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RAGBRAI Training: Endurance – More is Better when Preparing for RAGBRAI



I had a frightening thought as I looked out the window this past weekend and saw 3 inches of snow on the ground.  RAGBRAI begins in two and a half months!  It’s hard to believe we will be baking and complaining of the heat.  If you haven’t already begun preparing your body for RAGBRAI, it’s not too early to get started.  But there’s also no reason to panic if you haven’t started yet as you have time to get in shape.  But time’s a-wasting so you’d better get going.

The main message of this article is that above all else, getting miles in your legs and hours on the bike is the most important thing you can do in terms of preparation for RAGBRAI. Because RAGBRAI is a tour and not a race, it means you can take your time and ride at an enjoyable pace.  Even though this year’s edition is the second ‘shortest’ in RAGBRAI’s history, 406 miles is still a long way to ride a bike in a week.  Therefore endurance is extremely important and is the most important aspect of training to focus in on.  Sure, you can work on hills and speed, but first you have to be able to go the distance.   Let’s look at three aspects of endurance to consider.  First, there is the physiological ability of your legs to pedal your bike for 406 miles.  This requires development of leg strength to push the pedals tens of thousands of times per day.  You don’t necessarily need a lot of strength, but you need to have the ability to flex your leg muscles many, many times without giving out.  You also need to increase the cardiovascular fitness so as to be able to supply blood and oxygen to those working muscles.  So by doing progressively longer rides as you prepare for RAGBRAI, you will train those muscles and cardio system to go for progressively longer time as well.  So really it is just putting in the miles.  Nothing special.  Just ride, more each week.  You do want to try to make your longest ride of the week progressively longer along with your total mileage for the week.

Another area of endurance you will need is the ability to sit on your bike saddle for hours a day.  This also takes practice.  Your rear end will get tougher as you do longer rides.  For some people, this ability to be comfortable sitting on the bike limits how long they can ride.  The legs are willing, but the butt isn’t!  This too will take care of itself by doing progressively longer rides.   If it doesn’t, make sure you are wearing padded bike shorts and you may want to check with your local bike shop for a more comfortable saddle.  Keep in mind bigger isn’t always better when it comes to bike seats.

A third area that needs to be improved through endurance is the upper body and arms.  Sitting on a bike leaning forward on your hands for hours a day takes some conditioning for the back, shoulders and arms.  Not only will long rides help prepare these muscles, but some gym work can come in handy here to strengthen these areas of the body.  Padded gloves will also help relieve the pressure on the hands.

The longest day on this year’s RAGBRAI is 83 miles.  The others are in the 50-60 mile range.  So if you can work up to a 60 to 70 mile ride in the weeks leading up to RAGBRAI, you should be able to adequately handle the mileage. Now more is better when it comes to endurance training.  If you can work up to 83 miles, that would be better.   A century ride prior to RAGBRAI, while not necessary, will only help you be stronger for this year’s ‘short’ RAGBRAI.  So as you are thinking about your preparation for RAGBRAI, put the focus on the miles you will be able to put in between now and July.  Refer to my previous post for a training plan guideline for how many miles you might consider for your longest ride as well as for each week.

There is no secret to preparing for RAGBRAI, you just need to put in the miles.  But you do need to put them in, because there is no faking endurance!

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and is a national head coach for the the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes 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.

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