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RAGBRAI Training: Advanced Training Tips

  • 31 May, 2024
  • Andrea Parrott

My last article focused on some back-to-basics advice for those fairly new to RAGBRAI. This week we are going to the other end of the spectrum and are talking about training techniques that more advanced riders may want to incorporate into their preparation for RAGBRAI. This advice is only for those who feel they have the fitness, experience and endurance to do RAGBRAI and have energy to spare. This may be those of you who are RAGBRAI veterans and know what it takes to complete RAGBRAI, have done it before and feel you can step up your riding, or it may be someone who is considered a fast recreational rider and likes to do faster rides with friends or group rides. This is totally optional and not required to complete RAGBRAI, but may add some fitness and fun to your training. (fun is defined here as fun for a cyclist which often involves pain and suffering!).

Incorporate some intervals into your training.

In recent years the term HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has become a term in vogue among fitness circles, as if it is something new. Competitive cyclists have been doing intervals for years and we have simply called them ‘intervals’. You can do them too if you wish, and you can call them HIIT if you like. The basic concept behind intervals is that they allow you to ride faster and harder than you normally do, then take break to recover and do it again and again. Overall you end up doing more work at a higher effort than if you tried to do one long continuous effort.There are almost an infinite variety of intervals one can do for cycling training. Each interval has a hard interval period, and a recovery phase. The length and intensity of the interval can be varied, and the length of the recovery interval can be varied. As a basic example, you could ride three miles per hour faster than your normal riding speed for one minute, then back off and ride easily for one minute to recover, then repeat several times. Or, you could do one fast minute followed by a 30 second recovery, which makes them a whole lot harder and you will do less. Another option is to do longer intervals such as 10 minutes at 1 mph faster than you normally ride, and do 2-3 of those. You can invent your own interval sequence to fit your need. They don’t have to be complicated, but what you want to do is spend time riding faster than you normally would, and intervals allow you to do that.  This will make it possible to increase your speed over time, and will make riding at your normal pace seem easier.

Or, instead of making them so mechanical, you can just increase your riding speed periodically through your rides without any structure. This type of interval actually has a name, a strange sounding name: fartlek, a Swedish term meaning ‘speed play’. And that’s what it is. For example, say you are doing a long ride at a steady pace. To spice it up, every time you see a stop sign, or a city limits sign, you and your friends sprint to it (a favorite and mandatory thing that racers do on training rides). Or you can decide to ride hard up every hill you come to (or you may be saying every hill you ride is already hard, naturally).   Or just pick a telephone pole and do an interval to it. Or every time you get chased by a dog. The nice thing about fartleks is you get to pick when and how far to make your interval, and they can be random rather than structured.

Finally, you can do group rides with others. I’ve made the observation that when two or more cyclists ride together, it can turn into a race. For whatever reason, we tend to ride faster when riding with others, and this is especially true when you aren’t the fastest rider in the group. So don’t be afraid of groups rides as they can help you become a faster cyclist, and teach you to ride close to others as well. If you happen to have a smart indoor trainer, you can do group rides or even races on apps like Zwift. If you have a rainy day, you can jump into one of these group rides in the comfort of your own home.

Add intensity and structure to your hill work.

Because there will be a lot of hills this year on RAGBRAI, doing some extra hill training is a good idea. There are several ways you can use hills to train on. For instance, you can stay in your saddle, shift to an easier gear and spin up hills at a faster cadence than normal to get your heart rate going faster for a cardio effort. Or, you can stay seated but shift to a harder gear and grind up the hill for more of a muscular effort. You should also practice standing out of the saddle while climbing. On longer hills, knowing how to stand is a good skill to have as it will provide you with some relief and give your muscles a break as you shift between standing and sitting. So get comfortable standing while climbing and try to increase the time you can do it. Being able to stand while climbing is especially important for steep hills where your body weight can help turn over the pedals.  For more on training on hills, see my article here.

Add some strength training to your routine.

While riding your bike is the main way you should get ready for RAGBRAI, it won’t hurt to add in some strength training. Exercises that emphasize the legs and lower body of course can obviously help your cycling, but don’t forget the rest of the body. If you are a seasoned cyclist, your legs are probably already pretty strong and you may actually need more work on the rest of your neglected body parts, so add in some core training and upper body strength work.But word of caution – the first rule of strength training is don’t get hurt. Seek out advice on the proper use of gym equipment and technique. If you are new to strength training, start out easy, I mean ridiculously easy, the first few times. Otherwise you will be sore and stiff and it will negatively impact your ability to ride. Start off easy and then gradually increase the weights. You will be surprised how quickly you can improve once you get started. You can do strength work one or two times per week.

Long live long rides.

As an advanced rider, you can also overachieve and do more and longer rides than what is called for in my RAGBRAI Training Plan. Feel free to ride 80, 90 or even 100 miles in your preparation. There are many century (100 mile) rides you can find to do this summer. If you can do a century you will be more than ready to tackle RAGBRAI. And who says you have to stop at 100? It’s just an arbitrary number. And, if you have the time you can do two longer ride each week instead of one.

So if you are so inclined, use RAGBRAI as an excuse to whip yourself into the best shape of your life. It will make your RAGBRAI ride seem like a piece of … pie!

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team 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 cyclecoach@hotmail.com.


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