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Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

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  • Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

    I was reading about the cycling legend Eddy Merckx and his one-hour record this morning and came to this passage:

    Around 35 km Merckx showed signs of being human. He fidgeted on his seat and the grimace on his face revealed the superhuman effort he was making. There was never a question of his taking the record; the only question was by how much. Far from fading, his last two kilometres were reeled off in 1m 13s and 1m 12s. Still, he could barely speak when he first dismounted. Pictures of the moment show his face a mask of pain. It wasn't long, though, before Eddy regained his normal composure and was able to answer questions.
    This lead me to wonder, which sport has the higher level of exertion, cycling or distance running? For example, would an elite runner drop into a state of "could barely speak" and "face a mask of pain" after he attacks his half-marathon PB, which should also be covered in about one hour? Please discuss.

  • #2
    Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

    Cyclists can ride pretty hard for 5-6 hours and then come back the next day and do it again. That tells us just about all we need to know.

    On the bike you are sitting and use fewer muscles. Max heart rate is generally slower (~10 bpm).

    When I was trying to run marathons I ran about 100 miles/week during the build-up phase. I was running more than most of the people that were about as fast as me for 10km. When I switch to racing on the bike (plantar fascia problems) I kept about the same number of hours and was doing usually no more than 200 miles a week and was doing less than everyone that I was racing with (i.e., same performance level). Part of the reason was that I spent a lot of time climbing, and usually hard. But I have ridden for more than three hours hundreds of times and have never run for three hours.

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    • #3
      Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

      Thank you for your insight, 26mi235.

      I think that also has something to do with the different mechanism of both sports. In cycling the gyrating motion yield much less impact and is less taxing to the muscles than in running, no matter how smooth one runs.

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      • #4
        Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

        Originally posted by Vielleicht
        For example, would an elite runner drop into a state of "could barely speak" and "face a mask of pain" after he attacks his half-marathon PB, which should also be covered in about one hour?
        It happens all the time in the 400 meters, which is forty odd seconds of racing
        Było smaszno, a jaszmije smukwijne...

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        • #5
          Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

          I'm biking more these days and even on the days when I'm going as hard as I can for as long as I can, it's nowhere near as exhausting (total body weariness) as running is for me. My pulse scoots up to 160 easily on a hard run, but never above 140 on the bike, unless I'm climbing a long steep hill.

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          • #6
            Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

            I mountain bike a few times a week...usually 10-12 miles a ride. I doubt I could jog more than 2 miles without walking. I'd actually be happy if I could jog 1 mile without slowing to a walk. There's a lot to be said about the impact stress running puts on your body. I have had a knee injury for months that makes it difficult to walk up and down stairs and it doesn't even bother me riding except at the landing after hucking off a ledge.

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            • #7
              Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

              Cycling (and swimming) are non-weight bearing execises, and therefore they take a lot less toll on the body's skeletal structure. I've done three-hour bike rides at 70% of my maximum heart rate on many occasions and I always felt pretty good after I showered and relaxed for an hour or so; good enough to cut the grass or do whatever chores need to be done. I've done one 40K time trial on the bike at my anaerobic threshold 90-95% of my maximum heart rate and afterwards I was every bit as spent as Eddy Merckx was after his one-hour record, especially since I had underestimated the amount of water that I would need on a typical south Louisiana late-July day and I ran out of water about half-way through the race. However, after about a half hour if taking in fluids and cooling down I was back to normal and I wasn't at all sore afterwards.

              The furthest I've ever run is a half-marathon at about 80% of maximum heart rate and aferwards, I was really sore for a couple of days, especially in my midsection, and all I did was lay around the rest of the day. However, I have done many 8 to 10-mile training runs at 70% of maximum heart rate, and afterwards, I felt as good as though I had taken a two-hour bike ride. Based on my experience,there's not much difference between easy running and easy cycling when it comes to recovery, but there's a huge difference bewteen hard running/racing and hard cycling/racing when it comes to recovery, not so much the muscles, but the skeletal structure and connective tissues. As for heart rate, I had no problem getting my rate as high at the end of a short bike race (1K, points race) as I did at the end of a short road race (eg. 2 miles, 5K) which was 195-198 b.p.m. (I've never hit 200 though my brother would regularly hit 203-208 b.p.m. when he raced).

              As for energy expenditure of cycling vs running, I've always used a 3:1 ratio; that is one mile of moderate running equals three miles of moderate cycling. However, as the effort goes up the ratio comes down due to the exponential nature of wind resistance, and for sprints the ratio is 2:1. Not coincidentally, the world record for cycling's 200 meters is 9.572s.

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              • #8
                Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                Interesting since jazzy and I agree so often but I've always used a 3:1 ratio as well for my running and cycling in terms of perceived effort.

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                • #9
                  Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                  According to ├ůstrand and Rodahl, the most efficient mode of transportation by any animal is riding a bicycle. The least efficient?....A slug..

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                  • #10
                    Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                    Originally posted by Marlow
                    I'm biking more these days and even on the days when I'm going as hard as I can for as long as I can, it's nowhere near as exhausting (total body weariness) as running is for me. My pulse scoots up to 160 easily on a hard run, but never above 140 on the bike, unless I'm climbing a long steep hill.
                    Using a heart monitor it is amazing how hard you have to work on a stationary bike to get your heart rate above 150. While running on a treadmill, it takes nothing at all.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                      Originally posted by Conor Dary
                      Using a heart monitor it is amazing how hard you have to work on a stationary bike to get your heart rate above 150. While running on a treadmill, it takes nothing at all.
                      For me it's not hard on both equipments - could I have cranked the resistance of the stationary bike too high?

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                      • #12
                        Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                        Isnt this like the question "what weighs more a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers?"

                        This isn't about recovery time, it is about pushing yourself to the limit and, including a number of sports, running, biking, or swimming, if you truly gave "100%" then it must be a tie.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                          Originally posted by Conor Dary
                          Originally posted by Marlow
                          I'm biking more these days and even on the days when I'm going as hard as I can for as long as I can, it's nowhere near as exhausting (total body weariness) as running is for me. My pulse scoots up to 160 easily on a hard run, but never above 140 on the bike, unless I'm climbing a long steep hill.
                          Using a heart monitor it is amazing how hard you have to work on a stationary bike to get your heart rate above 150. While running on a treadmill, it takes nothing at all.
                          Try using less resistance and increasing your cadence, and you should have no problem getting higher heart rate. My heart rate when I'm mashing a big gear is never as high as when I'm spinning a small gear, and I don't fatigued as quickly either. The more you pedal with a higher cadence, the more natural it will feel.

                          Also try to increase the efficiency of your pedal stroke if you aren't already doing so. I used to do drills to increase my pedal stroke efficiency when I raced on the track, such as pedal with one leg with a low resistance and high cadence for a few minutes on each leg. If you're not clipped into or strapped onto the pedals and you're only using your quads and gluts, it's been my anecdotal experience that your power output is 15 -20% less than it could be with clips/straps.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                            When I was a for real runner, sixty years ago, I don't recall ever taking my pulse or even considering heart rate. I was a sprinter and only started running occasional 5K and 10K as a Master. Distance was/is not my thing.

                            Thirty years ago, at age 50ish when I could still run and had a 38-40 bpm resting pulse, I did start taking my pulse during runs and discovered I could not seem to get it above 180 bpm, even if I was staggering spraddle legged and had blood half way up my eyeballs.

                            Question: Was my low max bpm a function of a low resting bpm or did I just not run hard enough to get it higher?

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                            • #15
                              Re: Level of exertion, cycling vs. distance running?

                              Your maximum heart rate decreases as you get older, and it's also a affaected by your genetics. Mo Farah's max HR might be significantly higher or lower than Kenesia Bekele's or Galen Rupp's max HR.

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