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RAGBRAI Training: Don’t underestimate your ability to complete RAGBRAI

  • 30 June, 2023

A common question I get from readers is whether I think they can ride and complete RAGBRAI, and they give me their history and training status. I get them from older riders, riders with broken collarbones, and riders who ‘forgot’ to train. I try to assess their situation but almost always encourage them to try. 500 miles on a bike in a week is a long ride for anyone regardless of fitness level. But it is quite doable even for people without a high level of fitness. And remember, you don’t have to do every mile. Some people pick to ride certain days. If they are part of a group, they may drive the vehicle some days.

So what makes you think you can ride 500 miles in a week? The answer is simply that the human body is an amazing thing that has powers far beyond your belief. Some of my most rewarding experiences as a coach have been to work with beginning riders and help them ride a century (100 mile ride) within the same summer. One of the reasons for this is because once you have trained enough to ride at a certain speed for a period of time, you can usually keep riding at a much longer period of time at nearly the same speed. For example, if you can ride for two hours at 15 mph, you can probably ride four to six hours at 12-14 mph even if you have never ridden that far. The body is amazingly efficient. Now don’t get me wrong, training is beneficial. The more you have ridden before RAGBRAI, the better your legs will keep powering you forward. The less tired you will become sitting on your bike for hours. It’s often the feet, hands, neck, shoulder, and butt that fatigue before the legs do. Doing long training rides will prepare the whole body for the stress that is to come.

Likewise, if you can ride 50 miles in a day in training, you can do 50 miles multiple days in a row even if you’d never done that in training. The key is eating, drinking, and resting after each day to give your body a chance to recharge and refuel. And yes, even with that you will feel tired and the fatigue will accumulate but you should reach a steady-state of fatigue around the third day. Your legs will keep on turning.

Your greatest demon may be in your head, not your legs. Sometimes the toughest battle is to convince your mind that you can do it. It gets signals from your legs and body saying they are tired and tries to slow you down. It sees every opportunity to tempt you to stop and rest. You must resist these urges. You must also use positive self-talk. Don’t dwell on how tired you are and how much longer you have left, or how you are possibly going to make it up that next hill. You will. You know if from your training. Training is just as much about the mental aspect as the physical.

Also remember that RAGBRAI is not a race. Speed is not important. The fastest rider doesn’t get a better prize than the slowest rider, and actually misses out on most of the fun. So don’t ride too fast when you are feeling fresh or you will pay for it later in the ride. Pick a speed you find comfortable and stay at that pace. Stop frequently as needed to rest and to take in the activities offered at towns along the way. Eat and drink often to keep your energy up. It’s amazing how tired you can feel if you are low on blood sugar or fluids and how good you feel when you refuel and rehydrate. Rest when you get tired. Treat yourself well and your legs will reward you by keep going around.

You don’t have to ride 500 miles a week in training to be able to ride 500 miles during RAGBRAI. My training plan calls for a little over 1000 miles of total training going into RAGBRAI. I know some do less than 500. A lot depends on your age and health and prior cycling history. But my message to you is that you can go a lot farther than you think. You can probably even go 500 miles in a week.

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl recently completed the Race Across AMerica (RAAM) with a 4-person team, covering 3000 miles in 7 days, 17 hours. He 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: . He can be contacted

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