29 May, 2014

On Running and Cycling

The last few months have seen me return to running in a small way, only 30 minutes worth every other day. I haven't been a serious runner since my early twenties, and even then I did more cycling than running. Most of the older cyclists I know have been runners at some point. We were chatting about the differences between these two activities at yesterday's VO morning meeting. I thought I'd share a few thoughts and solicit yours.

I've long considered moving slowly through a natural environment to be among the more pleasant things in life. Getting a good workout is an added bonus. Cycling, hiking, running, cross-country skiing, kayaking, alpine climbing, and sailing are all activities I've practiced and loved. But only two of these are really casual activities. Hopping on your bike or tying on your running shoes takes but a moment; the others require more preparation. So here's how I see it, at least from the perspective of getting some pleasant exercise:

On Running:

  • You can see a lot since you're moving fairly slowly; you notice more details. 
  • On the downside, if you live in a city and want to run on a trail you might have to drive or bike to get to a trail.
  • Running is more time efficient. You can get a good workout in 30 minutes (at least I can).
  • It feels warmer in cold weather. On the other hand, you get pretty sweaty, even in cold weather.
  • I'd rather run than ride in the rain; maybe that's just me. That goes double for snow.
  • After dark, it's easier to take a short run in town, on a sidewalk.
  • It's simpler to go running when you travel: pack just running shoes and shorts.
  • Lots of low key local races are available if you like to compete.
  • Running is safer; at least it feels that way to me. But I seem to get more minor injuries like strains and blisters.
  • It's easier to stop to take a photo or chat with someone you meet. And you don't need to lock up your bike if you wander off.
On Cycling:
  • You can see more since you cover more ground. You can usually cycle out of town and enjoy the countryside.
  • Cycling is just plain more fun. You go faster and you can rest while riding. And you can use your cycling skills which is rewarding.
  • It's easier to pick up groceries or commute on a bike, which is still good exercise.
  • It feels cooler on those hot and humid summer days; there's always a breeze.
  • It takes longer to get a good workout. I feel like two hours on the bike equals about 30 minutes running. No science here, just how tired I feel afterwards.
  • Taking your bike on business trips is a pain, and expensive if you fly.
  • You can easily go touring. I feel this is a huge advantage. There are people who do running tours, but they are super fit and probably nuts.
  • Cycling, at least for me, has been almost injury free, other than a few crashes.
Do any of you both run and cycle? Are they complementary activities?


Pierce said...

Any advice on getting into running? My cycling muscles let me run, but the muscles only used for running are weak so I end up over straining. I've been trying to pace/build up by taking very long walks first.

VeloOrange said...

I just take a lot of walking breaks during my runs when I haven't run for awhile. It takes at least a few weeks to build up to 30 min nonstop running.

There's a plan called c25k that a lot of beginning runners use and recommend.

Kyle said...

I run ultras and sometimes run commute, but am passionate (crazed, maybe) about bicycles. These are solid points. I feel the same about preferring running to biking in the rain. Running is, for me, about challenge and conditioning, with adventure thrown in; however, bikes are adventure and exploration, and used for joy.

Anonymous said...

Running is fairly high impact whereas cycling is not. If you're short and/or featherweight there may not be much difference. If you are not in this category then there is really no way around the impact/joint problems with running, IMO. It's an especially big difference if you enjoy endurance type events (marathon+).

Touring is awesome, and much less fun without the flexibility you have with a bike.

Running is difficult to do safely unless you train regularly, whereas cycling is not much of a risk for the casual athlete/weekend warrior.

Lots more social running events. Social situation on the bike depends on where you live-- there may be even more organized events for cyclists than runners in the bay area, but not so in most places.

You can run mountainous routes with the same (minimal) equipment you need for road runs, whereas (unless you are Jan Heine) you will probably want a different steed for gnarly singletrack that are perfectly passable with running shoes.

I prefer riding in the rain (with fenders and suitable gear) to running in the rain. Same with riding in winter/snow conditions (training for Boston Marathon in New England winter never became a fun or joyful experience).

As you've mentioned, it is far easier to run than ride while traveling.

I prefer to swim or row (and lift) while traveling, and save my knees for playing ball sports with grand/kids.

Tom Faulkenberry said...

I second "couch to 5k" for getting started. If you've been cycling, you'll have the aerobic base, but you'll need to get your legs accustomed to the new stresses. Run/walk is a great way to do this!

Mike the Bike PT said...

I would agree with all of the points stated in the original post. I do more riding than running but I've come to truly enjoy a good run, especially if it can be on a trail instead of city streets. One other point worth making is that you can find a 5k race just about every weekend of the year. They are easy to enter, don't cost much, and you don't need to be a "serious" runner to do them. It is accepted that average Joe and Jane will be doing them. Bike races don't typically follow this format.

Anonymous said...

I can't see experiencing anything approaching whimsy while running, but on a bike I can easily recall my 8-year-old self. When I run I feel like prey being pursued. Incentive to get faster, maybe, but not to stop and smell the flowers. I used to run when I was 8 too, but usually to and from my bike.

Anonymous said...

Not all of us are blessed with body mechanics that permit injury-free running. Bikes are inclusive and forgiving and as close as you can get to flying on your own power.

Anonymous said...

I was a dedicated runner for 30+ years and an occasional cyclist. In the last two years, I've turned into a dedicated cyclist and an occasional runner. The difference for me? Running was always about getting faster or going farther. Cycling is all about enjoying the ride.

Anonymous said...

I've done 'em both for years.
I used to say, training on the bike was better, but races were too intense...running races were the reward for all that work.
I'm a better runner than cyclist, but
always end up riding to nurse those overuse injuries. And there's no passion for running shoes like there is for the bike.

Anonymous said...

I haven't run since the mid-1980s. I have large, narrow (13B), flat feet, and it's not easy or inexpensive to get decent shoes. Cycling remains the only "exercise" that I enjoy, and that part is incidental. When I was younger, I skied and swam regularly, but those activities take place outside my daily schedule. I can bicycle to work, and it's fun, and it's exercise, all at once. I can't swim or ski to work, and I really do not enjoy running. OTOH, I do enjoy walking/hiking, but that's another thing entirely.

Anonymous said...

My preference these days is for hiking/biking (or biking/hiking!) I haven't been a runner since my early to mid-twenties (10 years ago.) I need to run with a purpose and in those days it was mostly to train for club rugby in college. I actually enjoyed running and increasing my fitness when I could see/feel the results and improved endurance on the rugby pitch but since hanging up the rugby boots I find it difficult to run for the sake of running. Technically, I guess I was never a "runner." Was just the athletic type and ran as part of training or participation of other impact sports. Now with limited free time as an adult in our faced paced modern society I tend to prefer to slow things down and actually stop and smell the flowers whenever I can. Not sure if my more leisurely mindset is the result of losing a competitive edge or if I've lost the competitive edge because of my current mindset. Although I could certainly benefit from a little extra aerobic excersice I haven't exactly let myself go. I still have the drive to get outside and live the active lifestyle but would rather spend a whole afternoon hiking or biking than spend less time running. Add to this the need to drive or ride several miles to some of the best parks/trails and I want to spend as much time there as possible and make the most of it.

somervillain said...

A very nice and comprehensive summary of running versus cycling! And co-incidentally I just started running after a 20 year hiatus!

I'd add one more thing about cycling that I don't get from running: after a day-long bike ride (or any ride of 50+ miles), I return having felt like the day was an adventure. I not only see some new things, but entirely new places, a sense of having explored new territory. Cycling centuries for me can tell a story. I document these adventures at ridingthecatskills.com

Anonymous said...

Totally agree on the weather/comfort issues. I commute year round, but only go for leisure rides in the sunny Summer months. Running, on the other hand, is loads of fun in the cold and rain, but awful in the sweaty humid heat. Living in the PNW, this gives me a perfect seasonal split.

And for Pierce, my biggest suggestion is to start slow, especially if you are in good biking shape. Running uses the same big muscles, but different smaller muscles for stabilization and places different stresses on your bones and tendons. It's easy for a biker to get going on a run and, after 20 minutes or so, feel great in terms of lung power and such. Stop anyways. If not, you'll regret it the next day. Add no more than about 10 minutes to your runs each week.

And to anonymous, I used to have lots of impact/joint problems, and found that a little work on form cured them. Just focus on keeping your gaze at the horizon (ensuring good posture), moving your arms forward and back instead of side to side (ensuring your hips stay in alignment), landing evenly between your heel and forefoot, and landing as quietly as possible (ensuring minimal impact). The combination of biking and running is actually really good for your skeletal structure. Biking is good for joints, but bad for bone density. Running is bad for joints, but good for bone density. Doing both gives the benefits of each while mitigating the downsides of the other. Also, a bit of weight training before starting a running program can help.

Anonymous said...

I have not done any running since my mid-20's 9and only occasionally then) but have been a cyclist since I was 5 years old. One reason I have reconsidered running is to increase my excercises with greater impact to help stem bone density loss. Since i'm now approaching my mid 50's that becomes a consideration. Is hiking/walking good enough in this regard? I am willing to try running again, but really enjoy a good walk or hike. I do commute 27 mi. by bike 3-4 days a week, plus often a longer ride on the weekends.

MSG said...

Are we going to see Velo Orange shoes soon??

Anonymous said...

I was largely sedentary until my mid-twenties when my girlfriend inspired me to start cycling - first commuting, eventually longer weekend rides.

My knees would give me all kinds of trouble - popping, wobbliness, stiffness, ITB - when I tried going for rides longer than three hours or so, regardless that I was riding regularly.

In an effort to motivate myself to quit smoking, I started running (which I simply couldn't do while smoking) - and I quickly discovered it strengthened and stabilized my knees in a way that made cycling a lot less painful and a lot more fun. So for me, the two activities complement each other really well.


Anonymous said...

For me Cycling is a fun activity with any exercise benefits being an upside. Running is an exercise activity with any fun being an upside

Too much cycling will weaken bones, especially if you sweat alot. Too much running will damage joints, especially if you are a lttle overweight. Mix them up.

As for time required to get good exercise benefits, 10 minutes or less of hard sprint intervals will wipe out anyone in either activity.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned mountain biking as almost a bridge between road cycling and running. Not only do you get the benefit of being to travel much further than running, but you do get a faster and more aggressive workout than road cycling.

Standing out of the saddle, cranking, steep climbs, jumping, and negotiating obstacles all make an incredible workout without significant impact to your joints, as long as you have good form (which will translate well to your road cycling, btw).

There are two downsides as far as I see it. You're more than likely going to have to travel to your riding spot and a mountain bike costs a bit more than a pair of running shoes.

Anonymous said...

I used to run when I was in my 20's, but I can't anymore because of back and knees. Walking can be tough for me too.. I had my knee "scoped" and that did help, but not returning to pain free.. Cycling is the only way to go with me... I ride for exercise during the week, then a long ride on the weekends (with lunch and stopping to enjoy along the way). I do miss running though..

A said...

"Standing out of the saddle, cranking, steep climbs, jumping, and negotiating obstacles all make an incredible workout without significant impact to your joints, as long as you have good form (which will translate well to your road cycling, btw)." (Anon, 6/2/14, 10:14 AM)
Sounds like commuting in Seattle! :)

Zac Stanley said...

I'm suprised no one is talking about cyclocross. The best combo of running and cycling! Minimal training hours on the bike/feet. Fun, inclusive community of people.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget riding fixed. A good cycling/running compromise especially if you have hills about because you can ride that anaerobic razor. But do it English style, a gear in the low 60's to start. A high spin for suppleness/knee safety and a heart pounding climb. If you find downhills annoying get a flip-flop. What a joy!

Anonymous said...

If you can't relax and enjoy yourselves while running, think of Scott Jurek's maxim: "If it's hard work, you're working too hard".
Ease into longer runs, let you mind wander. Run for the joy of running! It really is the most basic form of play.