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RAGBRAI Training: RAGBRAI is Not a Race



by Coach David Ertl

When people find out I am a cyclist, more often than not the first question out of their mouth is “Do you do RAGBRAI?”  My favorite answer to that question is “Yes, and I won it last year!”  I say that just to see the look on their face, either a look of amazement or disbelief either because they didn’t know it was a race (it isn’t) or because they can’t believe out of over 10,000 cyclists, I was the fastest!    You can feel free to use this response yourself just to have a little fun.

But the purpose of this article is to remind everyone that RAGBRAI isn’t a race.  It is a cycling tour, and the reason for doing a tour is to be a tourist. That means you are exploring new places, meeting the locals, trying the locals’ food and generally enjoying yourself.  People come from every state in our nation and over 20 countries from around the world to ride RAGBRAI.  They don’t do it to see how fast they can ride across the state.  If you want to do that, there are races to do that.  People don’t come from around the world to ride in our heat, humidity and wind, or to see our mountains or seashores.  Yet despite these facts, this is the largest cycling tour in the country.  Why is that?  There are many reasons but perhaps the most compelling is this: Hospitality.  These small Iowa towns turn themselves inside out to be the best hosts they can be to the hoards of riders.   Having RAGBRAI come through your town is like having the Tour de France come through a town in France.  It’s a big deal and as you know if you’d ridden this ride, these towns treat it as a big deal.

Some people treat RAGBRAI like a race and see how fast they can get to the next overnight town.  There are some advantages for getting in to the next stop quickly – a hot shower, your pick of the prime place to set up your tent, and avoiding the heat of the afternoon.  But if you focus on getting through RAGBRAI fast, you miss what RAGBRAI is largely about – exploring the towns and people along the way.  You can have great conversations with people while riding along at a pace where you can talk.  You meet people from across the country and world.  You hear some interesting stories.  You have a chance to explore main street USA in every town you travel through; each similar yet each offering its own uniqueness.  Of course, every town offers its own home cooking as well, and some offer music and recreation of various types, or just relaxation under a tree of a front yard.  But most of all, be sure to take the time to meet the locals (yes, some of them really do wear bib overalls and it’s not just for show!).

Hopefully my tips along the way have helped you get physically prepared to do this tour. I didn’t write these to make you fast so you can win RAGBRAI.  I wrote them to help you complete RAGBRAI successfully and as comfortably as possible.   By taking your time and stopping in towns, you will have a chance to take a break frequently.  This can serve to refresh you, grab a drink or bite to eat, and rest your legs a bit.  If you have prepared by doing the requisite riding, then riding 10 miles at a time between towns should not be too taxing.  Don’t spend too much time off the bike though.  You will find if you stop for too long, then your legs may feel heavy and sluggish when you get back on the bike.   Even if you stop in every town, you should have no problem getting in to the overnight town by late afternoon as long as you keep a steady pace while riding and don’t spend too much time in every town you ride through.

So instead of seeing how fast you can ride RAGBRAI, approach it as an opportunity to see, hear, taste, smell and feel the meaning of RAGBRAI and meet people and develop friendships.  Be a tourist, not a racer.

Coach David Ertl 

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and Personal Trainer. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, the Iowa JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes Team, the Above & Beyond Cancer RAAM Team, and he coaches individual cyclists.  He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com

10 Responses on “RAGBRAI Training: RAGBRAI is Not a Race

Judy Sherman

July 2, 2012 at 8:34 am

Great information!!!!!! I am so looking forward to this adventure! Yes, it is my first time riding. Purchased my rode bike in April, 700 miles so far under my belt, Joined team BLACK BETTY!!!! Ragbrai here I come!!! 🙂

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Roger

July 2, 2012 at 9:06 am

Thanks, David! I just shared this on facebook – thanks for the great training plan too!

Bianchi John

July 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Great advice. Sometimes two bikes like two sailboats going the same direction constitutes a race. But RAGBRAI is not at all about getting somewhere fast. I’t’s about getting to enjoy the super midwest hospitality that Iowa has to offer.

Randy Catron

July 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm

David is of course correct, RAGBRAI is not a race. But if a person wanted to learn more about how to participate in competitive cycling in Iowa (after RAGBRAI), they could stop by the Iowa Bicycle Racing Association booth at the Expo on Saturday. There are bike races every weekend in August, and teams located in nearly every corner of the state. For more information, also check out http://www.usacycling.org/clubs/?state=IA . So, don’t race on RAGBRAI. Ride safe, ride right, and enjoy the Iowa hospitality.

James Kalina

July 3, 2012 at 12:15 am

Great article!

Racing in a touring event can be dangerous. A racer could run into slower touring riders or slower cyclists could inadvertantly get in the way of a racer causing the riders to fall.

To enhance safety if a rider wants to race then enter a racing event, or at the very least please start out early enough to avoid most of the slower touring folks and a safer ride for all.

The Wind

July 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hi Judy,
You are in for such a treat!! I would almost guarantee that after you participate in RAGBRAI just once, you will be hooked. It is always difficult for me to put my finger on why I return… the great food, the interesting ‘bicycling’ people and stories I here as I cross Iowa (THAT WOULD BE THE STATE THAT IS NOT FLAT!!), the immense feeling of accomplishments I always have as I dip my front tire in the Mississippi, or the ‘only in the Midwest’ hospitality I encounter in each and every town. Whatever the reason, there is no event that compares. Set your expectations high….. you will not be disappointed!

Jim Duddleston

January 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Really good information. I’m relatively new at riding road bikes. Just bought my first one two years ago after retiring (66 years young at the time), and did the first two days of RAGBRAI last year. I absolutely loved it, much for the reasons given in David’s blog. I plan to try to do the whole ride this year, and am looking forward to meeting more new friends and experiencing as much of the local food as possible – especially pork chops-on-a-stick!! Thanks for all of the comments.

LawnchairMan

February 23, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Perhaps I am the spoilsport of the bunch, but I like to go fast at RAGBRAI. I’ve done two of them now. The first I did fairly slowly, but last year I held a moderate pace. The day we had the tail wind I averaged 19 mph. I found I like the faster speed. I’m not out to race, but as David said, I like to beat the lines and get good camping spots. The faster I go, the more time I have to meet people and explore new sights. The trouble with conversing while riding is that cyclists tend to block the road. Please stay to the right if you are going slowly. Be aware of traffic coming from behind and allow the faster riders to pass on the left. Let them enjoy RAGBRAI the way they want. Thanks for your cooperation!

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