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Which is more Strenuous a Mountain Bike Race or a Running Race?

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Physically - From first hand experience, running is much much harder. Your body/legs are constantly coming in contact with the ground and you don't get a chance to change body position like you can on a bike (sitting, standing). Your lungs have to be a lot stronger for running compared to biking as well. Although, biking does require a strong back,thighs, and upper body. Running hurts more at the end of the day.

Mentally - both are equally tough, but running might be somewhat harder since it can get so boring, unless you are running on a mountain bike trail, which is very fun.

Skillwise - No doubt, it takes a lot more skill and athleticism to be able to mountain bike successfully.
 

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I would go for mtb. Simply because with running you can run pretty much same tempo more constantly. With mtb it's way more tempo changes, and at least for me, this is harder. When it comes just to muscles, both sports use kinda same amount of muscles. Of course if you would ask if it would be harder to race 20km running or 20km mtb, then answer is running. But 2h of running or 2h of mtb, I would go with mtb... when going high tempo of course not cruising around.
 

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Racing Bikes and Running Races are different.

Our Frosh bike racers work for about 1 hour. My son will typically "crash" about 2 hours afterwards and sleep in the car on the way home. When he runs the 2 mile Cross Country races there is nothing approximating that effect but his times are around 12 minutes. They are both considered "endurance" sports.

Running is harder but an a mtb race is harder than a running race. The dynamic changes in grade and pace are much greater than in CC running races. They demand more over a longer time period. Energy expended over time equals work.
 

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Not even close...Running is way way harder.

Per hour running burns more calories thus you are expending more energy. Additionally Max heart rates in biking are about 10 bpm less then running due to the efficiency of biking.

And Berkeley Mike you cannot compare a 12 minute running race to a 1 hour bike race. The fact that they have your son only run 2 miles instead of running for an hour like the mtb race proves the point that running is harder. (btw you should get him swimming...make a great triathelete and there are lots of mtb triathalons now)

Over a similarly hilly course over a similar time period running is way harder. Anyone have any doubts...why dont you go bike for 2 hours then go run half a marathon. Times should be roughly about the same. But I guarantee tomorrow you are not going to be wanting to go running again but you will probably be okay to go mtn biking.
 

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Sparky1231 said:
Try running for 2 hours straight at a high tempo pace, see how you feel the next day.
Been there, done that ;) After 20 years of competitive xc skiing, I hate running :) Running (including endless interval trainings and really bad uphill runs with ski poles) is huge part of summer training (because of different muscles, bike is used just for fun and relaxations), so nowadays I try to avoid running as much as possible :)
But I know how running feels, and personally it's still easier to finish marathon in decent time, then go for 2h mtb race. Endless fast tempo changes are killing me. But I guess this depends from person to person.
 

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Not really Sparky. Running by itself is harder, at least for me. On bike you can go much easier, when cruising. But race is different, and for race, mtb is different for me then running race.
 

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Lance Armstrong says...

Running is so much harder. After his first marathon Lance Armstrong said it was the "... hardest physical thing" he had ever done. You have to carry your own weight, it's hard on your body, and there is no stopping nor coasting. Riding a bike for three hours is easy. But very few people can run even a half hour. I challenge all of you who said mountain biking is harder to run for the same amount of time as you bike and then report back to me.
 

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I'll throw this out there. A road individual time trial is very difficult. It's a bit monotonous, no break, no help, and it's mentally difficult because you have to push yourself just to the limit but not over for a long time. Oh, wait, this is a mountain bike forum. Oops. :D
 

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primoz said:
Not really Sparky. Running by itself is harder, at least for me. On bike you can go much easier, when cruising. But race is different, and for race, mtb is different for me then running race.
Ok, so we agree that running is harder. Although I think road running and/or racing is one of the hardest things to do for distance, we'll take that out of the picture.

So, to be fair, you have to keep the variables the same.

Same effort (heart rate, power output, etc), same temps/conditions, Same Course, No Stopping or taking it easy. You would need 2 people of similar age, body type, health, etc. Have them race the same course, one on a bike, one running. Then, have them switch and race the couse again (not the same day). See what they say.

As far as tempo changes, if you are running up and down hills like you do on a bike, than its no different. The same goes for going over obstacles. Show me someone who runs at the same pace over rock gardens as they do on a flat road.

Personally, I just fininished my last year of collegiate soccer, and running was something I have done extensively for many years. Mountain biking is also a great workout, but it will never compare to the pain running gives you. I prefer mountain biking over running because of the decreased stress on the joints and the overall enjoyment.

I guess everybody is different, but I still find it hard to believe that a sport where you have the option to sit and take a 10 sec breather and not lose time could ever be harder than a sport where if you slow down, you will lose time
 

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I don't know, I was talking just about personal experiences. If you consider just calories usage, then running is definitely harder then mtb, and xc skiing is further up (when it comes to this, xc skiing is considered as hardest sport, but amount of muscles involved in activity plays huge role with this).
But if you look a bit less "scientific" way, calories usage is not only thing to consider. Head and mentality has quite lot to do with it. That's why I said, mtb is harder then running for me. Yes for me not for everyone :) But just for races, not for normal cycling or normal running. I can still run over terrain, even when racing, with much more equal pace then cycle. But as I wrote, that's me, and someone else can be completely different.
So scientifically when everything is measured, and head doesn't play role with it, running is definitely more challenging then mtb. I agree with you about this. The rest is psychology, and that depends from person to person :)
 

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Read the OP's original question.

What becomes difficult here is that MTB races and running races are hard to compare. A Marathon running race is a huge effort. A similar race on an mtb would have to be an endurance event like an 8 hour or something. The mechanical advantage of a bike is lost by increasing the distance and time.

Running may be harder but racing is different. Maybe that will get you around a sense of contradiction. A good 2 mile run at under 10 minutes is wonderful. There are no 10 minute mtb races unless you count 4 cross and that is a very different kind of racing.

I might suggest this:

How tired do you have to be for something to be harder?:D
 

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I have done both, more racing on foot than on the bike. There is no answer in my opinion. I have run a marathon, raced about a dozen half marathons, have raced many 5ks, and have done dozens and dozens of really tough running workouts on the track--such as 3 x 1200m at faster than 5k race pace with only 2 minutes rest between sets, mile repeats, 400m repeats at about mile race pace, a workout nicknamed the "Marquis de Sade," and tempo runs of 3-4 miles.

In my opinion running and mtb races hurt the same. It is all based on how hard you push yourself. Mountain biking doesn't beat up your body afterwards from all the pounding, like racing a marathon or half marathon. I've done marathon the shuffle down New York subway stairs the day after the race, had to have my wife help me get out of the bathtub after the race before going to dinner, and sat there at dinner staring at a bowl of soup without even being able to eat it.

But if you are really racing on a mountain bike it will hurt just as bad during the race. Your lungs will sear. Your whole body will burn with lactic acid buildup. Your legs will be screaming. In longer mtb races or rides at a hard effort, your feet and butt will hurt like hell. On the mountain bike, while you typically will recover faster because you don't pound the pavement for a few hours, there is the serious risk of injury associated with trying to negotiate technical terrain when putting in a race effort.

So I have done both and say there is no answer. They are the same. It is just how hard you push yourself. If you don't hurt on the bike like you do in a half marathon, well you can push yourself harder.

Lance Armstrong did say running New York was the toughest thing he has ever done. However, I've run New York and I'd say doing a century ride on the bike was harder for me. If you took an elite marathoner and had them train on the bike for a year, then had them ride one of the toughest stages of the Tour de France or a long-time trial, they would probably say the same thing Lance did--"that is the toughest thing I've done in my life." That is because Lance was not trained as well for a marathon as he was for the bike. (I read that his longest run in training for his initial marathon was something like 16 miles).
 

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I've done both for a while and really put in comparable time to each. I'm not really lopsided when comparing the two.

That said I think running is a little harder, mainly because of the lack of coasting/harder to carry momentum, less of a breeze (cooling effect) and a lot more impact.

I believe most people that are strongly opinionated one way or the other are just lopsided in the comparison or want to feel that they are doing the hardest thing.

I would compare something like a 5k to a 1.5 hour xc race or 30 min road TT, a half-marathon to a 8-hour and a marathon to a 24-hour

Either way, it's racing and you can make it hurt as much as you want.
 

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Gatorback..good points that both are tough..but running still burns more energy per time unit than biking. So taking aside everyones personal anecdotal experiences...and looking at it strictly scientifically running is harder. If you exert 100% effort for 2 hours apiece..you will have burned more calories running.

Another point is that in mtn biking downhills are more or less rest periods for the legs. Running the thighs get beat to hell.
 

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Okie Dokie said:
Gatorback..good points that both are tough..but running still burns more energy per time unit than biking. So taking aside everyones personal anecdotal experiences...and looking at it strictly scientifically running is harder. If you exert 100% effort for 2 hours apiece..you will have burned more calories running.

Another point is that in mtn biking downhills are more or less rest periods for the legs. Running the thighs get beat to hell.
I agree running burns more calories when comparing equal length efforts (from the perspective of time such as an hour racing on the bike and an hour on foot). That is pretty clear from lots of research done. However, when I think of which is "harder" I am thinking from the perspective of suffering and pain during the race. For me, when racing a half-marathon, I would suffer some in the first half of the race, but the real pain would kick in during maybe the last third when you are letting it all hang out and your legs have been pounding the pavement for an extended distance already. In a 5k, it is just pure pain from the starting gun.

In a bike race, the pain and extreme effort in the legs is there right from the beginning and just gets worse as you go. The effort doesn't let up. Unless it is an endurance race, you basically just suffer from the beginning and it keeps on going. I guess I've raced flatland courses instead of mountains, so there hasn't be any lengthy descending where you don't pedal, but on mountainous courses the time spent descending is relatively low when compared to time spent on the flats and in particular the time spent climbing. And in most XC races, you are still either pedaling hard on the downhill or getting beat around on the bike having to get out of the saddle to absorb the bumps while your legs are searing from the climbing.

For me, both just plain hurt. The hurt may be slightly different in nature, but I don't think you can say one is harder or more strenuous than the other. It is all in the effort of the racer. If you aren't suffering to the limit in both types of racing, you can go harder.

What I find amazing is just how hard we can really push ourselves during race efforts. When you think you can't keep going, you've still got a lot left in you.
 
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