Making a hard ride harder

Today, I tried something that I read about in Bicycling magazine. They call it "Bonk Training." I call it making a hard ride harder. For the non-athletes out there, the name comes from "bonking," the sound you make when you "hit the wall," or reach the end of your energy on a ride. I don't know if Powerbar invented the phrase "bonking," but they did a very amusing series of ads a year or two ago featuring the slogan, "Don't bonk." That's where I first heard it, though I've been familiar with The Wall for years.

The Wall is that place where, suddenly, you can't go any more. Your legs suddenly double in weight, you slow down, and your body basically says, "Stop! I've had enough!" Physiologically, it's the point where your body's demands for glycogen have completely outpaced both its glycogen stores and its ability to manufacture more. You're out of gas.

Bonk training, then, is intentionally exercising when you have little or no available glycogen stored, forcing your body to convert fat to glycogen for energy. The best time to do this is first thing in the morning, sice your glycogen levels are already low from going without food for eight hours or more while you slept (sleepwalkers excluded). This accelerated fat-burning process is supposed to last for the rest of the day, so this training regimen is supposed to be a highly efficient way to drop excess weight. One warning, though: you can't exercise for more 60-90 minutes or your body will start cannibalizing muscle instead of fat. For more on how that feels, see "My Climb to the Clouds."

So, basically, instead of hitting the wall, you are picking it up and carrying it on the back of your bike for the entire ride. It didn't sound fun, but I figured I'd try it. I'll have to get back to you on the weight loss, but I can say this: it was hard. 30 minutes in, my stomach started growling, and I spent most of the ride dreaming about the omelette I was going to buy myself for breakfast when I got to work.

I survived, though -- and admirably, I thought -- until I crossed the Marlborough border. Then I remembered why the ride into town is so much harder than the ride out. I call them the Three Sisters: three progressively taller hills that lead into town on Route 20. The first, Bianca, is a sweet little thing; not bad to look at and a lot easier to climb than you'd think. The middle sister,Gertrude, is nowhere near as attractive, presenting a steep face that dares you to get on top of her. And finally, there's Kate. She looks at you, laughs, and says, "You may have climbed my sisters, but you're not beating me, little man!" My calves agreed, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor and cramping viciously in an attempt to get a break. But they're only muscles, and have no pride. I do, and also a brain that realizes there are no showers at the intersection of Routes 20 and 85. I kept pedaling anyway.

After the sisters comes Big Brother. He's nowhere near as steep as Kate, but he presents a long, slow grind that makes you glad to see the back of him. By this time, half of a smushed banana was looking welcome. Once over him, though, it was a nice swift drop in to work. I made it, and was ready to eat.

Read on the Road

Another entertaining message from Route 20:

Monday Luck of the Draw
Free Darts Night

Man, I'd hate to be the guy who loses the draw: "OK, Herb your turn. Up in front of the dart board and bend over."
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