The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

2014 RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI Training: The Secret to Training for RAGBRAI

dmrdc5-65wry42lmm813sdjjk7r_originalCoachErtl-RABGRAI3by Coach David Ertl

I can already see the responses to this title and several will likely involve beer.  But to your dismay I will not be talking about that aspect of preparation.  Instead I am going to reveal to you a well kept secret for bicycle training for RAGBRAI.  I will share it with you if you promise not to tell anyone else.  OK?  Here goes.  The secret to training for riding RAGBRAI is to ride your bike – a lot.   That’s it.  Aren’t you glad you didn’t pay for this bit of advice?   But it’s very truthful.  For a non-competitive ride like RAGBRAI, you need to train your body for endurance, first and foremost.  There are other things you can do like intervals and hill training, which will help you become a stronger and faster rider, but if your goal is to get through RAGBRAI feeling good about yourself and just plain feeling good, you need to be able to go the distance, i.e. have endurance.

But while this is simple advice, it is not so simple as just going out and riding four hours a day, starting today.  There is something called adaptation.  You will want to start gradually and build up so your body has a chance to adapt to the increased time in the saddle.   Depending on how much or how little you’ve been riding over the winter, your distance goals as you start training this spring will vary.  If you rode a lot over the winter and are in good shape, you can continue to build on the distances that you have been riding.  If you haven’t done much riding, or it’s been limited to 30 or 60 minutes on your indoor trainer or spin class, you may want to start out just doing one hour rides at the beginning.   The training plan that was posted on this blog ( http://ragbrai.com/2014/03/14/ragbrai-training-training-plan-for-ragbrai-2014-and-how-to-use-it/ ) gives some recommendations on how to build up your distance as the season progresses.  Being a generic plan, your specific miles may vary, but the general increase should be followed.

When you are riding increasingly long distances in preparation for RAGBRAI, several things take place as your body adapts.  Of course your leg muscles will get stronger. They won’t feel as weak and shaky after rides once you get them used to it.  Your endurance improves as well – you can go longer before you get generally fatigued.  This is due to a number of physiological changes in your body but has a lot to do with your energy system improving.  Much of fatigue is often lack of energy.  As you build endurance, your body becomes more efficient at converting the food you eat as well as your own body fat into fuel for propulsion.  You will also notice other parts of your body adapting to these longer rides.  Your back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck and buttocks will increase their stamina.  While people think mainly about their legs when it comes to cycling, it can often be these other body parts that give out first and cause pain that can ruin your enjoyment of the ride. 

Finally, you also build mental endurance. The ability to get out and spend several hours straight on your bike takes some getting used to for some folks.  Many people prefer to ride with others for the company.  It also makes the time pass when there are people around to talk to.  But others don’t mind the solitude and that may be one of the reasons they ride. It certainly is for me.

So there you have it.  Get your bike out and ride it.  Increasingly farther each week.  Do it gradually.  By yourself or with others.  It’s not that complicated.  And it is fun.

– 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.

4 Comments

Coach David Ertl, Apr 3, 2014 at 6:58 pm

OK, I want everyone to know that I did not select this picture of the guy wearing the (gag) Wisconsin shirt. That was TJ’s doing. Go Huskies! ( UConn Class of ’80)

Sandaltan, Apr 5, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Well kept secret…shhhhhhhhhhhhh…pie is an endurance food. Start gradually, build a base and then expand the base.

Caroline, Apr 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Awright, so I know from first hand experience the more I train, the better off I’ll be. But with my schedule right now – juggling work & kids – it’s often much easier for me to take two, or even three separate rides over the course of one day. So what’s your take on, say, riding 30 miles in the morning, and then tacking on another one or two 10-15 mile rides in the afternoon and evening.

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