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RAGBRAI Training: Back to Basics

  • 17 May, 2024
  • Andrea Parrott

From time to time I receive an email from a RAGBRAI rider who asks some very basic questions which I may overlook or consider too basic. So this blog is dedicated to answering some of your very basic questions.

  1. How fast will I have to ride RAGBRAI and how fast should I train? The minimum speed you should be able to ride on RAGBRAI is dependent on the daily distance, how often and long you want to stop, and how early or late you want to arrive at the next overnight town. That’s a lot of depends. But keep in mind, you have all day, the daylight is long in Iowa in July (about 15 hours) so you have a lot of time. Figure there are towns about every 10 miles. You may or may not want to stop and spend time in all of them, but you will at some of them for sure. Some towns get very crowded and you are forced to walk through them, so whether you stop or not, they can slow down your progress. But even if you stop at five towns and spend an hour at each, you still have 10 hours of daylight for riding. Even if it is the farthest day (day 6 = 85 miles), that means your speed needs to be 8.5 MPH while riding. If you don’t want to get in at dusk, you had better plan on riding faster than that or not making as many stops. But that’s not very fast. So your training should reflect this and you should try to ride faster than this which I think you’ll find is very possible. The rule of thumb is the shorter your training ride, the faster you should try to ride. Play around with your pace and figure out what seems sustainable for you.


  1. Is it okay to stop and rest from time to time on my training rides? Of course it is. On long rides you will want to stop for water, food and rest room breaks. Keep in mind that you will be making stops during RAGBRAI itself, so doing so on training rides is perfectly acceptable.


  1. Is it okay to coast while riding, or should I try to keep pedaling the whole time? Your bike gives you the ability to coast so take advantage of that. You will need to coast when you need to slow down or stop at stop signs and red lights. You likely will want to coast and give your legs a break on downhills. It’s good to give your legs a break periodically so coasting is encouraged. But most of the time you should try to keep pedaling. This will increase your average speed and will train your legs to keep on pushing. Towards the end of long rides I find myself coasting and stretching more frequently. Nothing wrong with that as it will help keep you going.


  1. What is the minimum distance I should aim for on my training rides to be able to successfully complete RAGBRAI? Because the longest day on RAGBRAI is 85 miles, I’d suggest you be able to reach at least 65 in training. Why not 85? Because typically on training rides, we don’t take all day. Let’s say you can do 65 miles in five or six hours, then you will be able to do 85 when you have all day, literally.  Of course, if you want to do 85 or even more in training and are capable of doing so, that will only help you.  For total mileage, I like to use the rule of thumb of 1000 miles of training.  As of this writing, you have a little more than nine weeks left to train. So even if you haven’t even started yet (Yikes!), that’s 110 miles per week you should aim for. Hopefully you already have a couple hundred (or more) in your legs.


  1. Do I need a lighweight road bike, clipless pedals, cycling shoes, bike computer, cycling shorts, helmet, etc. to do RAGBRAI? You do not need a special bike. You need a bike that fits you, that works properly and is comfortable. The lighter the better of course, especially going uphill, but if you like your somewhat heavy bike, use it. Regarding pedals and shoes, if you don’t have clipless pedals (the kind that lock your feet in for more efficient pedaling), you don’t need to get them just for RAGBRAI. Some people don’t like them when riding in crowds as you have to unclip your feet quickly sometimes. But I would recommend getting cycling shoes, which have a stiff sole so they don’t hurt your feet (as much). You don’t need a bike computer unless you like to look at numbers – distance, speed, etc.  But you can get that info from a phone app as well (e.g. MapMyRide, Ride with GPS). Some people just mount their phones on their handlebars and use these apps. Concerning cycling shorts, not required but highly recommended. If you don’t like the tight Spandex kind, there are normal looking shorts that have a cycling liner built in. But helmet, that’s an absolute must – a RAGBRAI rule and even more important, it just makes sense to protect your noggin. Other than a bike and helmet, almost everything else is optional (well, you may want to wear some clothes too). So as you are training, figure out what YOU need and want, and don’t get things just because that’s what others have.


  1. Do I have to start riding RAGBRAI first thing in the morning? You can start whenever you want. Most people are up at the crack of dawn because they are so excited to get riding, or maybe it’s because they want to beat the heat, or because everyone else is taking down their tents at 5:30 am making a lot of noise. If you are concerned about how long it will take you to finish, starting earlier makes sense. Some people like to start early so they can finish before the heat of the afternoon hits. But keep in mind the roads will be busiest first thing so you may want to hold off and let the crowds take off and get up the road. But there are no rules about when you have to start, or finish, although it’s highly recommended you finish before dusk.


I hope this helps. Now get out there and ride, you have nine weeks left!

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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