Sunday, 13 July 2014

Foremark Sportive....and the dreaded Bonk!

We'd enrolled onto a Sportive event organised by British Cycling, a 58km route around Derbyshire and the National forest. The description said it was an easy ride, gentle through beautiful countryside - it sounded ideal. I decided to ride from home, meeting Gaz just outside Ashby and riding up through Ticknall to the start point at Foremark Reservoir. This entailed an early start and a 20 mile ride. I was up at 5.30, checked over the bike, filled a bidon and set off at 6.30am for a slow spin to the meet point. It was a warm morning, close, humid - there had been talk of a possible shower or two but the sky looked clear enough - i didn't bother with any rainwear.

Gaz and I pushed on to Ticknall and along the Repton road to Foremark, the reservoir was built in the 1970s to supply water to the East Midland region, it covers 230 acres and is regularly used for walking, fishing, bird watching and horse riding. It has a smart cafe and picnic areas and the view across the water as we sat drinking a coffee was stunning.

We signed in at the start point and set off at around 8.45am - i expected more cyclists, it seemed relatively quiet. Barry the Bell had joined us for this one and we enjoyed a long roll out from the reservoir towards Milton, before a short, sharp upwards stint towards Bretby. We were pushing along, 24/25mph were we could and made quick progress to the feed station, soon after the route split, we followed the signs for the longer route heading towards Lullington and Netherseal. The sun was strong now and we were all feeling the effects of the heat.

As I approached 50 miles as my total so far for the day, I became aware of an overwhelming feeling of tiredness. As we pedalled up a hill I felt weak, I was overtaken by quite a few cyclists who seemed to be spinning up much easier than me - i didn't think too much about it, I carried on and caught up on the downward stretches - at the next hill - quite a steep but short rise I was looking down at the road and found I couldn't raise my head to look forward - my shoulders and neck were tingling with fatigue - I couldn't quite comprehend this and forced myself onward. I'd lost touch with our group now and was crawling along at about 6mph. I saw Gary waiting at the end of the road - We rode on for another mile or two - I felt a cramp in my right calf, then one in the left, then both thighs - all at the same time, the pain was intense. As we came to the end of the road I had to stop. I got off the bike to sit on a bench. I was light headed. I felt the need to sleep. I had to close my eyes. When I opened them the grass around the bench was bright fluorescent yellow - as I looked around all the colours were intense and there were pulsating spots of yellow and purple - it was like some drug fuelled acid hallucination circa 1968. There was no way I could ride - I couldn't swallow, I couldn't talk - it felt like everything was shutting down. I managed to chew and swallow a couple of energy sweets I had in my pocket and Gary gave me the contents of one of his bidons. I sat there in a trance like state for what seemed like a few minutes but was in fact about 20. I started to feel better - my vision returned to normal and I walked around - I still felt extremely tired and slightly sick but thought I could carry on - we weren't far from the finish so I was determined to get there at least.

We made it back to Foremark and I grabbed a seat and a cup of coffee - i felt okay by now - the effects of Gary's water bottle and the couple of sweets had been enough to get me here. I ordered a sausage roll and double egg and chips from the cafe and sat in the shade. The food along with another couple of bidons of orange squash seemed to aid me further - I felt a lot better now and decided I could make the ride back home - 20 miles.

It was a slow ride back but I picked up a bottle of lucozade and a chocolate bar and used those for additional fuel. By the time I got home I was feeling okay - still tired and a little weak though. I had a shower and a lie down and then did some research.

I'd hit the wall. Or, as cyclists sometime call it, suffered from 'The Bonk'. Essentially this is a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles - it manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. It's seriously debilitating - and quite simply makes it more or less impossible to do anything. I know exactly what I did wrong - I'd been to the pub the night before, a few pints, so probably some dehydration. I'd set off without eating any breakfast at all, I didn't fuel my body anywhere near the required amounts to sustain me over a ride of that distance at the pace we were doing - it's as simple as that. The bodies store of glycogen will only last 60-90minutes during a hard work out - after that energy levels drop fast!

Hopefully I've learnt a lesson - and so should any of you reading this - make sure you fuel up properly before any long rides - and just as important, take a supply of food/supplements to keep those levels topped up - The Bonk is horrible - I don't want to go there again!

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