28 March 2012

Why I Do Not Like Cycling (or Triathlon) as Much as Running

I make no bones about it.  I think running is a better sport than cycling and triathlon.  I enjoy cycling, but I can live without it.  I enjoy triathloning, but I don't get grouchy and depressed if I don't swim or bike.  Poor weather affects me more on the bike than it does during a run--although, I don't like wind during either.  It takes me twice as long to achieve the same physical benefits on a bike as it does on a run.  And because running is a high impact activity, I don't face the risk of lower bone density that I might face if I only cycled.

But there is one reason that trumps all reasons for my liking running more than triathlon and cycling: In cycling, especially in the cycling portion of a triathlon, you can buy your way to a faster time.  I completed the 2011 Antwerp Ironman 70.3 on a secondhand 2002 Giant TCR-1 that I bought for $500 US.  If I had the money to buy a tri-bike with aero wheels and an aero helmet, I could have ridden about two and a half miles per hour faster (maybe more) than I did in that race, allowing me to finish over 20 minutes sooner than I did.  To go faster on the bike, I didn't need to work harder or to train more.  I just needed to buy more bike.

I don't recall ever being in a running race where I was beaten by someone who wasn't as fit as I was but who had better equipment than I did.  But it may have happened to me on the bike in Antwerp.

Is a triathlon a test of fitness and work performed or is it about who can afford the best equipment?  Should someone who is less fit than another person qualify for Kona over a more able athlete only because s/he had a mechanical advantage?

Unfortunately, I do not see how to even the playing field in this case.  I don't think triathlon organizers should limit the type of bike they allow participants to use, and it's impossible to make sure all competitors have the bike they want. But racers with nice bikes need not believe they achieve their results on talent alone.

Runners, on the other hand, can rest assured that hard work and smart racing, two things available at no cost, will get us to the finish line in a position that best reflects our relative level of fitness.

Today's Run Details: Guerrilla Race by scarbellyracer at Garmin Connect - Details


  1. Well, what can I say? Triathlons are for weenies. :-) I love how I can completely shatter myself physically with a five-hour ride in the mountains, then do a three-hour ride the next day. I can't do that by running. I also like how I can cover so much distance, see so many things, while cycling. I also like not having to constantly worry about injuries.

  2. Oh, where to begin. I realize you're a runner at heart, but to portray triathlon as a sport where you can simply buy your way to a better time is completely absurd. True, having aero wheels, an aero helmet, and a perfect bike fit might buy you a few minutes of time, but if you don't know how to ride and pace the bike correctly it's completely worthless. As I'm sure you can attest, we've all been passed by athletes on "cheaper" bikes than our own. And I can guarantee that if tomorrow you strap on the latest $10,000 carbon/aero tri-bike, you'll still get smoked by many a rider on a $500 yard-sale special. Triathlon isn't supposed to be a single event sport, it's a multi-sport event that challenges the athlete in three completely different disciplines. Most people enter the sport having little to no background in at least one of those disciplines, yet challenge themselves to conquer the unknown. That's what triathlon is all about and if you're hung up in the seconds or minutes you might have shaved with a nicer bike...then I'm afraid you've missed the point.

  3. @W and S

    You're right about being able to go for a long, hard ride and still have something left for the next day. That is an advantage that cycling has. Of course, since while cycling I spend so much time trying to watch and hang onto the rear wheel of one of my faster training partners, I don't get to see as much of the scenery as others do. Also, I have a greater fear of being hit by cars while I'm on a bike than I do of being injured while I'm running.


    I don't think I portray triathlon "as a sport where you can simply buy your way to a better time." But you can: you don't need to train with an aero helmet like you would an aero bike to reap the rewards of the aero helmet. Even so, if I just bought new equipment and trained on it rather than my current equipment, I'd be faster. So, the only thing that made me faster was not that I trained more or differently, rather I bought new equipment. I purchased a faster time.

    My main point, however, is that someone less fit than another could theoretically finish in front of a more fit competitor merely because s/he could afford a mechanical advantage. Is this untrue? Furthermore, such a possible mechanical advantage cannot be found in running.

    I agree with your comments about what triathlon is supposed to be about. I was focused on that purpose while training for one even though an injury kept me from being competitive as a runner. However, part of what turns me off about the sport is the cost--one of the reason's for this site--and how that cost can be parlayed into a competitive advantage, which can be substantial in some cases.

    I'll leave you with a question: If we were both trying to qualify for one Kona slot in a half-Ironman race and you finished ahead of me in the swim by two minutes, I finished the bike ten minutes faster than you, even though I was pushing fewer watts the entire time because I was riding an aero bike with aero wheels and an aero helmet and you were on your bike with your normal helmet and wheels, and then you finished ahead of me on the run by seven minutes, meaning I finished the overall race one minute in front of you (our transition times were the same and we both executed them perfectly) and making it to Kona instead of you, should I really feel like I deserved that slot more than you?