Don’t bonk: What the half marathon taught me about PdM

Thomas Wilk explores how to run your best race.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

It’s been almost seven years since I bonked in a big race.

One of my hobbies is long-distance running: 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon–anything short of an Ultra and I’ll try it out (perhaps even a literal Tri someday). There’s something inherently hopeful about setting a big goal and then achieving it, with the possibility that each time out, you might be able to improve on your best performance.

Few races have left as deep an impression on me as my first half marathon in 2009, not for crossing the finish line, but for a failure along the way.

I trained by following one of Hal Higdon’s novice programs, running as much as possible in the summer heat. Turns out that was a good idea, as it was 80-plus degrees Fahrenheit on race day in September, with a hot sun, a cloudless sky, and the breeze most definitely not blowing in from Lake Michigan.

Things went well through Mile 10, as my body handled the heat and the water stations kept me hydrated. Then came Mile 11. Right at the mile marker, I bonked, and I bonked hard–I got dizzy and disoriented, my feet got heavy, and all the racers I had passed before were now passing me in return. All I could do for the final two miles was a slow shuffle step, ultimately crossing the finish line but far off my predicted pace.

The root cause of this failure was a mystery until a debrief with my brother-in-law, who is also a runner: “Drank enough?” Check. “You ran your race at your pace?” Check. “When did you rip your first gel pack?” Uh-oh.

Turns out I had overlooked something simple: nutrition. My body had not needed carb supplements during training, when the runs had topped out at 10 miles. The actual race went to 11, and then to 12 and finally 13.1 miles, and I never knew what I was missing that day to run my best race.

How does all this relate to our industry? Earlier this year, Sheila Kennedy began investigating how to re-start a failed or interrupted PdM program: what factors place programs at risk, and what should be done when your program has bonked and needs a restart?

During her research, so many contributors wanted to share their story that we’re proud to run her article across two issues. This month’s first part covers common causes of program failure, from using the right technology to the risk of not acting on the available data; the October follow-up story identifies critical success factors.

This issue also includes Tom Moriarty’s thoughts on effective PdM leadership, especially the risks involved in not having the right program leaders in place to take action. One key strategy is to “make sure you have the capability to convert identified defects into corrective actions, and execute these actions to avoid failures.”

If you want to keep running, you need to act on the available data and be open to continuous learning, or your equipment and programs will continue to fail.