RAGBRAI Training: Does Indoor Training Count Towards Mileage Goals?
by Coach David Ertl
The calendar says that spring began this week, but one wouldn’t know it looking outside. As I write this on March 24, is it literally freezing outside and sleeting. Last week we posted the 2018 training planner for RAGBRAI, which offers suggestions on how often and how many miles you should consider riding each week. Well, with the weather, it’s already been difficult to stick to the plan. I received two emails this week asking the same question: Can I count indoor training or spin classes towards my training plan mileage goal? The short answer is Yes. But that would make for a very short blog, so here’s my justification for saying so.
Remember, the purpose for training is to prepare your body, and also your head, for the challenges ahead on RAGBRAI. Almost everyone I know, with a very few exceptions, enjoy riding outside more than riding indoors. For me, if riding indoors was the only option I would have picked a different sport. But having said that, indoor training offers a way to supplement outdoor training and maintain and/or build fitness. It it a way to keep your legs moving when the weather prevents you from riding outside. It can also help burn calories to fight weight gain from being prevented from riding outside.
There are two main ways to train indoors. One is to get a stationary trainer, mount your bike on it, and pedal away, going nowhere fast. This technology is increasing rapidly. There are now ‘smart trainers’ which can talk to your computer and adjust the resistance. You can watch videos with programs such as ErgVideo and Rouvy, do structured training with TrainerRoad and Sufferfest, and even do real-time racing against people across the world with apps such as Zwift. However you don’t need all this fancy hardware and software. For years I just trained with my stationary trainer, heart rate monitor and clock. The other way to train indoors is to take part in spin classes. These are led by an instructor who can push you harder than you probably would by yourself. You might be amazed how hard you work and how much you sweat in a 50 minute class, and the time goes by quickly. No time to be bored in a spin class.
There is an ongoing debate whether we should count indoor miles along with our outdoor miles. I have always counted mine for two main reasons. First, indoor miles are more difficult mentally than outdoors. You should get credit for that. When you get into the end of the day while doing RAGBRAI, you will need some mental toughness to get through. The discipline to force yourself to train indoors can help with that toughness. Second, if done right – and that’s the only way you should do it– indoor training is at least as hard physically as riding outdoors. You don’t want to spend hours training indoors, it can become very boring and monotonous. Therefore, keep if fairly short but make the most of your time. You really can’t expect to improve your endurance riding indoors for an hour or less at a time, but you can build aerobic fitness which will help. Push the pace and get some intensity in. Indoor training is a great time to do structured intervals. For example, every five minutes, go really hard for one minute. This will push your aerobic fitness and will also help pass the time. It’s amazing how fast those four minutes between intervals will go by. In less than an hour you can get in a really good workout and build fitness. Save the endurance training for when you can get outside.
If your indoor bike doesn’t record distance, you can estimate the distance to put on your training log. Just look back at how fast you typically ride outside and then calculate how far you would have ridden with the time you spent riding indoors. Don’t feel guilty about counting those. They count and often I’ve thought that indoor miles should actually count more!
Train hard out (or in) there!
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.