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RAGBRAI Training: Did Someone Say Century Loop?

  • 14 May, 2021
  • Andrea Parrott

Each year RAGBRAI features one day when riders have the option of riding a century (100 miles) instead of the standard distance for that day.  The Century Loop is an extra loop on the RAGBRAI course that brings your total mileage for the day up to 100 miles.  This provides a few more miles for those avid cyclists and also give people a chance to ride a century who have never done one before.  Doing your first century on RAGBRAI is a good idea. It is a supported ride where if you have any problems, you can get assistance. And you will most likely will have friends doing it with you to help you out.  The century loop has also been renamed the Karras Loop in 2001 to honor John Karras who co-founded RAGBRAI. In past years, John himself has been out on the Karras loop greeting riders. Riders who complete the Karras loop receive a patch to commemorate their accomplishment.

What is so special about the century ride?  For cyclists, it’s our version of what a marathon is to a runner. It is a significant distance milestone that many cyclists aspire to achieve. It’s one of the ultimate accomplishments for a cyclist.  But don’t let that scare you.  Just because it is a lofty goal, it is within reach to the common cyclist, but it does require some extra mental and physical preparation.  This article will help you understand what is in store and required to succeed at your attempt on a century, should you decide to pursue it.

If you have been reading my other article you will recall that I suggest being able to ride approximately 70% of your goal mileage in training, so if you plan to ride an 85 mile day of RAGBRAI, you should be capable of riding at least 60 in your training leading up to RAGBRAI to be sure you are ready for 85.   The same holds for a century but of course then you should aim for at least 70 miles as your longest ride in your training.  And here’s another point to consider:  If you are able to ride 60, or 70 or 85 miles, you can ride 100 miles. It just takes longer and you will continue to get more tired.  So assuming you’ve done the necessary training for RAGBRAI (worked up to a 70 ride), there are two more things you can do to ensure that you can do the century:  pacing and nourishment.

Pacing:  Once you have enough fitness to ride 50 to 70 miles, you really have enough fitness to ride all day IF you keep your pace under control. That means to ride within yourself; not to over-exert at any time (including going up hills) or trying too hard to keep up with folks faster than yourself.  If you maintain a nice comfortable pace, you literally can go all day (if you pay attention to nourishment as well).  A good rule of thumb is to ride such that you can pass the conversation test. If you are able to maintain a normal conversation while riding, in other words speaking complete sentences, you will be riding in a good comfortable pace in the aerobic zone. If you can’t speak in complete sentences – i.e. you have to pause to breathe before finishing a sentence – it means you are on the verge of getting ‘out of breath’, or going anaerobic.  By riding at the conversation pace, you don’t risk overdoing it and your body will keep you going all day.

Nourishment:  Even if you have the fitness and keep your pace under control, you will only be able to complete the 100 miles if you also feed your body properly. That includes energy and fluids.  By maintaining a steady supply of energy you will be able to keep those pedals turning.   On long rides (like a century) your body will consume some of its own energy stores (body fat) as well, so you don’t need to eat all the calories you burn, but if you don’t eat enough you risk ‘bonking’, the cyclists vernacular for marathoners’ “hitting the wall”. Your blood glucose drops, your energy drops and you feel fatigued. You don’t want that happening on mile 50.  So by keeping a bit of food going in throughout the day, you can keep your blood sugar, hence your energy, levels up throughout the ride. Of course on RAGBRAI, as one person once said, if you are hungry you are stupid.  Well, I won’t call you stupid but there are so many (too many?) opportunities to graze across the state that the real issue may be eating too much.  Eating too much may give you stomach upset as you are riding a large number of miles in the heat of the day.  I would encourage you to eat a small amount throughout the day as you are riding but not a large heavy meal until your ride is finished. The same goes for fluids. Keep them going in all day, especially if it is hot and sunny, but avoid drinking too much at any one time. It’s best on your stomach if you just keep a trickle of food and fluids going in all day.

There’s no shame in skipping the century loop.  But if you’ve ever been tempted to ride 100 miles in one day, here’s your chance. Oh, and if you don’t feel up to riding 100 miles, keep in mind that the regular ‘short’ course that day is 84.7 miles!  So why not do a mere 15 more miles and accomplish something to check off your “bike-it” list?

100 miles or bust (hopefully not bust).

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: www.cyclesportcoaching.com. He can be contacted at cyclecoach@hotmail.com .


  1. JimCoonRapidsMN

    Good info David! One thing I would add as an FYI – the riding distance including the Karras loop may (and probably will – “your mileage may vary”) be more than 100 miles. For instance, last year my odometer showed 122.7 miles when I was done for the day.
    – Jim

  2. JimCoonRapidsMN

    It appears looking at the loop this year that it adds 27 miles to the day’s mileage. This assumes that I guessed the loop route correctly based on the map for Day 5 – X28 south to E34 west X20 north to E16 east and re-tracing the RAGBRAI route from there back to the start of the loop.

  3. Len Radin

    Will the loop bring the mileage for the day to 100, or will it, as Jim Coon reports, bring it up to more than the required 100.?

  4. Donna Heska

    How do I sign up for the century ride?

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