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RAGBRAI Training: Endurance is King for RAGBRAI

  • 21 April, 2023
  • Andrea Parrott

I’ve written about this topic just about every year for the past 14 years. But that’s because it is the single most important bit of advice I can give you related to preparation for RAGBRAI that there is. So heed it well.  As you should know by now, this year’s RAGBRAI is particularly long – 500 miles in fact. That’s a long way to ride a bike, in a week! The one thing you will need related to fitness is a good endurance base.

Endurance in cycling refers to the ability to sit on a bike and pedal it for long periods of time. And in the case of RAGBRAI, to get up the next morning and do it again, for seven days straight. RAGBRAI is a lot of fun but above all it is a supreme test of endurance. In order to have the fun part, you need to have the endurance part down. Here are some pointers to help you out, now that hopefully you are on your bike putting in the miles in your legs and hours in the saddle (equally important).

For RAGBRAI, you need to ride your bike for long periods of time several days in a row. It doesn’t, however, require you to ride fast. Yes, you need to be able to ride at least 8 mph hour but that shouldn’t be a problem for almost all of you. So you don’t have to train for speed. You can if you want, and it will make riding at RAGBRAI pace seem easier, but only do speed training if you want to and have your endurance nailed.

So building endurance is really quite easy and logical. You need to ride your bike a lot. Doing the work, however, may not feel as easy. And it takes a lot of time. To build endurance you need to build up the distance you can ride gradually. This is how I’ve set up my RAGBRAI Training Plan. The amount of riding you do each week should increase slightly, maybe 5-15 miles per week, and the longest ride of the week should also increase by 5-10 miles. Given that you have about 13 weeks left to train before the big ride, that gives you a lot of opportunity to build your endurance, even if you haven’t had a chance to get out and ride much yet. It’s not too late, yet! Avoid making big jumps in mileage to make up for lost time. For those of you who have done this or other long rides in the past, your body remembers and it is easier to build up your mileage more quickly. But if you are relatively new at this, take your time, build slowly and gradually and you will have the endurance to last.

Finally, endurance training isn’t just about your cardiovascular fitness and leg strength and endurance. Training is also about preparing your body to sit on a bicycle for hours a day for several days in a row. This entails getting your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, feet and butt all used to sitting in this position for hours on end. Don’t discount this aspect of training. It could very likely become more of a limitation for you than your ability to actually do the riding. You don’t want to have to have an unhappy end to your ride partway through just because your rear end can’t take it anymore. I’ve written about this topic previously and encourage you to check out those blogs here and here. Getting in the hours of training will train all parts of your bod, from top to bottom, quite literally.

The neat thing about cycling, especially going on long rides, is that you get to see new countryside. I’m glad I’m not a runner who has to do the same 4 mile circuit every time I train. When doing 50 or 60 mile training rides, you can actually go a lot of places. Long live long rides!

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 cyclecoach@hotmail.com.

1 Comment

  1. pmagnusson

    After 18 RAGBRAIs, I couldn’t agree with you more. You simply have to spend a lot of time in the saddle to toughen up the butt. Anything else is gravy.

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