Bonking & The 20% Rule

There will always be athletes more talented than you, but do NOT let them out-work you.”  Derek Jeter

As I work through my big weeks in preparation for Ironman Hawaii, I have a LOT of time on my rides and runs to think.  Every big race I do – I always have a mantra – or something that I adopt that keeps my training real and keeps me on my toes.  This year, it is this quote.  Years ago I had a coach say this to me.  And, it has stuck with me, daily, since then.  I take pride in working hard and not over-thinking not over-doing but just putting my nose down and doing the work consistently day after day.

I have been overjoyed at some of the weather we have had lately.  It has been SIZZLING hot.  90s and heat indexes in the 100s!  AND humid like Kona.  IDEAL!  Last week I went out and had a 100 mile ride + 1 hour run off the ride.  I was solo (as I do all my long stuff).  The temps started out at 58F and I made the rookie mistake of NOT drinking enough.  By the time I was done with my ride, it was upper 80s and humid.  I was in trouble.  I got too far behind in my hydration that I totally & utterly bonked 20 minutes into my run.  I had salt, had enough calories, but not enough to drink.  I swear, it has been probably 10 years since I did this – but I was due.  AND it hit me like a freight train.  I went from “OK” to “SHIT” very fast.  My breathing was shallow and rapid.  My BP was totally off and I felt like I was suffocating.  Then, I realized how bad I was — >  I was nauseous and dizzy.  So bad actually that I was going to faint fast if I did not sit down.  I sat down on the bike path and put my head between my knees.  Then, I wanted to take a nap (I mean, see how bad this bonk was!!).  I laid down ON THE BIKE PATH and re-grouped.  I knew that if I could stabilize myself I would be ok in about 10 minutes.  I had a gel, more fluids…I was sweating like crazy.  But, after 10 minutes I came back around & I was OK to walk again.  Like I said on Facebook, NO ONE stopped to see if I was ok.  Unbelievable.  EEKS.


AND coming back from a bonk is tough.  One of the issues I have with Ironman training is eating enough.  I have NO appetite and I find myself not interested in any food.  I have to literally choke it down.  And, I have to be careful not to get too light.  It really can be a big problem in Ironman training and recovery.  If we do not fuel properly daily – it adds up and we can get sick, not recover well enough to workout properly the next day, etc.  You have to consume a LOT of good food in order to do what we do!  So, when I weighed myself and I was lower than I should be at this time of the training cycle, I ate and ate and ate.  I recovered well enough in 2 days, that I was back to being fine.

Today I rode 3 hours in 97F degree temps – it was awesome!  Even downright windy.  I also ran 1 hour…on and off the bike…and I drank SEVEN bottles of fluids in three hours.  It is the only way to do it and I finally felt AMAZING – ran fast off the bike in this heat and my watts and speed increased throughout the ride.  You make that big of a mistake ONCE and you learn fast how important salt, fluids and tons of calories are to a successful training day!  As the weather is turning quickly now in Chicago, I am so grateful I had these Kona like temps to remember how critical the details are in having a good Ironman race in a month.

Speaking of Ironmans, I spectated my 11th IM WI this past weekend.  I always leave that race totally inspired and motivated by my friends & athletes.  IM WI is not an easy course.  And, I really believe that there is the 20% rule when it comes to having success on race day – especially in the Ironman.

This 20% rule is what I call the details of daily training that all add up to the full 100% of training.  I find that most athletes do 80% of what they need to do to succeed.  They do the workouts, they think they eat right, they try hard to sleep right….but in reality the 20% is what they need to focus on.

This 20% is this:

–        Doing the specifics of each workout perfectly. Not adding more, not running harder because you feel good or want to

–        Doing what it takes to be fueled well BEFORE, during and after to capitalize on each workout

–        NOT winging the nutrition on long runs and long bikes – really creating a plan and an hour to hour plan on what you will eat, drink, how much salt to a “T”

–        When the workout calls for a brick – get off the bike and onto the run in less than 5 minutes.  NO checking phone, talking to kids, get out fast

–        Not just jumping into a group workout because you want to socialize – do your specific workout – you can socialize afterwards OR the next day

–        Sleeping 7-9 hours per night – no exceptions here.  Unless you have a newborn in the house – there is no reason and no excuses

–        Consistency – day in and day out.  Not missing workouts – no zeros – and taking care of the details allow you to remain consistent

–        If you have a coach or  report your workouts in Training Peaks – communicate!  I can’t tell you how many times I open up TP and it is empty week after week – or athletes that just put in the time they did the workout.  NO data, NO subjective feedback.  Not much I can do with that.  After EVERY one of my workouts, I download it immediately.  IF you have a good coach, that coach will give you feedback (when necessary) and notice patterns and trends that are critical as she/he plans the next training block.  I cannot tell you how critical this is.  Imperative to your success and something I struggle with daily as a coach trying to do my job

–        More is not always best.  If you are tired day after day – listen to your body.  Your body is an amazing vehicle.  Usually being so tired is a result of nutrition issues OR lack of sleep/rest.  Pay attention to the cues.  REST is a very critical component to a good training plan

–        Do not be afraid of fatigue.  Remember on the other side of fatigue – once you get through the training cycles IS FITNESS!  This is something that we need to remember during Ironman training and marathon training

–        Do not under estimate life stress.  The body does not know the difference between training stress, personal stress, work stress.  If life is not good at home – this will create a ton of internal stress and it will affect your workouts.  Same with work stress…if you are stressed at work or home and then try to stress your body killing it during workouts – you will, at some point, fall apart.  Address the stressors and fix what you can.  You can.  We all are in control of our lives.  And, if you have stressors in your life – communicate them with your coach so that the training plan can be adapted while you go through a challenging time

–        Be positive.  Remember, this is a hobby.  Not many of us making a living racing races.  It should be fun.  Of course some of it is hard and draining, but that is the joy of the process.  Keep it real and keep it fun!

–        Celebrate each success.  WHEN you have a good workout – enjoy that.  When you have a bad workout, move on.  Sometimes you are the nail and sometimes the hammer.  As long as you are the hammer more often than the nail – that is success!

–        Don’t try to “WIN” every workout.  When I see files where athletes are always going faster than they do in racing – then the red flag goes off in my head – there is a disconnect between racing and training.  AND I need to work with “marrying” the two.

–        When I saw the Pros (Beth Shutt was the best example) and the AG leaders at IM Wisconsin, they were in the “zone”.   They were engaged, focused and had flipped that “switch” and were present on the course.  They were in a world of hurt – but were able to transcend that suffering to something bigger = winning OR nailing their goals.  You can see it as clear as day.  Watch them!

Happy Training!


  1. These tips are exactly what I needed to read, as you know I can be pretty guilty of doing the 80%, especially after IM when I struggle to find my focus once the race of the season is over. I can’t wait to track you in Kona!

  2. Amen!!!

    Happy training! Watch out Kona!!!

  3. Jen such a great blog and always so much to learn from you!
    I too am loving the heat. Can’t get enough of it.
    So excited for you to get to Kona:) all smiles!

  4. So much great info in here, Jen! Bet you will hydrate well from here on out. You’re in the home stretch now!

  5. It’s not an IM training cycle if there isn’t at least one major bonk, is it? Glad you’ve recovered! And you need to add “Don’t race with car keys” to your list.

  6. This is such a good blog!! I always learn something from you. And the point you make about not winging the nutrition for IM training is so key. For the first time this year my coach really forced that on me (practicing the nutrition plan for every single workout) and it made a huge difference on Sunday!

    Thanks again for your cheers – you always know just what to say!

    Only 4 weeks for you now – YEAH!!!! :)

  7. Such an insightful post! I always learn so much from reading your posts. My coach has been working diligently on nutrition with me, and I’m seeing such a difference in how my body responds during workouts, and how I recover from getting enough calories.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Kona!

  8. I think it’s good you bonked. I feel like it’s just part of the IM training cycle. And the 20% thing is spot on – although you need to add “not racing with car keys” to your list.

  9. This is good stuff. Some of it really hit home for me! Here’s to no more bonking and happy training:)!!

  10. Thank you for instilling these great habits in me, JH!! Because of you, I don’t freak out about the little things and am able to subjectively look at how I am feeling/doing. I learned a lot from working with you. :) Although… I do have some epic bonks from time to time. 😉 LOVED seeing everyone posting their “bonk” pictures on your FB – that cracked me up!!

  11. I finally got time to read this-LOVE LOVE LOVE the quote!!!! And the 20% rule is so on point! Keep up the good Kona training.

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