How to Avoid the Bonk in an Ironman Triathlon

Whether you call it bonking or hitting the wall, the chances are you can prevent it if you stick to your race strategy.

Assuming you have prepared properly for your fitness ability and goals you should have an idea of the pace or effort you’re able to put out as well as how much and the type of fuel you will require to keep going.

Most of us go into a race with a decent strategy, components of which we had tested and proven to work. The problem is that for some reason we don’t quite execute it when it counts. There are two main reasons why triathletes hit the wall, and it usually is on the run.

1. Under-fueling

2. Over-pacing

Let’s use an Ironman as an example. As we build fitness for six months or even longer in most cases, we get used to training and living pretty fatigued. Finally after the long awaited taper our bodies have regenerated, we feel fit and are anxious to unleash our inner badass. We have a ton of energy and can’t wait to showcase our hard earned fitness and endurance we’ve worked so diligently to achieve.

The energy from the race venue and excitement of the athletes around is a perfect habitat that breeds a competitive spirit. Often times we get distracted from our own personal game plan. We exit the swim feeling great and then one of two things happens (or both).

Since we have tapered and feel great we might delay our fueling plan. The first hour on the bike feels amazing and as a result we might skip some of the calories we had intended to replenish after the swim.

We also see other athletes pushing the pace right out of the gate, and that momentum causes us to push a little harder than what we had planned this early in the day. To our surprise it feels pretty comfortable so we carry on.

RELATED: Workout Recovery Tip For Triathletes

Already in the first hour on the bike we have put our body in a caloric deficit. We’ve already demanded a little more of our legs than our race plan called for. We don’t think much of it because after all we are fit and it’s only been a couple hours.

It is this tendency to push just a little harder and skip an occasional gel throughout the long day that adds up and hits us like a ton of bricks at mile 16 of the run for example.

Because we didn’t follow our race plan our body will make sure to get our attention by forcing us to a walk. If you’ve been in this position before then you know what happens next. You eat and drink everything in your sight. Each aid station after that becomes the long awaited oasis that saves your life every mile.

It is possible to bounce back after we get enough calories in, but unfortunately we’re already way off pace so mentally we feel defeated as we shuffle to the finish line.  

Over-pacing is more difficult to recover from. There isn’t much you can do about your heavy quads that feel pretty much on fire. Some reach for salt which can alleviate some of the discomfort. Others resort to ibuprofen in an attempt to numb the pain, but that can lead to another set of (GI) issues and multiple visits to the porter-potty which will only slow us down further.

The answer is simple, stick to your plan!

Set alerts on your watch to know when to hydrate, take in calories or salt.

Treat the first third or even half of the bike course as a warmup so hold back just slightly. The second half of the bike you can give a little more effort, but remember that this is also the time when you start fueling for the run.

Unless you’re a pro or fighting for a Kona spot, stick to your pace and don’t be influenced by those around you.

Looking to improve your fitness by eating better? Check this out!

Peter Kadzielawski

Peter Kadzielawski

Triathlon Coach at TheTriHub™
Peter Kadzielawski is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach. He also holds certifications in Sports Nutrition as well as Personal Training. As a 9x Ironman finisher himself who still remembers struggling through his first 5k run, Peter strives to inspire his clients and athletes to unleash their potential and rediscover new possibilities.

Since 2001 Peter has worked with individuals from many backgrounds, some taking up exercise for the first time looking for weight loss and toning, and others seeking guidance with a more extreme goal of training for an Ironman triathlon. Peter has published articles in the Competitor Magazine, some of his work was also featured by USA Triathlon, Golf Fitness Magazine and Colorado Runner website.
Peter Kadzielawski

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About The Author

Peter Kadzielawski

Peter Kadzielawski is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach. He also holds certifications in Sports Nutrition as well as Personal Training. As a 9x Ironman finisher himself who still remembers struggling through his first 5k run, Peter strives to inspire his clients and athletes to unleash their potential and rediscover new possibilities. Since 2001 Peter has worked with individuals from many backgrounds, some taking up exercise for the first time looking for weight loss and toning, and others seeking guidance with a more extreme goal of training for an Ironman triathlon. Peter has published articles in the Competitor Magazine, some of his work was also featured by USA Triathlon, Golf Fitness Magazine and Colorado Runner website.

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