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Thread: Endurance: running vs cycling

  1. #1
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    Endurance: running vs cycling

    I've just been reading an article about the Paris-Brest-Paris Audax cycling event: it's 1200km, with a cut-off time of 90 hours, and the record is about 42 hours. So comparable to one of the longer ultra running events, you would think.

    However, 6,500 people started this year's PBP, with a 69% completion rate; which suggest to me that it is significantly less demanding than a running event taking a similar length of time. OK, so an Audax is not principally intended to be a race. Yet cycling long distances does still require physical strength and fitness, and mental strength, similar to running.

    So is the difference simply down to cycling being a low-impact activity? For the same expenditure of energy, does running cause greater fatigue because your feet are repeatedly slamming the ground, rather than moving round in smooth circles as on a bike?
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    Master Travs's Avatar
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    I’m no expert, but in my opinion you’re correct... lower impact, and the ability to generate more speed/force from a proportionally lesser effort... and to be able to rest for periods when you have generated that motion (freewheeling, downhill, etc).

    That said, it’s no easier to compete well at the top level, and the talent pool available is massive, certainly when compared to mountain and fell running.

    The only anecdotal evidence I have to back this up is from a lady I was close to for a short while... she wanted to “do” fellracing, but found it too much, I think entered one race, coming fourth last.

    She’s now a competitive cyclist... I’m not suggesting she wasn’t fit or “hard” enough to run, but some people just can’t get around the impact of running.

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    Master PeteS's Avatar
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    I'm by no means an ultra runner or cyclist but having some experience of both disciplines, I certainly feel that cycling longer distances has less impact than a comparable effort running.
    I've done a few 100 mile plus rides but I would say that is only equivalent to perhaps a tough AM fell race.
    As Travs has already said, the ability to rest and recover, even at some speed is pretty much unique to cycling. The only time I can think of cycling being tougher than running is on a long climb. However a lot of that is down to gradient as there is a tipping point (for me around 10-15%) where it becomes more efficient to run than cycle.

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    Master Travs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteS View Post
    I'm by no means an ultra runner or cyclist but having some experience of both disciplines, I certainly feel that cycling longer distances has less impact than a comparable effort running.
    I've done a few 100 mile plus rides but I would say that is only equivalent to perhaps a tough AM fell race.
    As Travs has already said, the ability to rest and recover, even at some speed is pretty much unique to cycling. The only time I can think of cycling being tougher than running is on a long climb. However a lot of that is down to gradient as there is a tipping point (for me around 10-15%) where it becomes more efficient to run than cycle.
    I do tend to agree with this.. a couple of years back in Fuerteventura I hired a bike for the day... I’m obviously in reasonable shape, but hadn’t been on a bike for a number of years, and knocked out a fairly hilly 50 mile ride with no issues (other than a sore arse), and then did a couple of hours in the gym that evening... obviously I wasn’t racing which would be a different matter...

    I think a fit cyclist with little running experience would struggle to reverse those roles and knock out a fairly routine 15 mile training run on the fells... but their endurance would certainly give them a huge head-start if they were to get into running seriously...

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    Master JohnK's Avatar
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    I came from road cycle time trialling to running and at the time I made the cross over the rule of thumb was a 1:3 run - to - bike ratio i.e. riding twelve miles is equivalent running 4 miles, and both disciplines give around the same cardiovascular benefits.

    However whilst I am no expert my understanding is whereby cycling isolates the lowerbody, running will exercise virtually evry muscle in the body thus burning more calories but being an impact exercise the risk of leg muscle damage is greater than in cycling in fact I think research has shown that endurance cyclists leg muscles are stronger than a endurance runners because of the muscle tissue breakdown and inflammation caused by the impact of running.

    At the end of the day running miles are running miles and cycling miles are cycling miles both have health and fitness benefits as well drawbacks so best to concentrate on what gives you the biggest buzz and mix the other for a bit of fun x training.

    Of course as I said I am no expert
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    Master molehill's Avatar
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    I agree with all the below. I can give a single (irrelevant really, so don't read anything much into it) example.
    Some years ago we had the ldwa 100 miler in mid Wales, a couple of us were sweeping the elan valley stages. There was a cyclist in the tail enders who did "ultra distances" on bikes, won races across America, lejog records, trained 500 miles+ a week etc. Decided to walk (he did no running) the 100, without preparation.
    He was a total mess, I think we got him in just on the time limit but physically he was in pieces (popping loads of pills over night, God knows what they were) and mentally he gave up 20 miles from the end.
    He'll never do that again!
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  7. #7
    IIRC the classic book AEROBICS by Kenneth H. Cooper (1968) considers this question for many sports.

    In an Ironman Triathlon I think you run 26.2 miles but cycle 112 which I think is consistent with what Cooper wrote.

    But one is comparing apples and pears. Cycling does not do much to develop your upper body strength but it doesn't inevitably destroy your knees and damage much else below the waist.

    On the other hand fewer runners end up under a HGV ceasing to worry about any part of their anatomy.
    "...as dry as the Atacama desert".

  8. #8
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    Cycling is definitely easier on the legs in terms of impact/injury.

    I went out on my bike yesterday for the first time since July. Did 30 miles and 2,600' at a, not very fast, average of 13 mph.

    This morning my legs are fine.

    If I had done, or tried to do, a 10 mile run after a 5 month lay off I wouldn't have been able to get out of bed this morning.

    No HGV's but plenty of cowshit!
    Last edited by Llani Boy; 29-12-2019 at 11:59 AM.
    Visibility good except in Hill Fog

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Llani Boy View Post
    No HGV's but plenty of cowshit!
    To be fair to HGV drivers: they are professionals and generally give one a wide birth.

    BMW drivers under-taking on a roundabout to save 2 seconds - less so.
    "...as dry as the Atacama desert".

  10. #10
    Senior Member stumpy's Avatar
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    Most of the year I just do a bit of cycle commuting, but every now and again, when suffering from an injury that stops me running, I'll go back to the bike a bit more seriously. I always find that running fitness transfers really well onto the bike, and it only takes a couple of weeks to be be up to doing hilly 50 mile rides at a reasonable speed.

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