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.