Reminding myself about the nutrition wall…the hard way.

It seems to happen each year around early spring time.  Usually early spring because that’s roughly when my workouts get long enough that I cross over the invisible barrier where I can get away with going low on nutrition.  Typically, during the winter my workouts are usually short enough that I don’t need a lot of nutrition (water and calories).  This is partly because workouts are shorter, and partly because I can take a small amount of nutrition for those workouts that are longer.  With an early April marathon, that annual timeline gets slipped a bit earlier.

Where I always get into trouble though is when I cross pass the line of a medium-long workout, into a really long workout.  Now of course, in theory a 2hr long run is definitely a long-workout.  But, the dynamics significantly change when I go from 2hrs to 3hrs.  Not sure why (ok, I know why – it’s 50% longer), but they really do.

So tonight I was running with The Girl (at her pace) for her long run.  Part of our lead up to the Paris Marathon in about 6 weeks.  My day was kinda wonky going into the run, sorta split a bit where I didn’t have a chance to grab a proper lunch.  So my lunch was…uhhh…Parisian.  You know, a Nutella-Banana crepe.  And then my second lunch (like Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal) was just some soup pre-run.  No breakfast (which is unusual) due to the wonkiness.

Thus going into the long run, I wasn’t exactly in the best of positions.

But somehow in my little brain, I figured that since I was running at a slower pace than unusual I wouldn’t need as much nutrition.

Of course, this isn’t true at all.  Nutrition is generally based on time, rather than your distance (of course, intensity can vary that some).  And since I was now running a bit longer than before (by about 30-40 minutes), I’d definitively need more nutrition.  But, I didn’t process that.

So, we headed outside and began our three-hour tour together (minus a tropical island and a boat).  It would also be my first run with the new Timex Run Trainer 2.0 , which is slated for March availability.


Our route was towards the Bois de Vincennes – the gigantic park to the east of us.  It was here that’d we’d be able to burn many, many miles.  Heck, as you can see below we only bumbled through about 2/3rds of the park, with plenty of ground left to cover.


The Girl hadn’t been over there yet, but I’m an old hat at wasting many miles wandering around the park, especially running (but also riding).


The first sign that I wasn’t on a good nutrition plan was that I completely forgot I even had nutrition with me until about the 1hr marker.  Nor even thought to take any prior to that.  Given I’d normally be taking nutrition about every 20 minutes, I was also behind quite a bit.


But being behind was really the least of my concerns.  I didn’t have enough nutrition with me for even 40-60 minutes, let alone 180 minutes.  I had taken exactly one pack of gel thingies.

Typically, I’d take 2-3 gel gummy bear wannabes every 20 minutes, which puts it at roughly one per hour (bags).  I had one for three hours (180 calories for three hours).  And that’s ignoring the deficit due to low-nutrition going into the run (I did have good hydration however pre-run).

On the hydration side during the run, I was also derelict there.  The Girl had brought her CamelBak, but I hadn’t done my annual deep-cleaning of it yet, and it looked downright sketchy.  I had been running with a small water bottle recently, and refilling it as required (there’s places in the park here and there).

Luckily, since she had her CamelBak in an operational state, I could get some water via hers, and then refill.

Now the core item I had going for me was intensity.  Or rather, lack thereof.  Given I was at a Z1 effort (mid 130’s HR wise), I can more or less go quite a long time without feeling the impacts of it.  But I could tell around the 1hr 45min marker that I was downright hungry.  As in, throw me a cheeseburger and I’ll keep running and eating hungry.  Which is incredibly rare for me.  Regrettably, neither of us had cash on us (also rare).  So, no burgers for me.

At the 2hr marker, our pace picked up per the plan to run the last hour at a higher intensity, which brought me into my standard long-run intensity (Z2, low-mid 150’s).  Now that I was in this intensity, the bonk clock probably started ticking a bit faster at this point.

But with the newfound pace I actually had more energy.  I was back in a more natural stride and things felt better form a pure running mechanics standpoint. Plus – most importantly –  we were slowly shifting directions back towards home.  And home had food (and warmth), and food….and food.

And all was good until about 2:49.  Or, as I came to find out, 2:44.  See, that’s when The Girl casually called out the time remaining left in the run.  On my watch, I had it listed at 2:49 – or 11 minutes.  Yet hers was pushing 16 minutes left.  It turns out I was just looking at the elapsed time (versus running time), so it didn’t account for our stoppage time at stop lights/etc…  My legs were hurting due to lack of nutrition/hydration, and after hearing 16 minutes instead of 11 minutes, I pretty much lost all motivation in the span of a 100 yards.


It’s funny, there’s often debate about bonking – and whether it’s real or not.  Meaning, is it a provable nutrition wall, or rather, a mental wall.  In this case, it was clearly a mental wall, triggered by a low-nutrition situation.  Had she said 11 minutes instead of 16, I would have had no problems.  I was mentally good (even if my legs weren’t).

That extra 5 minutes though meant that I’d have to run past the house, and into some sort of loop pattern for five minutes.  In the grand scheme of things, five minutes is tiny – about 2.8% of the entire run time.

But at that point I hit the mental wall.  I walked for about 4 minutes (The Girl went ahead) and I stretched out the legs.  But then I kicked into a solid little finishing run for the remaining ~1.2 miles home.  In fact, I had quite a nice sub-7 pace for that period.  Since I didn’t consume any additional nutrition, it was clearly more a mental blocker and needing a moment to regroup, than a true physical one.

Ironically, while on my first run with the new TRT 2.0, I negated to use the single new feature that probably could have saved it: Nutrition Alerts.

On the TRT you can specify both drink and eat alerts, specified by time.  So, you can have a repeating 15 minute alerts for drinking (in the hot summer weather, I’d actually go 10 minutes), and then a separate eating alert (I’d go with 20 minutes).  You can specify to use vibration alert.


Of course, technology only does so much good when you simply don’t have enough nutrition with you in your CamelBak.  On the bright side, since my pace was driven by The Girl (it was her run), the only impact to my workout was really the minor four-minute breakdown at the end (which she just carried on).  Pace-wise I was otherwise fine the rest of the workout.

On the bright side, I did get our post-run nutrition off to a solid start, with immediate an chocolate milk recovery drink upon getting in the front door.


For those curious about a Timex Run Trainer 2.0 review – aiming for March sometime, once they finalize the software on the unit.  In the meantime, here’s a quick gallery of ‘unboxing’ photos, plus some more photos from the run.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. Titan

    Bonking is real! I Bonked yesterday and could barely ride the three miles home in the small chainring and largest cog in the back. My max heart rate was about 110bpm. No way that is a mental block.

    • Mirek_

      Yep when your blood sugar gets below a certain level – your muscles pretty much stop working. The onset is usually very quick.

  2. I know about the long runs, was running on Table Mountain drinking only water and the after about 2h40 I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the car… But I’m a trail runner and did have stuff hidden in my pack, so I stopped and 1 GU and 2 turbovites later I only needed a 5 min walk bfore I could run…

    I also think the cold could have taken your energy!

  3. Doug L

    Umm, is that a glass of chocolate milk on your laptop? Not going to see a glass of anything ON my computer…

  4. When I used to run Mountain Marathons I always took having this happen in traing every now and then as a positive thing. During the events you are always at some risk so knowing the feeling and knowing the right thing to do if you have food with you is good. e.g. don’t stuff down too much sugar or you will be wven wors in half an hours time. I also learnt that I could go though the light headed period and 15-20 minutes latter be back to normal with no food at all. This of course will not last for too much longer though.

  5. Tommy

    Perfect timing, I was going to post a question about the Run Trainer 2.0! I have a Garmin 610 and as much as I like some parts of it, it is giving me nothing but trouble from a heart rate monitoring perspective (drops, spikes, calories counting half as much on the watch as on FirstBeat, etc.). The TRT looked good as a replacement but I really like the vibrating alerts which it was missing and is included in the 2.0. For those of us too impatient to wait for a full review, can we safely assume the 2.0 will build upon the 1.0 and not be a step backwards (i.e. all the things that were pros on the 1.0 will remain with some of the cons being fixed)? Finally do you know if the March release date is early March or late March (or somewhere in between)?

    • Ray Maker

      I don’t believe any of the Timex lineups supports FirstBeat, but I may be mistaken.

      As far as I know however, all TRT 1.0 functionality is within 2.0. But, I’ve also learned that the details are what matter, so it’s going to take some time to sift through everything.

      I’m not clear on exact timeframes in March.

  6. From my reading and personal experience the bonking is based on a calorie deficit.
    The idea is that humans carry enough calories in liver and muscles to support a 20 mile run. Hence the wall in a marathon at mile 20.
    Therefore it makes sense that nutrition is mainly distance related and not time. On the same note calories burned is distance and not time related.
    The debate real vs non-real… The human brain is powerful and will make you fell things not even there (some amputees feel pain in an amputated limb). Therefore going with Noakes theory of the central governor it makes sense that the brain will shut you down and controls the bonking.
    I have been on runs up to 22miles (4:47 – MyGirlsPace) without nutrition. It got though at the end, but mainly because of some hip/it-band issues and not going my natural pace. Yet my energy seemed fine.
    On another 22mile run (3:20 – MyPace) I geled ever 5.5 miles (3 gels ~ 360 cal) and should have been a few hundred calories under (I weigh 200lbs ~ 3,300 kcal for 22miles – 2,000 kcal stored +360 kcal added = 1,660 deficit) but yet did not hit a wall.
    My recent long run of 27 miles (5:07 – MixedPace) was fueled by 4gels, I should have been 2,530 kcal under…
    Nevertheless in both runs I did not bonk or hit the wall!
    And with coming from the couch in June 2011 I am not a seasoned runner or longtime fitness guru. Actually I was obese when I left the couch.
    Concluding bonking is mostly mental, as everybody has plenty if energy in fat reserves (3,500kcal per lbs).

  7. This is why a fat-adapted, metabolically efficient diet is the best. I mean, except that part where you can’t eat any sugar or pasta or potatoes, or really anything tasty. I did a 21 miler run on nothing but salt and water and closed out at about half marathon pace, no hunger at the end.

    It means no more pastries, though. Sad. Probably not worth it.

    • That goes back to the theory that the human diet is mainly protein and fat for milliion of years and also that huskies on a protein/fat diet perform extremly well, right?
      I do LOVE carbs, hence they are a major item in my diet. Though I do not worry too much about fat.
      I only reduce fat in order to reduce calories, but I am certainly not cutting fats very strictly…

    • psywiped

      On that diet right now. Although you can’t have carbs I would hardly say that the food isn’t tasty in fact i would say that would be a gigantic lie. I get to eat bacon, ribeye, ham, prime rib, porkchops, sirloin, cheese, heavy cream, avocado, evoo, coconut oil, spices, chicken, turkey, fish, shell fish, butter, flax, and veggies. Been on the diet for over a year now and feel better than ever with more energy and endurance. I have no plans on going back to carbs other than desert every once and a while.

    • Chase

      Muscles are fueled by Glycogen.

      Glycogen is primarily derived from Sugars (i.e. carbohydrates, which are inherently sugars).

      Sure, you can do your fat/protein-based diet, but your not going to get on any podiums that way.

    • psywiped

      They can also be fueled by ketones which come from fat, there is good reason your body stores energy as fat.

  8. Dan

    Ray – What’s your marathon goal? Also, any idea of pricing on that TRT 2.0?

    • Ray Maker

      I don’t have any goal for this race. I’m just here to run along with The Girl. It does give me a nice early season base though. :)

  9. Tommy

    Timex is listing it at $224.95 stand alone and $274.95 with the HRM (since it is ANT+ compatible you may be able to go with the lower price if you have an existing strap).

  10. Matt

    having had some pretty scary looking camelbaks in the past, I now store the bladder, straw thing, and bite part in the freezer. So, even if I don’t do a great job of cleaning them (or even do more than dump out what remains), I can feel pretty confident that nothing will be growing in the frozen darkness that is my freezer. It’s a lazy-man’s solution, but a good one!

  11. Jackson

    Thanks for these postings – These are helpful. BTW, check out the app “ConnectStats” for iPhone. Independent developer created app that pulls all garmin connect information and then provides a whole host of graphs/charts and other data. App is free.

  12. Chase

    This is why you should run Ultras’ Ray…trust me, teaches you dial-in your nutrition/hydration REAL well…

  13. Eli

    While I agree that it sounds like it was a mental block based on how you reacted from learning you had an extra 5 mins to go if it was a physical block and you slowed down for a few minutes your body would be able to use your fat stores better and lower the lactic acid in your blood.

    Exercising with low gycogen reserves can make your body more efficient at using fat for energy: link to

  14. Long Run Nick

    Can an old fart(soon to be 70) share a thought on nutrition? Having run over 76,000 miles (actual mileage 76,906 miles) over the last 36+years which includes 18 marathons and 10 ultras my experience on nutrition — especially on the run is a lot different than Ray’s.
    Back before Gu, etc., we drank de-fizzed cokes, chewed bubble gum and maybe stuffed in some fig newtons. I smile when I see runners at a 5 K ingesting Gu type stuff. Over the years I have “trained myself” to convert to utilizing fat stores after my normal glycogen stores are depleting. What has happened is I can run 3-4 hrs usually with just water and have rarely had any negative issues. Though Florida heat/humidity can wear one down a lot quicker. Coach McMillan has some interesting articles on running w/o using “Gu stuff”
    I am 5’10 and weigh in between 145-150 pounds. When I finish a long run I rely on drinking a lot of Endurox R4 and getting in carbs ASAP.
    Sorry I have been so wordy, let me finish this small,dissertation by thanking Ray for the wonderful product reviews and travel logs he puts on his site. I blame him for owning way too many GPS/HR gadgets. Ray, keep up the great work. A tip of my hat to the “girl”.

  15. marco

    As you live in paris now, which is the home of the International Prototype Metre (see it at Pavillon de Breteuil )
    it would be an easy step to switch to the metric system. There are no miles existing in Paris or somewhere else in Europe (nor in othe parts of the world. Only the USA , Myanmar and Liberia do not use it – nice triumvirate , eh?)
    If I remember correctly for US it is an recommondation to measure in the metric system since 1975 (Metric Conversion Act). For the US mechanical engineering industry it is a heavy handicap not to use the metric system, it is much harder to work with high precision in Inches. Come on Ray give them a good example. Be “avant garde” .

    • Ray Maker

      I regularly post in both formats in my posts. I don’t mind using distance based metrics such as kilometers (which I’m perfectly comfortable with), however for pace-based metrics, my brain still operates and is ingrained upon things like 7 minutes/mile.

      As an aside, the Brits do use MPH. :)

    • A 50k run seems a lot more grueling than a 31mile run.
      Smaller distance numbers help me mentally…

  16. Ray, very apt that I’m reading your post tonight after my own experience this afternoon:
    link to

    Nutrition and hydration play a HUGE role in successful training and racing, in my opinion.

  17. David Tucker

    I love anecdotes like this. I haven’t had anything like this happen in a while but when I started running a few years ago and started training for my first half…I definitely learned the importance of nutrition!

    And I’m excited to hear how the TRT 2.0 is. I had the 1.0 and loved it (even if I’m using the RC3 GPS now) and this looks like a great upgrade from the previous!

  18. Mark

    Great site and information – thank you! This looks like finally a watch with the features I want: water proof, decent battery life, size for every day use, HR, solid features. Looking forward to your review. Question: any insight if Polar will follow up with an actual water proof integrated GPS watch this spring? I’ve been using Polar watches for 15 years and am cheering for them… but feel like I’m pulling for the losing horse.

    • Ray Maker

      I think we’ll eventually see what they’ve hinted at (RCX5 equiv), just no idea on when. It’s not in my hands today, that much I know.

  19. Hubert

    Ray, how do you perform your annual clean of CamelBak?
    I usually clean each time, but the annual one is a good idea and I was wondering how to perform it.
    Thanks for the tips!!

    • Ray Maker

      I usually start by running near-boiling hot water down it, and then I try and dislodge anything inside of it that may be less than clear. Usually just by tweaking it back and forth. It may not be perfect, but it makes me feel better. :)