The Expedition Amundsen Series: Part 5
Avoid the bonk: how to keep your body from shutting down while training for an endurance feat.
Ask a room full of endurance athletes if any of them have ever bonked—that dreaded can’t move, can’t talk, can’t breathe, can’t function state of being—while training or racing and you’re sure to see most hands raise. We joke about it a little, and maybe some even hold it as a source of pride. But the truth is, bonking, or completely shutting down, sucks. While training with my husband, Dan, for The Expedition Amundsen, a 100-kilometer race that will take place in Norway in less than a month, I experienced this dreaded phenomena. I sat on the side of the trail, my ski sled pushed up against me, and fought back tears as my body told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t going to move. At all. It was as if my mind and body had been drained of all their power.
So, the big question is how to avoid a bonk? Eating and drinking properly while training to refuel the calories that you are rapidly depleting is always key. However, I’ve learned that proper rest and recovery while training heavily is just as important. Dan and I have probably gotten away with not being as disciplined in the past, but while training to pull a 100 pound sled this winter, it has become highly important.
"I sat on the side of the trail, my ski sled pushed up against me, and fought back tears as my body told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t going to move. At all. It was as if my mind and body had been drained of all their power."
Here are 7 things that can help you stay healthy and happy throughout the training process and prevent a crippling melt down:
1. Embrace Your Inner Yogi
I typically resemble a 2x4 in flexibility—something I’ve been aware hurts my athletic performance, but haven’t done anything about. This year we bit the bullet and signed up for a punch card at a local yoga studio. Gradually, I have felt my body limbering up, and it makes me feel better daily as I’m not constantly hunched in soreness. I also feel more confident about avoiding injury and I'm quicker on my feet.
2. Protein Is Your Friend
In past winters, due to excess skiing, I lost weight. This winter, to avoid that, I have been eating something protein-rich after every time I go out. I gravitate towards spooning almond butter out of the jar because I’m lazy. But I have also started drinking protein shakes before bed and with some of my meals. Not only have I stalled my winter weight loss, I have also noticed a gain in muscle mass, which has come in handy for pulling my 100 pound sled. A win-win!
3. Drink Your Electrolytes
I used to see electrolyte drink mixes as a scam, but then I broke down and started incorporating an electrolyte drink into my liquid intake, particularly when I’m doing two-a-days or an especially hard work out. My energy is better and I recover better. This has also helped in stopping night-time muscle cramping, which is common after big days.
4. Recovery Days Are Key
This season I’ve tried to observe recovery days because I realize how important they are. If I go out for an easy ski, I wear a heart rate monitor and it helps me keep my heart rate low. If I’m needing to take a day off, I do it (instead of saying I am, and then taking the dog out for a 3-mile ski). In a recent conversation with a Nordic racer for the University of Colorado, I learned that overtraining can be as simple as consistently having your heart rate 5 beats too high on a recovery ski. Avoid the overtraining trap and let your poor body recover!
5. Sleep Like It’s Your Job
I have made strict rules for myself: no electronics at least one hour before I go to bed and I put down the book when it’s time for bed, the next chapter can wait. Sleep is incredibly important to recovery, and most of us don’t get enough. It’s when our bodies do their best job recovering and so if I expect my body to perform well the next day and not shut down, I need allow it charge up.
6. Have A Training Plan
We ski. That’s about it. We ski whenever we can, when we can. We may be a little fanatic about it. Whenever people ask what I’m doing over my weekend, I feel like I look at them like they’re crazy. I’m skiing! This year, however, we’ve put a bit more planning and structure into it because we need to be sure we’re ready for this 62-mile endeavor come March. This week, for example, looks like this:
Sun: 44km classic race, Leadville Loppet Race
am: 10 mile sled pull w/100lb
pm: Seven mile classic ski with the High School Nordic Team (2 mile race-pace pulls)
Wed: 10 mile sled pull with 100 pounds
am: 10 mile sled pull with 100 pounds
pm: 3-7 mile skate ski w/Ned High School Nordic Team (7 x 0.5 mile repeats)
Fri: Easy skin, 3 miles, 1,000' gain
Sat: Easy skin, 3 miles, 1,000' gain
We deviate here and there, because we want to keep it fun and interesting, but having an overall plan let’s our bodies prepare for what is next in the regime.
7. Overcome Yourself
This is true in all aspects of life. We can be our own worst enemy and our strongest supporter. The mental aspect of fitness is hard. But I know if I don’t believe in myself from the get-go, I’ve already decided the outcome. The mind is, in a lot of ways, the most powerful attribute in endurance athletics. I’ve focused on cultivating a powerful, positive mindset throughout this training process so that if I find myself bonking out on the trail again, I will have that much more mental strength to push on.
Dan and Elaine Vardamis are self-proclaimed “Nordic nerds” living nearly off-the-grid in Eldora, Colorado. They were married at the top of Loveland Ski Area in 2010, have skied at least one day 75 months in a row, have podiumed in races like the Grand Traverse and obviously like to go on really long adventures. This series will follow their preparation and execution of The Expedition Amundsen. You can track their training on Instagram: @nomadwolf360 and @elainevardamis.