How to Avoid Bonking in a Marathon

RW Staff

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#1
Running a marathon is a challenge a lot of runners put on their bucket list. When I ran my first marathon, I felt great until mile 18. From there, I was feeling fatigued until mile 23. After that, I seriously bonked and struggled my way to the finish line. To help you avoid the experience most endurance athletes face, we created a guide to help you avoid it.

Read it here.

Have you bonked before? What were you doing when you experienced it?

Tyler
RW Staff
 
#2
I think I may have written about this here but my first marathon is a hilarious exercise in bonking.

In high school and college I was a sprinter (400m) and unfortunately an injury took me out of the game. While I never really reclaimed my top gear, my rehab introduced me to distance running and I have slowly worked towards upping my mileage. While I had not yet set might sights on a full marathon, a sponsored entry into the NYC marathon fell into my lap. I had no clue what I was doing but I had to snag it. I set a fairly modest goal of running a 4 hour race (~9:10/mile).

While my training beforehand had actually gone really well, I was completely unprepared for the fueling portion of the race. I didn't eat any sort of special meals beforehand and I didn't eat anything during the race. To make matters worse, I boarded the hypetrain with a first class ticket when I got to the starting line. For those unfamiliar, there is literally a cannon blast to send off the elite runners at the start. From that moment forward Frank Sinatra's New York, New York is blaring over loud speakers. They slowly push you forward from your corrals on to the bridge and the excitement just builds and builds. I set off like a rocket passing people. There was a news helicopter strafing the bridge getting shots of the runners. I think the only other time I felt so amazing during a run was entering the stadium to run at Penn Relays. When I got to the first mile marker I checked my watch and it read 6:40... about a minute and a half faster than I had planned... gotta slow down! Mile 2... about 6:50... what am I doing!?!? The 5k marker in about 21 minutes... so on pace for a 3 hour marathon... no big deal...

I finally managed to, almost quite literally, stop myself and land on a 9:15 pace. Early excitement out of the way, I was still feeling good. I crossed the half marker in about 1:55 and I had planned to hold a consistent effort throughout so this was good news. Did I mention how clueless I was on the fueling front? I had my first drink of water at about 5 miles and then alternated drinking gatorade/water every two miles after that. I didn't bring any gels/blocks and I didn't pick up any snacks from the aid stations. I just kept chugging along and then the queenboro bridge happened. I made it over the crest fine but that took the last of my juice. From that point on my time slowly started to slip.

By the time I had made it back to 5th ave (around mile 21) I thought I was in the clear. No more hills. Let me tell you that the gradual slope of 5th ave might as well have been a mountain for me. The rolling hills of Central Park were an absolute nightmare but I used all of the crowd energy to hold on to a very ragged 10:30 pace to finish in just under 4:30.

Still one of my favorite race experiences but absolutely a learning one.
 

RW Staff

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#3
Thanks for sharing your experience @imnothammer! Your first race sounds exactly how the LA marathon went for me. NYC is definitely on my bucket list of races to do. What strategies/nutrition ended up working for you for subsequent marathons?

Tyler
RW Staff
 
#4
Thanks for sharing your experience @imnothammer! Your first race sounds exactly how the LA marathon went for me. NYC is definitely on my bucket list of races to do. What strategies/nutrition ended up working for you for subsequent marathons?

Tyler
RW Staff
I have only run three marathons and to be honest I have kinda hamfisted my way through all of the training, so I still very much consider myself a newbie. Chicago was a repeat in terms of no fueling (I thought my poor performance in NYC was due to my wild start)... Chicago was a 75+ degree day for the race that killed me. One thing I noticed in NYC/Chicago was the amount of spectators offering up food/drinks in-between aid stations. For Tokyo I resolved to eat literally anything that was handed to me. A lot of riceballs and fruit... so much Pocari Sweat! After the two disappointing performances I was of the mindset that I was just not a fast distance runner but at Tokyo I absolutely cruised to a 45 minute PR and I felt like I had so much gas left in the tank. Proper fueling was definitely the key and I am hoping that I can eventually work my way towards a BQ (although this is still probably a bit ambitious).

Just a personal preference I suspect but I am not a big fan of gels/gu. I have really enjoy Clifbloks. Black Cherry for the caffeine and Margarita for the sodium.
 
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