The Conversions in my Head

As a math major, I’m always thinking about numbers – even if I’m not always keen about keeping track of my speed or pace, I do like to know the total distances I’ve run or biked as well as the total time I’ve spent working out each week.

Numerals in head.

I also think it can be important to put everything on an even playing field (this helps me to make sure that I’m doing enough and not overdoing it). Being a runner first, I usually like to put my biking distances in terms of running mileage – obviously you can bike farther/faster than you can run. So, my rule of thumb is to divide my bike mileage by about 3 or 4 to get the “equivalent” run mileage (typically equivalent in terms of stress on the body and fairly close in calories burned). If we are talking about mileage earned in spin class or on the trainer, I usually divide this by 3 – giving myself a little extra credit for constantly pushing, never coasting. When talking about road mileage, I’ll typically divide this by 4 – taking off a little for momentum and coasting down hills.

So, for example, this morning my spin bike had me at 23.8 miles. I would say that is…

23.8 / 3 = 7.93

… close to the stress/effort required to run just under 8 miles!

However, my last road ride was a few weekends ago and we went 52 miles, or…

52 / 4 = 13

… approximately running a half marathon (yea, I think that’s pretty accurate with how my legs felt!)

These aren’t the only conversions that go on in my head. I actually got the idea for this post from a conversation that I had with a fellow Tri 101 mentor. He asked me,

“Would you recommend doing a full marathon before doing an IRONMAN?”

My answer was fairly complex, and honestly more of a non-answer. IRONMAN Louisville took place about 10 months after my first marathon and also 12 weeks after my first half IRONMAN, so I can’t really speak to what it would be like without that experience. But I will say this… I have some mental conversions for triathlon distances to running distances which go like this:

Sprint Tri ~ 10k (+15-30 minutes)
Interantional/Olympic Tri ~ Half Marathon (+30-90 minutes)
Half IRONMAN ~ Marathon (+60-120 minutes)
IRONMAN ~ 50+ mile Ultra (I have no clue!)

In all of these scenarios, the tri distances take a little longer (indicated in the parenthesis), but I would say overall stress on the body is fairly equal. At the end of the day, it’s certainly not a requirement to have done a marathon or half IRONMAN prior to heading out for the full 140.6, but there are certainly some advantages to having those experiences and I would recommend doing at least one or the other, if not both!

The reason for this recommendation has very little to do with the physical requirements for these races, but more the mental component. When I was about to jump off the dock in Louisville, I had so much confidence knowing that I had already conquered half of each distance with relative ease and also knowing exactly what the full 26.2 miles of the final run leg would feel like both on the legs and in time. When you are toeing the line at the start of an IRONMAN you are moments away from being “alone” (or at least unable to receive outside assistance) for the next 12-17 hours and having had the experience of a marathon and/or half IRONMAN – knowing what that “alone” is like for a shorter period of time – can be a huge benefit mentally. Not to mention, if you can incorporate one or the other into your IRONMAN training, you’ll have something to breakup the training, a shorter-term goal to aspire to, which will relieve some of the monotony.

That’s just my two cents!!

Does anyone else come up with mental conversions for the training or races? I’d also like to hear the perspectives of someone who was a cyclist first, runner/triathlete second!



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