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RAGBRAI Training: Basic Preparation Requirements

  • 4 March, 2012
  • TJ Juskiewicz

Whether you are a brand new RAGBRAI rider this year or a seasoned veteran, it is good to review some basic preparation requirements of RAGBRAI.   While RAGBRAI is not a competitive event, that doesn’t mean it will be a piece of cake either.  I have said it before and will say it again, the better prepared you are, the more you will enjoy the event, and isn’t that what it’s all about?    This article will focus on the basic aspects of preparing your body for the rigors of a weeklong ride of 471 miles.  I will highlight three main areas to consider.  I’ll go into more depth on these in future week as well as cover other areas.  But to get you started, here are the basic fundamentals.

1. Bike Fit and Comfort 

Regardless of how fast you are, you will be sitting on your bike for a long time during RAGBRAI, anywhere from 30 to 47 hours during the week.  It had better be as comfortable as possible or you will be sorry and sore.  If you have been riding a lot, your bike position is probably pretty well dialed in.  If you don’t feel comfortable on it, or if you are getting a new bike then it is very important that you get it fit for you.  What does ‘fit’ mean?   There are several adjustments you can make to your bike.  But even before you between making adjustments, you need to make sure the bike is the correct size for you.  If it isn’t there is only some much adjusting you can do and that may not be adequate.  So if you have a bike and are unsure if it is the right size, or if you are buying a new bike, go to a local bike shop and talk to them.  Many now offer bike fitting services.   Some of the easy adjustments you can make include: seat height, seat forward/aft position, seat tilt, handlebar height and angle, stem length.  None of these require buying anything except if you need a different stem size. Often bike shops will swap out stems at no charge.  You can also consider getting a new seat if you don’t like yours.  Avoid trying to get the biggest, softest one you can find.  While this may sound appealing at first, usually less is better.  Most bikes come with narrow seats (or saddles as they are often called) to allow your legs to move without chaffing against the seat.  New seats have lots of nice padding options.  The other thing to help comfort is a nice pair of cycling shorts.  These have very soft chamois liners which really help comfort for long days in the saddle.  Cycling shorts and gloves help pad your body-bike contact points from the hours of vibration and absorb perspiration.

2. Ride a Lot and Often

The number 1 training lesson regarding RAGBRAI is to ride a lot prior to heading out to Sioux Center in July. The number 2 lesson is to ride often.  Sure, there are a lot of things we will talk about going up and down hills, riding faster, riding with other people, etc.  But the main thing you need to focus on first is getting a lot of miles on your bike prior to July.  If you ride the whole thing, you will be riding 471 miles in one week.  Even many experienced cyclists haven’t ridden this far in a week.  The good news is that with ample riding, you can do this, and do it without too much difficulty.  So, ride a lot.  I often get asked how much is enough.  I say that if you can get in 1,000 miles of riding prior to RAGBRAI, you should be in pretty good shape to make it.  More is better.  But the amount of riding is just half the equation. The other half is to ride frequently.  On RAGBRAI you will be riding 7 days in a row, so you need to train your legs to go every day and allow them to shake off the fatigue and keep going.  So I’d suggest dividing your riding up throughout the week.  Aim for riding 4 or more days per week.  Don’t just jam it all into weekends.  However, as RAGBRAI approaches, it is also a good idea to put in some high mileage back to back rides on weekends to get used to the rigors of the ride.  Shortly I will be posting the training plan guideline for RAGBRAI to give you some idea on the minimum distances you should be able to ride throughout the spring and summer weeks leading up to RAGBRAI.  For now, you just want to get out on your bike as much as possible.  Daylight Savings Time is coming which may help give you time to ride after work.  If not, try to ride an indoor training or partake in a spin class when you can’t get out.  It all helps and it all counts.

3. Fueling Your Body  

For many people trying to avoid gaining weight, or trying to lose weight, they are looking for ways to avoid eating.  As you start riding lots of miles, you need to consciously eat and drink to keep your body fueled.  Riding consumes about 30 calories per mile, so a 50 mile ride will cause you to burn about 1,500 calories.  That’s probably half to two thirds of what you may normally consume in a sedentary day at the office.  As you start to ride more you will notice you have a bigger appetite.  That’s normal. Your body is your engine and you need to keep it fueled jusy as you would you car”s engine.  Listen to your appetite but don’t use it as an excuse to eat anything and everything you wish.  It is possible to gain weight even while riding a lot.  As you increase your riding and food intake, try to increase with complex carbohydrates primarily, as that is rocket fuel for your body.  Complex carbs include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and even milk. Avoid fueling with junk food. You body will appreciate nutrient rich foods to perform and recover to its full potential.  You will also need to pay more attention to staying hydrated, both while riding and after.  You lose a lot of water weight riding, through your heavier breathing and perspiration.  To prove this to yourself, weight yourself without clothes before and right after a ride.  You can easily lose 2-3 pounds of water during a ride, even if you drink during the ride.  The longer the ride and warmer the weather, the more you will lose.  Be sure to have water bottle cages on your bike (two are recommended) and get some larger sized water bottles to carry with you.  You should be drinking about a bottle per hour of riding.  On training rides of several hours, you should plan on stopping at convenience stores to refill your bottles.  When you get home, plan on continuing to drink fluids as it takes some time to rehydrate, especially after especially long rides. Doing so will aid your recovery and allow you to feel better the next day.

So there you have the basics.  Do these well and you will be well on your way for a fun and successful RAGBRAI.

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and Personal Trainer. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, the Iowa JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes Team, the Above & Beyond Cancer RAAM Team, 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



  1. Brian Trojanowski

    First time Ragbrai rider. I also have type 2 diabetes. I need to watch carb intake at every meal. Do you have any recommendations for training and the food intake, which would all need to be monitored on the rides.

  2. LawnchairMan

    “Riding consumes about 30 calories per mile, so a 50 mile ride will cause you to burn about 1,500 calories. That’s probably half to two thirds of what you may normally consume in a sedentary day at the office.”

    Am I reading this wrong? To me it says that a day at the office consumes 3000 to 4500 calories. I’d better start training on those pies!

  3. Nancy Stewart

    I recently have started to eat more of a clean diet. Is this possible on Ragbrai?

  4. Sandaltan

    Nancy, if a clean diet includes pie, watermelon, hot buttered sweet corn, pork chops, gallons of water and couple of beers you will be able to stay on your diet. Otherwise, just come and have fun with the rest of us.

  5. Bill

    LawnchairMan, That 1500 calories is just for 50 miles of riding. Add in the miles over that. Plus all the non-riding calories you’ll burn for the entire day. You’ll burn more then an office only day.

  6. Mactire Aonair

    Brian Trojanowski says:

    March 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    First time Ragbrai rider. I also have type 2 diabetes. I need to watch carb intake at every meal. Do you have any recommendations for training and the food intake, which would all need to be monitored on the rides

    I am in the same boat as Brain and curious about diet for those with diabetes. I am a long time cyclist and my habit in the past has been to consume higher carb foods. Though whole grain wheat sticks have always been part of my diet.

  7. patrsnw

    Fifteen-time rider, here.

    We like to do our multi-day ride over Independence Day figuring that doing 3×50+ miles will show that we can do RAGBRAI with no/little problem.

    Good luck and kudos to riders with special dietary needs who do the ride. There’s a lot of crap on the ride (I know as I’ve eaten most of it!) so sticking to a diet is laudable. Can’t say what you can find but riding lots will give you some leeway. Suggest you consult a doc who specializes in that sort of thing.

  8. Dude

    Sounds awesome!!! I can’t wait! Thanks for all the helpful info peeps!!!

  9. Jenee Olsen

    Awesome tips!! First time rider here- I’m going with a few guys who have done this before.

  10. Guy Jacobucci

    First time rider, long time biker. Looking forward to the ride and learning how to train with all of you.

  11. Guy Jacobucci

    For those who have done the ride in the past, which do you think is a better option for this ride, hybrid or road bike ?

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