Running vs Riding: What is the mileage equivalence?


I’ve been a member of these forums for quite a while and some of you probably know I’m mainly an avid ultra marathon runner who has been utilizing unicycling as a means of cross-training.

Recently I suffered a stress fracture to my heel (calcaneus) at the insertion point of the plantar fascia (slow healer!). So I’m basically stuck in a rocker boot for at least 2-3 months! However, I’m allowed to ride as long as I play it safe and avoid any more heel trauma. So that means mostly easy roads and paths for a while and I must wear my built up BMX shoes to protect my feet.

My question is for the fellow runners and riders out there. If your typical base mileage while running is X miles, approximately how many miles would you need to ride to somewhat maintain a similar level of fitness? I know running isn’t the same as riding, but speaking in pure terms of cardiovascular fitness. The caveats in my case are that I’m riding mostly paved or gravel surfaces (i.e. not hard trails or technical terrain) and on a 24" geared unicycle though I don’t always ride in overdrive.

I’d be interested to hear about what folks think. Right now, my gut feeling is that I’d need to ride 25-30% more miles per week than I’d typically run to get at about the same cardiovascular exercise…


Note A quick Google search hints at roughly a 1:4 running vs BIcycling equivalent. However this page I found by George Winters does a good job of explaining/estimating the energy expenditures of a unicyclist versus several different disciplines including running. Clearly unicycling a mile would require more energy than bicycling a mile since not only must a unicyclist pedal continuously but as Mr. Winters talks about there are subtle corrective and restorative forces that a unicyclist must also exert. That all burns calories. So clearly unicycling on a flat mile should produce a running vs unicycling ratio of 1:<4 (perhaps 1:3.3 ??).

Another factor to consider is the number of pedal strokes per mile. This would account for differences between wheel size. Clearly a mile on a 36er should be much easier than a mile on a 20" unicycle (heck unicycling a mile on a 20", especially with long cranks, is probably tougher than just running a mile). So perhaps a better “rule of thumb” to determine would be based on total pedal strokes.

In the end though, probably the best guide might be to just wear a heart rate monitor and let your heart rate be your guide??

Riding is way less exercise than running, per mile. Unless it’s real MUni, which it sounds like not what you’re talking about. If you want a workout, concentrate on hill climbs, which is really the only place we can get much cardio outside of MUni.

How far can you ride in an hour?
How far can you run in an hour?
Divide the first number by the second number and you have your multiplier.

Not perfect but will give you some idea of how far to go.

Not really. Running for an hour is way more strenuous than riding for an hour.

Not for me… :thinking:
Obviously there is a skill quotient to be added to the equation. I don’t seem to be able to keep spinning for any length of time without slowing down, so I am mostly trundling along at about 8km/h and not much difference between the 24 and 29 :frowning:
But I think Sask’s idea is probably a good practical guide.

Sorry to hear about the injury Muni, hope it heals well and quick. But take it easy and let it heal. I suppose it’s the paddling pool for you really! :smiley:


I would suggest using a heart-rate monitor to estimate the comparable effort in running vs. unicycling. I admit that I am not sure how to do it. One could ride flat out on their favorite unicycle for 20-30 min and calculate a heart-rate average, and then see if that heart-rate could be matched by the same person running at a moderate rate. That might give one an exercise equivalence to build upon. Running faster would increase the effort. I am not sure to to estimate the increased effort at a faster pace, but others must have worried about this effect.

In general I agree with Tom that running is much more strenuous than road unicycling.

I don’t agree with this. Riding a mile on a 20" is tougher but I think its only mentally tough and hurts your butt a lot more. But in terms of a cardio workout, I think (or like to believe) that if you ride a higher gear, you’ll have more of a cardio workout. My muscles get more sore when I ride a bike or a 36". On a smaller wheel, its really easy physically but its so slow that it can be mental torture. Of course, this is assuming that the course is flat and the terrain is smooth. Muni on a 24" on technical terrain is the hardest I’ve had to work on a unicycle.

A heart rate monitor will do the trick (So, I also agree :slight_smile: )

Thanks everybody. Good to hear so many ideas. I’m definitely going to focus on climbing hills (that’s my passion in running as well) and really not going to worry about it overly much. Just adjust my diet and try and ride as much as possible while being very careful to not re-injure my foot. As much as hate it, I might even get into the pool or open water and do some swimming.

+1 on the HR monitor.

Here BungeeJoe describes how he uses it to guage his energy to avoid burning out part-way.

On a 29" unicycle, each turn of the pedals and wheel covers 7.6 ft across the ground. When running, my stride is just under that but I move at a slower pace…probably about 6 miles per hour. For me, the key difference is that I can ride for much more time than I can run. If I run 3 miles in slightly under 30 minutes, I think I get less physical benefit than when I ride 7-8 miles in just under an hour. The point is that I may not be performing at the peak of my physical ability on the unicycle, but I can double the amount of time that I am being active…plus, I hate to run anyway.

Recently, I learned that walking produces about 80% of the physical benefits of running for the same amount of distance. None of this is really relevant if you seek to retain high-caliber marathon performance, but my guess is that physical well being can be sustained by riding versus running.

Hope you heal well, and completely, and soon!


So that covers stride size and speed. Another variable there is that running uses more energy in that you’re lifting your body up and down with every step, and doing a much larger range of motion with your joints. The unicycle supports your weight, and your feet only have to make little circles to do that large stride, so that part is clearly using less energy.

There might be a little more core workout when unicycling, but that may be more a factor of rider skill. Developing good spinning and handlebar-tuck technique can minimize a lot of that energy expenditure. I’m not a runner, so I imagine I would use more upper body energy running than riding, due to my lack of technique.

Running is probably also a better full-body workout, where unicycling doesn’t use much above the abs and lower back.

Trail running is far easier and far faster than riding muni, but as the trail mellows to double track/gravel roads, the uni gains efficiency and can exceed the runner. Much depends on the people doing the riding/running.

I’m a “retired” ultramarathoner and an avid muni rider, for me I can definitely run rought trails faster and further than I can ride a muni. If I was looking at distance riding/running on forest service roads (relatively flat), I could probably train up my muni riding and ride a bigger wheel (36), and go further and faster than I could run.

Yesterday I rode some local tech muni, 3-4 mile loop that I know well from running and riding. I started fifteen minutes before some trail running buddies, they caught me halfway out, and finished a good fifteen minutes before me. For that example, in terms of time I’d say 2:1 and in terms of effort, I’d say 4:1

How much energy an activity requires depends partially on how prepared you are for that activity. I seldom run so it is a lot more tiring than unicycling for me.


John, I don’t know about you and your riding/running, but there is no way that running is a full body work out, esp if you’re a distance runner. In fact, it really isn’t that hard on your body once you have developed an efficient style, which is why it’s necessary to cross train in order to build complementary muscles and strength.

Muni on the other hand is a very complete workout, arms, legs, back, abs, as well as being far more dynamic than running, and due to the “sprint nature” of muni, cardiovascular stimulation is also far greater. I use muni for my telemark ski training (quad strength) and to help me prep for backcountry skiiing (uphill skinning/climbing).

I have tried many sports and numerous training regimes over the years, and nothing comes close to muni for my off season ski training.

Hey John, maybe you’re not riding hard enough :wink:

I think you need to think about this differently, so instead of miles, frame it in terms of time and effort. For example, if you run for eight hours a week and maintain an HR 80% of max, then do the same for your muni riding. You will have some differences in muscle group development, but in terms of cardiovascular, the effect is more or less equal. As you build muni miles, you’ll probably need to adjust your speed up and increase the riding difficulty in order to maintain the same HR.

BTW, you know why I retired from ultras: ITB, torn calf, heel issues, pinched nerves in hip/back. Maybe your body is sending you a message?

But he can’t do real Muni since he can’t risk UPDing on his bad foot.

I’d agree if my injury was related to ultras or running in general but it wasn’t directly*. It was a very clear blunt force trauma to my right heel from coming off my uni and landing hard on the unforgiving sand stone on the Slickrock trail in Moab, Utah. And not just once, but over and over and over again. And I was wearing unsuitable footwear as I’d forgotten my good riding shoes and instead settled on some cheap Walmart shoes that really did little to protect my feet! But hey that’s my fault! Regardless, it was MUNI that caused my injury. If my body is telling me anything it’s that I should retire from unicycling! :roll_eyes:

I’ve been running for over 20 years and have run almost the equivalent of around the Earth twice at the Equator (close to 48k miles) and in this time I haven’t had a running related injury. I’ve done a lot of very tough races and I’ve held up thus far. But no regrets, I’ve accomplished some awesome things. Better to wear out than rust out!

*One could argue that riding the Slickrock trail two weeks after finishing one of the toughest foot races on Earth (Badwater Ultramarathon) wasn’t the wisest thing to do. My body could have very well still been in a weakened state thus leaving me more susceptible to injury? Could be, but I have no proof of that.

Yeah, if the injury is uni related and you never get hurt running, maybe uni is too dangerous :roll_eyes:

So you can only ride road?

With that boot, I guess the thing to do is ride some hills that are steep enough to work you without risking a fall. Your limiting factor is going to be the lack of ankle movement, that and worrying about hurting yourself worse.

Do you have a road bike?

I used to be a roadie, did big miles, and I know you can get great work out in relative safety, plus you have the benefit of easier balancing.

Are you gonna be ready to go by October?

Uni, especially hardcore MUni can be dangerous; definitely much harder on my body than trail running ever has been. But it’s the risk versus reward and to me it’s definitely worth it. I think I just had a bad day with bad foot wear and just got burned! Oh well, broken bones heel.

So I’m mainly road riding with a touch of very easy XC MUni. And I know it’s shocking but I’m not riding with my boot! :astonished: I know it’s a bit risky but I’m proficient enough and the routes are easy enough that I haven’t had any major falls. I’m in as beefed up high top BMX shoes as I have, with my required arch support so really not all too different than my boot. I don’t think I’m even in the boot to isolate the ankle movement more to just cushion the bottom of my feet. Truly I honestly think it’s overkill for this type of specific injury, probably does help with walking around longer distances though. So call me stupid but that’s how I’m rolling: active recovery! But hey, if I have a negative evaluation when I see the doc in a few weeks then that’s it and I’ll do everything by the book.

Like I said, I’m not too worried about losing fitness, this was a planned down period in my training anyways; I’m probably doing more now than I would have been with just running.

I do hope to be ready to go by October so we’ll see, thinking about riding the Chief Ladiga Trail on my GUni sometime that month. First uni century attempt for me!