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What's the Physiological Cycling Equivalent to a Marathon?(15 posts)

What's the Physiological Cycling Equivalent to a Marathon?MeDotOrg
Apr 26, 2001 8:33 AM
Physiologically, how many miles would you have to ride to equal the energy spent running a Marathon? A Century seems like too little, and a double-century seems like too much.
My Takegrz mnky
Apr 26, 2001 9:01 AM
It ain't necessarily the distance it's the rate. With running there is a fairly high minimum threshold of output to still be considered running. In cycling you can get by with less and still be cycling. It also matters if you're doing a sub 3 hour Boston Marathon or a 5 hour run in Florida. The same can be said of cycling events. You do a hilly century in something like 4 hours and most of us are going to be wasted.

In fact you can be totally blown after a short race in either event. The best way to compare would of course be scientific and utilize heart rate and VO2 max data. Another way to look at it would be to perhaps consider the amount of training and preparation required to succesfully complete either event. The average person doesn't get up one morning and run a marathon or ride a century with zero preparation. I'd say that the training required for the marathon is more than the century, but take away the rest stops and keep the pace high and you're working pretty hard.

Another way to look at it might be the amount of pain and time it takes to recover. A day or two after a century and I'm fine. A week after the Terrible Two and my body was still pretty wasted and the fatigue continued for several weeks.

Doing a hard and fast century with no breaks probably comes closest to a marathon. Something like the Markleeville Death Ride might be ideal - there's a lot of climbing and there's no way to avoid hauling your butt up the hills, but it's not super steep. However, the weather can be a real killer.
MHO... Double Century. (nm)JBergland
Apr 26, 2001 9:25 AM
my $.02...jim r
Apr 26, 2001 10:05 AM
I'm a 200 lb, 42 year old male. I've run 7 marathons under 3:30 and one (PR) at 3:13 ten years ago. I've done numerous century's under 5 hours including last weeks MS 150 (day 1) so I have a pretty even basis of comparison. Riding a century is considerably easier on the body (of course I ususally weight between 190 -200). Recovery time for a marathon is a lot greater. A really fun thing to do after a marathon is walk down a few flights of steps. OUCH!! Additionally I think the Marathon is psychologically much tougher. The only ride I've done that compares to a marathon is the Moab White rim in one day, fully supported. It was 109 miles on rough terrain with about 3,000 vertical. In a marathon you can't "coast" and the training time is much more important than a century. That being said, I'm sure that a century through the French alps or the Sierra Nevadas is just as tough but since I've never done that I just can't say.

Jim R
change for a nickle anyone?confusion
Apr 26, 2001 11:02 AM
I don't think it is fair to compare a marathon to a century because there are two different approaches to the way people look at them. You post times for all your marathons but nothing about the centuries other than 'a day'

Well, I imagine if I ran a marathon in 'a day' I would not think it was the worst either...wake up at 8 am run till 10 and take a for another hour and half and get some lunch and relax, run until 2 and take another break and then finish up around 4. Ehhh...who says these marathons are so tough?

I think the above post was correct when it said you really need to compare scientific physical data to be sure but here is another littl e comparison I came up with until somebody wants to do all the tests.

Say you do a 7.5 minute mile. Your average pro runs under 5 min miles. This means you are 150% slower than the pro. That gives you around 3:15 for your marathon.

Now, say a pro cyclist can ride a century doing 30 MPH average. That means 150% slower is 20 MPH. So to average 20 MPH you must complete your century in 5 hours flat. And this does not mean avg. 20 MPH on your auto-stop computer - it means put it on stop watch mode and finish in 5 hours.

If you want to up the anti then make it a 100 mile race rather than a century. Then you have all sorts of other tactics and stuff going on that will make it easily as stressfull and mental as a marathon.

Also if you look at the Tour...most stages are longer than 100 miles...I'd say 150 is a better average stage for the Tour.

Thanks for reading.
I think you missed somethingjim r
Apr 26, 2001 12:21 PM
I said I did all the century's under 5 hours. I think I'm comparing apples to apples as best I can. I would say that a sub 5 hour century gets you in the top 25% of the finishers which is about the same as a sub 3:30 marathon. You probably missed my reference to the sub 5 hours. That being said, it is very subjective and is definitly affected to a great extent by how much you weigh. When running a marathon at 195 lbs the impact to your body is pretty severe. Riding a bike is a much different story. Many years ago I read an article in Runners World about the impact to your feet when you run. The impact to your feet is exponenetial as opposed to linear and so the heavy runner pays a pretty big price for the excess heft.

I think that a good piece of anecdotal evedince is that multi stage endurance races on the bike are quite common but you don't see that type of activity for runners too often.

As a last piece of supporting information both my father and brother are Orthopedic Surgeons. They both are very vocal about the benefits of riding (distance or otherwise) and they both claim that the scientific evidence shows that distance running is almost universally harmful to the joints over the long run. Of course there are exceptions but they certainly don't apply to the average American male.
re: What's the Physiological Cycling Equivalent to a Marathon?simstress
Apr 26, 2001 12:05 PM
This is different for each person. I'm not sure what all the variables are, but you could calculate energy output for a marathon. Then keep riding till you equal that amount.

FWIW, it takes me 6 months to train for a marathon; 3 for century. It takes 4 weeks to recover from a marathon; around one for century. Mentally, a century, even a fast one, is easier to me than a marathon.
What an interesting question!runstevierun
Apr 26, 2001 12:22 PM
But I think it unanswerable.
A rough comparison based in calories burned
(about 2,600 kcal for a marathon, about the same (or a bit higher) for a 5 hr century)just dosn't work well.
I've done 26 marathons with about 3/4 in under 3:30.
(I usually finish in the top 10-20% of the field)
I've done gazillions of centuries, MS-150's,
cycle touring with days (weeks) of 100+ miles/per day,
and four years of serious collegiate road racing
(serious in that I was, but no-one took me that way:)).
And to tell you the truth, I can't figure how to compare the two.
It's interesting to note that I know the EXACT number of marathons
but I havn't a clue as to the number of centuries.
Why? Because running a marathon hard hurts more than any cycling I've ever done. That dosn't make it "harder" just more damaging.
Someone on this tread brought up the issue of procyclists and runners and I think its a good comparison point.
Both pro cyclists and top runners have enormous endurance, VO2Maxs,
and very,very low body fat. Physiologically, I bet they look very similar. But, a pro cyclist can race, hard, 25 stages of the TDF averaging 125 miles per stage and survive to race again (hard)within a month or so at the worlds. The top marathoners can only run 2 or at the most 3 races per year and can expect in their entire CAREER to only race 20 times. Does that make marathons harder that cycling? I don't know but I expect to be cycling for longer than I'll be running.

[Oh, my wife just read my post over my shoulder. Her suggestion for a physiological match between cycling and marathoning was to complete a brisk century and then have some one hit your quads with baseball bats for 20 minutes each. Funny....]
Pretty closeKerry Irons
Apr 26, 2001 4:43 PM
The "standard" figure for running is 100 calories per mile for a 150 lb runner. That makes a marathon 2600 calories, as stated. Riding at 20 mph on the flats is about 30 calories per mile for that same 150 lb rider. So, strictly from a calories burned perspective, a marathon equals about 90 miles of riding. Also as noted, there is no comparison of the pain and suffering between a marathon and a 90 mile ride. So if you're just comparing calories, a marathon and a century are not far off (riding slower means fewer calories per mile). Otherwise, there's really no way to compare riding to a marathon.
Quick and easy comparisonPeetey
Apr 26, 2001 2:02 PM
In the late 60's and 70's Kenneth Cooper came out with his "Aerobics" books. The book was based on a point system, with different activities at different intensities providing different points. The points calculated were based on "aerobic measurements" taken during laboratory tests. The goal for the week was to get up to 30 points.

In the books, there were Appendices that carried point values for the various activities. (I am at work and don't have the books in front of me). I'll check tonight and post the results later.

One of the limitations of this approach would be that it does not take into account the pounding the body takes during the marathon. Some of the assumptions would be that there is an equal up and downhill portions and wind is negligible.
I'll take a shot (in the dark) at this.Breck
Apr 26, 2001 9:28 PM
Have read all the post and they all have merit. So my take10 to add to the stew, or is it a brew?. And will make it short, but not long.

The hook in the question is "energy spent". Soreness and tiredness may be related for as a runner when the form suffers you slow down and when you slow down form suffers and as form further suffers (lot of suffering here & you bet you do)... you finally stop and walk or coast the bike as in the bikers case. When you walk or coast the ITT time go out the door ... worse than a flat or untied shoe laces, both of which can be easily remedied.

Both running and biking are a matter of form and built in adaptance (a-word?). A pure runner would use less energy than a pure biker over the marathon distance (and ditto reverso biker over the Century, M equivalent, etc. We (tried &) true long distance runners have acquired what's called the "distance runners shuffle" and is very economical, much like my endurance lassie style Collie is single gaited (right rear foot tricky tracks right front; left etc.) like his Coyote and Wolf cousins (and not like most other family dogs who can't open the gate) so is more economical and tires less.

Using Cooper's "equivalent" aerobics tables is one idea and can calculate into the points system being equal. Using the ~~three-to-one formulae is another, (26.2)X3=78.6 miles, and using calories "burned" or expended is another. We are trying to get to equivalent energy spent but it is tricky.

MY bud John at half my age only managed to finish one minute ahead of me in the tough hilly Granite Hills SDTC half marathon in El Cajon when I was 50 in 1993 and he was mid 20's. John could do a marathon perhaps, but not really run it ** and could not match my 3:19M no way no how. To be fair I can not stay in the same Zip Code with John on the bike and finished ~10 minutes(!) behind him in the local ~20 mile, 2K foot gain from Julian to Mt. Laguna store. What gives? damned if i know but John has biker quads for one and pushes the big ring all the way. Me, I have skinny runners legs and the Old Man's triple and use my best gear on one of the grades, 30X25 and glad to have it. But have been running (really running) for a very long time; biking not so much, but 10K mountain road bike miles one year vs 3K miles tops best running year. So mybe me, like John, hve not adapted yet in my second sport.

**The craze(e-ness) now-a-daze is to do the Marathon on 10 miles a week, ditto Century on equivalent low miles. Thank you Runners World and Bikers World, etc. Sure "you" and even grandma could, but bring the red lantern. Sells mags & bikes & shoes.

So you have some different models:
A. pure runner running the M/riding the bike equal "energy" spent.
B. pure biker running the M/riding the bike equal "energy" spent.
C. Biker-runner running the M/riding the bike equal "energy" spent.
D. Runner-biker running the M/riding the bike equal "energy" spent.

So the trick is to set up a test to sort this out, or mebee get some dope (got dope?) from a pure bi-athlete that started his/her career with no running or biking experience as a lot of bikers came into the sport as runners & do the big C, but not too many bikers switch to the big M.

And further still (back, way way back in the woods so's the revenue man don't see) a good economical distance runner and a good economical distance biker may be built different and have different a mind set (got your mind set?), etc.

(Say) Ahh, so by now have guess you've figured out I don't know.

Good topic,
Don't forget to factor in effort . . .Andy
Apr 26, 2001 9:53 PM
It also depends how hard you run / ride. I've "raced" marathons in the 2:26 range and "run" marathons in the 3:00 range. These two examples would translate into radically different cycling distances at their respective effort levels.
Century, with qualifications ...bianchi boy
Apr 27, 2001 9:20 AM
I have run one marathon and ridden several centuries, so take my opinion for what it's worth. As others pointed out with better justification, it seems that -- purely from an energy expended viewpoint -- that a century is roughly equivalent to a marathon. However, a marathon is much more brutal and abusive to your body. After my one marathon (which I ran in 3:26), I decided that was the last one for me. Nothing that made me feel so bad for several days afterwards could be good for your body. On the other hand, I just completed a century ride on Sunday (5:43) and I believe I could ride another one this weekend if I felt like it (and I don't!). BTW, I used to be a serious runner and also biked and swam for cross-training. I have since had to quit running (foot injuries) and swimming (shoulder injury), but I'm cycling more than ever and enjoying it more and haven't injured anything yet(knock on wood).
The correct answer is....Wayne Scott
Apr 27, 2001 11:20 AM
Metabolical/energetically a bike ride at the same % of VO2max and relative HR would be equal to a run of the same length. You would use some different muscles but the two would be more or less the same from the above perspective. However, the difference would be in the recovery, primarily due to muscle damage. Cycling involves only concentric contractions of the quads, etc, so very little muscle "damage" is caused. Running on the other hand, involves eccentric contraction of the quads, and this is known to produce loads of muscle damage. Thus the extreme pain runners have in the quads after a 3 hr marathon whereas a 3 hour bike ride at the same intensity should produce relatively little muscle damage/soreness. Thus, pro cyclist can ride 5 or 6 hours/day for 3 weeks in a GT, and race 100+ days per year, whereas elite runners maybe do 2 marathons per year and shorter races at a rate of maybe 1/ week during the season. Add in the impact of running to the greater muscle stress of eccentric contractions and you get the phenomenal (over-use) injury rate that runners experience as compared to cyclists.
energy expended... or recovery?Dog
Apr 27, 2001 12:59 PM
I've run several marathons, countless centuries, and a number of doubles. The question was stated in terms of "energy spent." If that's the limit of the question, I'd say a marathon and century are pretty equal.

In other respects, though, it's hard to compare. The marathon certainly beats you up much more than any length of cycling I've done, maybe even closely equivalent to the hard 470 miles in 4 days I did last week. This is the first time since running marathons (best time 3:14) that I've felt that sore. But, the bottom line is that you are comparing apples and oranges, or apples and bananas... to illustrate, what if you instead asked:

What is the cycling equivalent of going 16 rounds with George Foreman?

or, the equivalent of swimming the English Channel?

You just can't really compare. I've I were trying, I'd estimate it by how long it takes to recover. I'd say it takes at least a hard (hilly) double century to equal a marathon. IMHO.