Wednesday, August 27, 2008

21 Riding a Century Vs Running A Marathon : Things to Consider

It is very likely that the often beaten-to-death topic "Oh, I wonder whats more difficult, running a marathon or riding a century" pops up in our minds. Its a good question nevertheless, one that makes for a good round-the-table or commuting-to-a-race conversation.

A little Google search for a calorie counter could get you the most quoted answer - a marathon is more difficult to do.

As a bike rider, I'll probably tell you the same thing.

But why is running more difficult?

Before you make this a black and white paradigm, there are many things to consider.

I've outlined them in this little chart below. Note that for every factor considered, I've attached a "Pain Factor", a weightage number anywhere from 0-10. Ofcourse, I could be biased in assigning numbers but I hope you see the big picture and not just concentrate on figures.

Let me know if any of the information is wrong, or if I've missed out additional factors to consider. Also, your perspectives in riding and running are also welcome.

Click Above to Zoom

UPDATE : JAN 3, 2009

There is couple more important things I seemed to have missed. This may require the pain factor to be adjusted, but I'm not going to do it. Just consider these two points :

1) Cycling is definitely more forgiving to age and weight than marathon running. Sure, the folks with good power to weight ratios get uphills faster, but heavier riders go downhill quicker. And thinner riders may not be the best time trialists, but heavier, more muscular riders can pedal steady bigger gears for longer periods of time. Running also gets difficult with age. As you age, you lose bone mass, your muscles atrophy, and your achilles tendon or shin will at some point say no to the things you could easily do when you were in your 20's. However, cycling features pushing a series of gears so you can always make your task easier by selecting the right gear.

2) Center of Gravity : Running, especially a marathon, is definitely impact intensive. It also involves the bobbing up and down of the body, or more specifically, the center of mass. To raise your mass and lower it, and raise it again all the while stabilizing your body weight on two feet for many many cycles definitely requires energy. In cycling, the center of gravity is more stable. Pedals, saddles and handlebars act as support points for your body weight. A lot of your work in trying to remain upright is taken care of by the bike itself.


  1. Anonymous4:24 PM

    Hey Ron,

    Good analysis. I think two things you forgot to mention are cadence and heart rate. But thats just me...

  2. Anon :

    Thanks. You bring up a good point. These are person specific again and they need to be wise and monitor these things. But you're right, in my experiences of riding centuries, keeping the cadence a notch above my normal always helps with lessening muscle fatigue.

    As for heart rate, I'm not an expert so I can't speak there.

  3. Anonymous4:28 PM

    Yep, I'll buy that. So, I guess the next question is, "How long/far would you have to ride in order to equal the pain/effort of running a marathon?"

  4. Anon : Calorie wise, numbers get close to identical for riding a century and running a marathon... about 5000-6000 calories you need, this not including a margin of reserve.

    I wont put a definitive answer to that number, but very subjectively, I say you can't go wrong doing the following to match a marathon :

    1) riding while following the 2% climbing rule : For 100 miles, that equates to 10,000 feet of climbing. I'll leave it there.

    2) 200 miles in one day at a good pace.

    3) Riding an all out, angry 40K Time Trial at your best time and speed..

    Maybe my pain ideas for running a marathon is way overrated...but its not everyday that someone sane can do a marathon, so I feel a bike ride to match that effort level should be special indeed in nature.

  5. Speaking of which....I'm not going to attempt any of the above I've mentioned...GIGGLE

  6. I've always questioned why marathon running would be more difficult. I could accept your ideas, just because there are more things to think about, not just distance or speed.

  7. In general, while bike riding, you simply have to push the limits and get out of the comfort zone. No questioning that marathons are outright difficult , a product of largely mental toughness.

  8. Anonymous5:09 PM

    I would also like to point out, one of the more interesting things.26 miles for a marathon is an established standard. It is a timed event.100 miles of cycling is simply...100 miles of cycling. There is some, but not a whole lot of difficulty associated with riding 100 vs say 80 miles...if you get my point. So I agree that in bike riding, its largely being able to push limits, whether that be 100 miles or 50 miles.

  9. Which is why I mentioned the 2% climbing rule and the 40k time trial. I brought up 100 miles because that's one of the first things that people think of..when they try to equate effort level with that of a marathon.

    I still say riding 100 miles, atleast for me, is wayy easier than doing a marathon.

  10. Anonymous5:13 PM

    Time to refer to the black book's "hour of pain" workouts sitting in my shelves.

  11. :) Good luck!! I'll say that much...

  12. Anonymous5:15 PM

    riding alpe d'huez three times in one day? does that count?

  13. why dont you first attempt it, then i'll take one good look at you and place the verdict? :)

  14. Charles Cushman5:39 PM

    I agree at the fun level a marathon is harder, but in a race cycling would be harder due to the whole stay with the peleton or be dropped concept.

  15. Both sides are pretty subjective. You can line up on a century ride with dudes packing extra bottles in the their jersey with sights on the finish line and their PBR. On the other hand you can have Mr. Bushman touting a gel belt and finishing a marathon in 2:30 hours. On the flipside, Fred starts off the century with one bottle cage and a Gatorade he picked up at the 7-11 on the way to the start line. And Joe new Saucony got off the couch last Wednesday to register on for the Boston Marathon and finishes after they're packing up the bleachers. You can make it as hard or soft as you want, it's all perspective.

  16. I have a friend who runs marathons, but cannot imagine riding a bike for ten miles.

    I tried to train for a half marathon once. Once I get to running five miles a day, I lost all interest. It was just too much work.

  17. Done both. Marathon was harder, but the race aspect was a big factor for me.

    I agree with the 40k time-trial comparison...the important comparison would be to have an experience where you

    a)empty the tank...approach and go beyond the fatigue point


    b)keep going for roughly 25% more of the total distance/time/effort

    You can empty the tank faster on a bike than you can on a run if you are fit. So 40k would do just fine.

  18. Anonymous5:01 PM

    I don't get it--why does running score a higher pain score because it takes less time?

  19. I ran 25 kms once and it hurt more than any century ride I have done, and I have done those back-to-back on a weekend. In fact. I think the 25 kms hurt more than any 40 km tt I have done. Cycling is much better than running since you get to sit down for the whole time.

  20. Sitting on a bike for 5+ hours introduces problems of its own such as saddle sores, limited range of motion, tension in the arms and wrists...etc. If I were to see one advantage in running when thinking about this, it would be being able to move around freely , stretch, etc....

  21. I've only ridden as far as 40 miles, but I HAVE done a marathon and I would definitely have to agree with you! It's much hard to run a marathon.


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