  5. Anne Says:

    Kim -
    I hope your summer is very restorative! I'm glad that David is reminding you to rest and take care of your body! It makes it easier to do what goes against our natural grain when our husbands encourage it. I felt guilty about going away for a few days, but Tim keeps saying he wants me to survive, and that I need to do it, so I'm getting over that feeling. ;)


  6. Emily Burlingham Says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I can't begin to tell all your blog does for me! Your honesty regarding your (and your children's)human-ness is such an encouragement to me. I can't wait to see you and yours this summer!