Posted by: ElliptiGO Girl | July 20, 2008

Runners vs Cyclists vs Triathletes

Wow.  Interesting weekend.  Had a chance to interact to some degree with three distinct classes of athletes, in the following order: runners, cyclists, and triathletes.  All serious.  All fit.  And all different.

Saturday morning, July 19th I volunteered to help with registration at the Semana Nautica 15 K. The hour and a half just flew by!  Runners showed up, some early, some very last minute, signed in, and took off to warm up (or not) and head for the start. Everyone was pleasant, cheerful, any tension about the upcoming effort was not evident.

I left just short of 8 AM.  I had decided not to participate in “Sisquoc”, a cycling road race that day.   Sisquoc was being held up in Santa Maria.  I am a member of a Cat 4 womens’ cycling team.   The race – 35 miles of climbs, descents, and steep turns – about a 2 to 3 hour effort – was set to start at 1:25 PM. To my team this meant showing up at the site by 11:00 AM, to sign in, warm up on a trainer, and strategize about the race.  I would have needed to leave home by 9:30 AM, not return until 6 PM.  Instead, I opted to join a casual group ride with Echelon club.

I have to say that the casual ride was really fun. More on Sisquoc in a moment. And yes, I will be comparing the three groups of athletes – at the end of my narrative. . . . 

This morning, Hal and I drove down to Carpinteria.  We did a very pleasant 5 mile trail run – and then I joined a group of triathletes for a 1.5 mile ocean swim.  At the swim, I ran into a friend who had raced Sisquoc Saturday – as a one-day  trial member of my team.  And my friend vows never to compete in a road race again. 

One thing about bike races – they can be dangerous – there’s always a risk of crashing. My friend is a phenomenal triathlete. She is very, very strong. Apparently, too strong.  She upset the Featured Team Star (“FTS”) member of my team by breaking away from the peleton (main group) too early – 9 miles before the finish. My friend wanted to minimize risk of collision/crash as the peleton jockeys (translation: fights) for position at the end.  FTS did not join her in the break away – probably thought she would peter out. My friend didn’t peter out. Instead, she took 2nd place in the race. FTS wasn’t able to use her to take 1st or 2nd. FTS blew up after the race.  Team Captain supported FTS.  And my friend decided she’d had enough of cycling with a team!  I don’t blame her.  Too much drama.  Too much risk of sudden, serious injury.  Too much tension.  Not fun.

So – this little incident brings me to my comparison.  I run.  I ride.  I do triathlons.  I’ve been parts of groups in all three sports.

Every group has a range of levels of athletic expertise – from casual or beginner to elite/serious.  Every group has individuals that are extremely methodical with their training, and individuals who are quite easy going, with a rather “hit and miss” philosophy.   And every group includes some really nice people. However,  I see general distinctions between the groups:


  • Very pleasant bunch.  Individual focus. A runner might be very competitive and might be part of a team – but bottom line – running is really a solo sport, and a solo effort. You never see fights break out at the finish line of a race!  
  • Runners are acutely aware of their body/internal state. They worry about pacing. They train to increase endurance, speed, power – and lean how to read their body’s internal status.
  • Runners don’t spend too much on gear in terms of performance. Gear is purchased to help with training, or to avoid injury.



  • Group/team focus.  Cyclists rely on other cyclists to draft – and drafting can allow decreased efforts of >30% with no loss of speed.  So group dynamic becomes extremely important. The repercussion – tension between teams during a race.
  • Less focus on  body/internal state.  More important to interact effectively (and often aggressively) within the group – especially during a race.
  • Gear is paramount.  Cyclists will spend literally thousands of dollars to drop a couple of pounds off their gear or to go more aero – because this can have a significant impact on performance – especially at the elite levels.



  • Individual focus.  Like any other elite athlete, an elite triathlete needs to push his/her body to its limits – but here, as in running, an triathlete cannot rely on another contender to carry him/her along. Triathlons are a solo effort.
  • As with the runner, there is a huge focus on body/internal state.
  • As with the cyclist, gear can provide a huge advantage.  Serious triathletes spend a lot of money on gear that can have a significant impact on their performance.


So – I’m liking running more and more. 

  • I like to race without worrying about disappointing anyone except myself.  For me, that takes the pressure off. Running races are fun!  So are triathlons and time trials – all solo efforts.
  • I like the simplicity of running as a sport – performance is not gear based. You run fast.  Or you don’t.
The only thing is – my body can tolerate just so much running – and then it revolts, and starts to break down. So -as long as I can, I will continue to participate to some degree in all three sports.  Team? maybe yes, maybe no.
Bottom line  – it’s gotta be fun – or its a no go!


  1. i like to say bikes are for people that can’t run.

  2. Dan – You can say whatever you want – but I need to interject here: There are some really great runners who can also do “other things” – such as cycling – sometimes really, really well! And there are some really great cyclists who run. Check out any triathlon, for starters!

  3. Really? Wow, how amusing. Cyclists have very little focus on internal state etc etc?? Yup, we do 100’s of KM’s just because we draft.

    You’re definitely not an athlete are you?

    Cyclists just get on and do it and don’t outwardly obsess with the look-at-me of the others.

  4. There is no drafting in the cycling portion of a Triathlon, just an FYI.

  5. fyi, Jim, that is an obvious fyi!

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