What\’s a Marathon?

No, I know what a marathon is in running, a touch over 26 miles. I also know that I\’ll never run a marathon as my knee cartilages are screwed.

However, there are two other "endurance" sports that I can do, cycling and swimming. I\’m not saying that I\’m very good at them, but I can actually do them without entirely buggering up one joint or the other. So, the question is, what is the equivalent of a marathon in those two other sports?

Now with cycling I\’ve been thinking about it this way. A top class runner takes a shade over two hours to run a marathon. Thus a marathon in any other sport would be whatever is two hours concentrated effort by a top class performer. (I\’m sure there are errors with this idea so please do explain them to me.)

The world one hour record on a bike is around 50 km. Thus the equivalent of a marathon is 100 km on a bike, or thereabouts (which would explain why I feel somewhat tired today as by this standard I did a half-marathon yesterday….although not, obviously, in one hour).

But that calculation is rather buggered by the fact that Tour de France riders do more than 100 miles per day. Are they really doing 1.6 marathons a day for 23 days or whatever it is?

With swimming it gets dodgier, (or at least my numbers do). 1500m (a mile, essentially) is around 15 minutes as a world record. Thus the equivalent of a marathon in swimming is something like 8 miles.

Just eyeballing those figures, the cycling one looks too low, the swimming one too high. (For example, back when I was swimming regularly, a mile was a reasonable daily outing, but 8 would be nearly unthinkable. Now I\’m cycling 20-30 km is a stretch of the legs, the 50 yesterday was an outing, so 100 (and Î\’ve done 80 and 90 in the past couple of months) simply doesn\’t feel right for something as supposedly draining as a marathon.)

But here\’s the question. How far do I have to cycle or swim to be able to say that I\’ve done the "equivalent" of a marathon, given that I\’m physically incapable of doing the running one?Anyone?

12 thoughts on “What\’s a Marathon?”

  1. “How far do I have to cycle or swim to be able to say that I’ve done the “equivalent” of a marathon, given that I’m physically incapable of doing the running one?Anyone?”

    Depends. If you’re going to cycle on that nasty cheap pushiron of yours, then your 50km ride is a marathon. Amongst my cycling friends, 100 miles seems to be the one that marks you out and requires some fitness to achieve.

  2. Well the Olympic distances for the Triathlon, in which the three parts are of supposedly equal value are:

    Cycling: 40km
    Running: 10km
    Swimming: 1.5km

    So if you use that scale, a cycling marathon is slightly over 100 miles, and a swimming marathon should be about 4 miles.

    Tim adds: OK, that does make more sense. 100 km on a bike I could do with a few aches but no more. 160 km would be a very different matter. Swimming four miles would be possible after training but most certainly not easy. 2 miles would feel rather like the 100 km on a bike.

  3. I think it’s a bit misguided to look for the equivalent of a marathon in different sports. As a guide though, one might look at the Olympic triathlon with 10km running, 40km cycling and 1.5km swimming. As 26 miles is about 42km, multiplying each of these by approximately 4.2 should give a marathon distance for each. That would give you more than the cycling and less than the swimming distances you predicted and so maybe more in line with your gut instinct.

  4. you say “Tour de France riders do more than 100 miles per day. Are they really doing 1.6 marathons a day for 23 days or whatever it is”

    Yes they are, which is why they take drugs and die at 40. The human body just isn’t supposed to take that sort of punishment.

  5. The question really is – why?
    The two big events in my home town, Cape Town, are the Two Oceans Marathon (a bit more than a marathon) and the Cape Cycle Tour (a bit over 100 ks). They’re sort of equally challenging. Both have a mega turn out of people who feel the urge. But one has a much higher fatality rate – guess which?
    Right – the cycle tour. It has a least a couple of deaths each year. The reason seems to be that codgers who can’t run any longer seem to think they can get away with it if they’re sit on their bikes all day. Lecture coming up! – when you run you carry your own weight and if your knees give in there’s a message. Usually accompanied by falling over. Not true of cycling – you don’t fall over while putting tremendous strain on the heart.

  6. The Ironman triathalon, which has a marathon as its running section, has a 112 mile cycle ride. And a 2.4 mile swim.

  7. If you work it out in terms of energy, this page may be useful. As it says, wind resistance (and therefore your speed) is the overwhelming factor on a bike. At a relaxed 15mph the conversion factor is 3.5, i.e. 26 x 3.5 = 91 miles.

  8. In the early 1900’s, when cycling was a new craze, there were ‘Century Clubs’; to qualify you cycled 100 miles in a day. A medal was awarded to signify this feat.

    Tim adds: do any such clubs still exist? Serious question. I’d like such a medal.

  9. Hi Pat,

    Great home town. I wouldn’t call an extra 14km a “bit more than a marathon”, especially when after completing the marathon distance you have to run up Constantia Nek. However, it is without a doubt one of the world’s great ultra-marathons and anyone in to running such distances should make it an ambition to run it. Nothing beats running along Chapman’s Peak Drive.

  10. Cyclists who are riding in a bunch are largely sheltered from wind resistance and so are expending far less energy – riding 100 miles in a pack is far easier than 100 miles solo. Also, running is also putting an impact on your joints you don’t get from swimming and cycling.

  11. While, you mention Triathlon distances, and state there are only couple types of marathons. Remember there is another form of low/no impact on the body, which offers marathon distances. This is rowing, whether on the water or on an indoor (www.concept2.com) stationary rower. 42,195 meters is a full marathon, which let me tell you, is quite a challenge to stay stationary for 4 hours or more. Conditioning and strength training are necessary but the results are profound. I recently finished my first rowing marathon and look towards a new goal, the million meter club. Happy Rowing! Check it out, it really fun and an exciting new way of working out.

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