Perceived vs. Real Exertion: Running & Cycling

I took Evan mountain biking today. He’d rather go with his dad, but I’m more his speed. Actually, he’s faster than me, but we’re closer at least.

We rode at Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton. The parking lot is pretty close to the level of the Mississippi River, but the trail itself is on a huge bluff overlooking the river. When you start, you climb the bluff to access the trails that loop around the top of it. One of the nice benefits of well-designed trails is they would never go straight up a steep hill. This would lead to erosion and a trail that would be hard (or impossible) to maintain. Instead, trails zig-zag up the side. The bluff is parallel to the river here, so you can see that we don’t ever go straight up. The long sections parallel to the road are the climbs; the loopy parts are actually on top of the bluff.

There are formulas trail designers follow, such as this one:¬†“trail grade, or steepness, shouldn’t exceed half the grade, or steepness, of the hillside; and the 10 Percent Rule: overall trail grade should be 10 percent or less.” (from imba.com). I love the environment more than most people, but I’m not going to lie–the nicest part of a well-planned trail system is that it is much ¬†more enjoyable to ride! There aren’t as many sharp turns, the flow is better, and the climbs aren’t so steep. That being said, climbing even a low grade for several hundred feet is pretty tiring on trail.

As I hit the top of the bluff the first time, my thighs were screaming and even my triceps were burning. I felt as if I could not push it any harder. It felt SO HARD. However, when I looked at my Garmin, my heart rate was only in the high 140′s. You can see that in my Garmin data, my max HR for this ride was only 153 and my average was 125.

In comparison, here’s a run I did during the week. It was a pretty flat course. I didn’t push it. I never felt uncomfortable. For this “normal” run, my max HR was 165 and my average was 157.

How is it possible that my heart was working so much harder while running yet I FELT as if I was working so much harder on the bike? I did some Googling and found that it’s normal for biking heart rates to be lower. It’s also normal to recover more quickly from biking. A 3-hour bike ride is not a big deal when compared to a 3-hour run that sucks the life right out of you for the rest of the day. I’ve always felt biking to be less of a workout than running, but my question is why did it FEEL so much harder? Was it because I am not used to using those thigh muscles to power up a hill? Why did I perceive that workout to be so tough when my body really wasn’t maxed out?

I don’t have an answer to my questions. Maybe you do. Do you feel you have a good perception of your workout intensity? Obviously you would need a time split or a heart rate monitor to verify this. Do you think biking feels harder than it truly is for your body?

I’ll leave you with this cell shot I took of a view from the top of the bluff. There’s the mighty Mississippi with lock and dam #14 (I think) off to the right of the frame.

You may also like:

Evan’s First Mountain Bike Race

Evan has been BEGGING to do a mountain bike race for quite some time. However, mountain bike racing is not like running. It’s on single-track trails through the woods. Over obstacles. Up and down treacherous hills. Bike accidents can happen, and riders need to be aware of how to handle this when they are literally 2 miles from help. They need to know the etiquette of passing and being passed. In addition, trails are like spiderwebs through the woods, and riders have to pay attention to signage to keep on course. Mountain bike racing isn’t for little kids.

Yesterday, there was a bike race with a “junior” category, for kids ages 10-14. It was at a park where Chris and Evan have ridden a few times. Even though Evan just turned 9, Chris thought he’d be okay in the race. Here he is waiting for the race to start. He started at the back of a pack of MUCH bigger kids.

Here they go! You can’t see Evan here because he’s at the back.

Go Evan!

Campbell dug through our snack stash while waiting for Evan to do the first lap.

Here he comes, done with lap 1!

Headed out for lap 2.


Campbell checks out another boy on a Strider.

All done!

He got 3rd place is the 10-14 age group on that little bike. We’re very proud of him!

You may also like:

Daily Photos {Project 365}

May 12 – Repeat pic of an annoyed-by-wind Campbell. f/5, 1/320, ISO 640

May 13 – Another apple blossom shot. f/6.3, 1/200, ISO 400

May 14 – Cell phone pic of the vintage a/c I have in my classroom. I actually do have real a/c but I don’t ask them to turn it on unless it gets REALLY hot.

May 15 – Evan cleans out the pond so we can put in the tadpoles he came home with. f/5.6, 1/250, ISO 5000

May 16 – Cell phone pic of Campbell playing “ice cream store” at the park.

May 17 – Both kids went to my parents’ house to sleep in the camper in their backyard (they think that’s fun). Campbell got homesick around 9:15 and came home. I was having a Mad Men marathon in bed, but when she came, I switched to Diego. I took this picture using the camera on my computer because getting up to get another camera seemed really tiring.

May 18 – Going mt. biking with his dad is probably Evan’s favorite thing ever. This is the only shot I took because Campbell and I went to play at the park while they rode. f/4, 1/800, ISO 800

You may also like: