RAGBRAI Training: 5 Rules of Training
by Coach David Ertl
I am going to let you in on a little secret. My secrets of coaching. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. But here they are.
1. Ride consistently. There is no better way to get better riding a bike than to ride frequently. Every day is great if you can manage it, but 4 days a week is better than 3, which is better than 2. The idea is to get your body used to riding and by doing it almost every day, your body will respond and reward you by feeling stronger and more comfortable on the bike. Even if all you can manage is 15 minutes, that is better than an hour on the couch. Get out there and do it.
2. Ride far. Cycling is an aerobic and endurance activity. To get fit for cycling you first and foremost have to have aerobic, or cardiovascular, fitness so that you can pump blood to your lungs and working muscles efficiently. The best and first way you should do that is by getting out and riding, lots. It doesn’t have to be fast. Time in the saddle and distance are the most important metrics here. Especially for a ride like RAGBRAI, the ability to ride for a long time is preeminent.
3. Ride fast. Intervals aren’t just for racers anymore. If you want to ride faster, you need to ride faster than you normally ride. Makes sense, right? But like eating right, it’s harder to do than say. Riding fast is hard, and uncomfortable and some people don’t think it’s very fun. So you have a choice. Be happy riding the pace you ride now, which is perfectly acceptable for RAGBRAI as long as you are able to ride 10 mph or so. But, if you would like to be faster, then build some speed work into your training. This can be done in a number of ways but here are a couple. From time to time on rides, just increase the pace by 2-3 mph and hold that for 30 seconds or a minute and then go back to your normal cruising speed. You can do these at regular intervals (hence the name ‘intervals’) or just stick them in randomly during a ride. Or you can find a house with a mean dog that chases you and ride by it several times.
4. Rest is training too. Many people I coach think that they have to keep doing more, more, more, when in fact what they might need most is doing less. If you do 1-3 above and do them a lot, you may be reaching a point where you are doing a lot of training (damage to your muscles) without giving them enough time to heal. Remember an important rule of training: Training breaks your body down, recovery is what makes it stronger. If you feel tired or your muscles are sore the day after a hard ride, take it easy or take the day completely off (couch, anyone?). As long as you are putting the training in, it’s okay to be lazy the rest of the time. You can tell your spouse I said so.
5. Cycling is a great exercise, but not perfect. Sorry to tell you, but if you want to have well-rounded fitness, you should add in some other exercises into your exercise program. Consider some weight training to build muscles other than your legs. Make sure you are working your core muscles – no sit-ups but things like planks and Pilates are great. Do some cross training like running, hiking, rowing to work your muscles differently and to work different muscles. It’s also good for your mental health to add variety to your routine. Running away from the refrigerator before bed is another good exercise.
6. Okay, I lied, I just thought of another one. Eating is fueling. Eating isn’t just for recreation anymore (really!). Your body needs energy from food to move. When exercising the body burns fat and carbohydrate (sugar, starch). The harder you ride, the more carbohydrate you need. Therefore to have energy for a good ride, be sure to include good quality carbohydrates in your diet, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. You don’t need to increase the amount of fat you eat, even though you are burning fat while you ride. I’ve heard that the average human has enough stored body fat to ride from New York to Utah. That’s farther than RAGBRAI by the way. You should also get in adequate but not excessive protein. Lean meats, fish, non-fat dairy, beans, nuts are all good choices.
There you have it, (almost) all you need to know about training.
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.