Bonking. It’s not such a good idea to mention this in polite company, unless you’re amongst cyclists. You’ll find that “bonking” means something quite different to these athletes. Whilst for most of us (in the correct circumstances) the idea of “a bonk” would normally be welcomed, for the cyclist it’s something to be avoided.

I used to understand “the bonk” as a sensation felt by a competitor towards the end of a Tour de France stage, where all the glycogen or fuel stores in their muscles has been exhausted. They’ve hit what marathoners call “the wall”. They are basically out of gas*.

For many years I commuted by bike between Twickenham (in West London) and Fleet Street. I would ride hard and fast. I knew nothing about modulating effort or recovery. And this intensity of a monotonous daily activity, I now understand, led to overtraining syndrome.

On occasions I’d cycle home late in the evening, perhaps delayed by a transatlantic conference call. I’d have eaten a chocolate bar (usually Snickers) earlier in the afternoon. By halfway, where I crossed the Thames at Putney Bridge (the famous start of the Boat Race) I was in an unexplained state of collapse, as if I had rowed stroke to the Mortlake finish for the Oxford eight. My head was light, my legs were leaden, like I was pedaling through treacle. Ready to faint, I’d dash to the nearest gas station and stuff my face with potato chips*.

I used to joke that these episodes were “the bonk”, thinking that I was probably misusing the term. Because how could 6 miles pretty much on the flat equate to a professional stage over the French Alps? However, while reading Art De Vany’s blog only a few weeks ago, I saw the term “bonk” applied to just such a modest implosion, and it gave me pause. It seemed to be saying something about my metabolism which confirmed a growing intuition that I had been, was, or was becoming, somewhat insulin-resistant.

The really bad part of all this is that there are a lot of high insulin people out there who can “bonk” from low blood sugar if they don’t get their carb hit. And then after the hit wears off, they may “bonk” again. They may be driving when this happens and are easily angered and lose concentration. They can be a danger to themselves and others when this happens. I would bet a fair number of auto accidents could be traced to blood glucose/insulin surges.”

And when you’re on a bike, you don’t want to meet those people coming the other way.

So, since Christmas I’ve been trying to apply De Vany’s paleo diet strictures (which have informed some of my thinking for a while now) with much greater observance. The effects on my current health — as far as I can determine — have been tangible, and arguably dramatic.

Way back in those glorious days when I used to dash home on my hand-built pillar-box red Condor racing bike, with its 27 gleaming Campagnolo gears (see below) I figured out a strategy to see off the bonk.


I called it “bringing the banana forward”. This terminology caused much mirth among my Canadian in-laws at the time. But I’d realised one thing about diet through this experience: the mid-afternoon Snickers bar was the principal cause of this strange loss of fuel-supply by late evening. I cut that out and ate a banana just before leaving the office instead. But that did not immediately do the trick. I guessed this was because, depending on how ripe a banana is, it can break down into sugars quite slowly. Timing the banana became an obsessive-compulsive ritual ahead of my evening departure. I eventually solved the problem by eating the banana a little earlier – i.e. bringing the banana forward.

Now, what De Vany’s blog was describing was in the context of hypoglycaemic episodes. The essence of much of this is that you don’t have to be diagnosed diabetic to experience wild swings in energy, attention, and perhaps even consciousness. In short, too many carbs at the wrong time can drive you bananas.

* I have self-consciously americanized this post, so apologies to all my British readers who expected to see the words “petroleum spirit” and “crisps”.

Photo credits: banana -eko- , campag: knackeredhack

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Paul Simon has a good line for most occasions, although I don’t think he intended the ’59th Street Bridge Song’ to be about training. The temptation to over-exercise can be strong. Even those who find it hard get motivated to go out, like me, will naturally speed up once they warm up.

Today, I took the Polar RS800sd out for the second time. It beeps alot at you, but in a nice way. Today I used the “OwnZone” feature which measures heart rate variability as you warm up, then prescribes an appropriate training activity. When I exceeded the set heart rate limit, it told me to slow down.

It was surprising how frequently that happened. But, nevertheless, I sense that I am much more disciplined, and hopefully less at risk of injury or overtraining. Previously, I would have pushed it.

Resting Heart Rate 47 bpmWeight 71.5 kg

Mood :-) (looking for fun and feeling groovy)

Exercise Energy Consumed 763 kcal (54 mins steady run, 10 mins exercise bike)

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In terms of recovery, the birth of a child must rank among the biggest of body traumas requiring adequate rest. It was reported this week that Paula Radcliffe has already resumed running just over two weeks since the birth of her first child.

This might not be so bad, but in continuing the theme of a bias to overtrain and under-recover, this article notes the experience of 1987 10,000m World Champion and serial marathon winner Ingrid Kristensen, from whom Paula reportedly sought advice:-

“Speaking earlier this year, Kristiansen admitted that she had done too much, too soon. She added: ‘I think Paula can come back in really good shape for the Beijing Olympics but she has to be patient. I did a little bit too much.’”

My own recovery seems to be going just fine. A virus is not a baby, after all. I ran intervals today, for the first time pushing the pace element to one-minute. I did this four times, then a four minute break, then another four times. As for recovery between intervals, instead of measuring by time, which I have done in the past, I followed the Bath University Human Performance Centre advice and waited until my heart rate had fallen to the recovery zone. Interestingly, the first several recoveries took a full minute, but thereafter the recovery rate improved to about 40-50 seconds.

Having pushed my heart-rate up to over 170 bpm, albeit briefly several times, it has left me tired, although with a sense of neurological adaptation. The post-run recovery feels quite different, more uplifting than a normal run.

Resting Heart Rate 46

Weight 71 kg

Mood :-)

Exercise Energy Consumed 575 kcal (35 mins interval/fartlek run, 10 mins bike)

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The first time in recorded literature Paula Radcliffe and PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster have not only shared a sentence (this one) but a headline (you clicked on it). What they have in common is cold bathing. I too have joined these honoured ranks. It feels like madness, and perhaps it induces it. But there are good reasons to follow the model, not least that Seneca (the champion stoic) favoured cold baths and long runs. Endurance training after all is a form of modern stoicism.

The Bath University Human Performance Centre advises the following regime:- alternating cold and warm showers for 30 seconds, three times each, as hot and cold as you can bear.

Sports psychologists have shown that cold showers not only reduce stress, but increase mental agility and toughness. The reason to adopt the contrast bathing approach above is to develop recovery. Using “intervals” of cold then hot is supposed to speed the removal of toxins from exercised muscles by stimulating blood flow. It certainly does that at this time year when the cold is particularly cold.

Today was a rest day, and I started using the recovery test in my Polar S625x running computer. For two weeks, I take a test three mornings each week to establish a baseline. This involves lying for a minute or so, usually pre-breakfast, in a quiet room with no distractions, and then standing for about the same. Thereafter I repeat the test a minimum of three times a week to measure, through variation in heart-rate during the “exercise” to determine to what extent the body has recovered. There is a total of eight different states from recovered to severely overtrained. The computer can even observe if my training is becoming too monotonous leading to a negative effect.

My resting heart rate was a bit variable this morning, but at its lowest (briefly 44 bpm) much lower than I have seen for a while.

Resting heart rate 48

Weight 71 kg

Mood :-|

Rest day, no exercise

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keep smiley!


If you are offended by smileys and a fan of the “smiley” intervention on YouTube then don’t read on.

My blog is covered in smileys. I use only three ( :-) :-| and :-( ) to indicate my prevailing daily mood. By monitoring mood, excercise scientists say, we can get an early indication of overtraining. Too many :-( s and the signs are you should be resting more. Clearly my three-week virus involved an almost continuous line of :-( s.

That mood modulates with exertion sounds terribly obvious, but we are not very good at responding to it. Since I started doing this, strangely enough, I’ve found it much easier to get over bad moods, and not let it affect work or other areas of life. With the appropriate rest, a lot of bad mood can be overcome. However, if you overstress yourself when you’re already in a bad mood, whether through doing too much or (in this case) overtraining, then things may go quickly from bad to worse.

I was very focused on staying within heart rate zone when running today. So when my heart rate computer says “no”, I slow right down. One area where I’ve been much more negligent is in making sure I get eight hours sleep. That also means looking at the watch, and doing what it says. Most nights the past few weeks I’ve been too close to only getting six hours. I’m going to try now to respond to the clock the same way I do to the heart rate monitor.

I also reckoned today that there are less than two and a half months to the Flora London Marathon. I’ve had to resume my long run at a lower level than pre-virus and build up again, leaving me short of training miles. This will make me much more vulnerable to the dreaded “wall”. That’s enough to put me in a bad mood. But on the positive side, I hoped that if everything else in training goes perfectly, I could still be in fantastic shape. And the long run, while necessary, does not alter the huge volume of mileage I will have put in over the past few months, and in the final build up.

Resting heart rate 49 bpm

Mood :-|

Weight 72 kg

Total exercise energy burned 979 kcal (1:07 hours run, 10 mins bike)

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