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RAGBRAI Training: Get Out and Ride and Ride Some More

  • 24 March, 2010

Now that spring is reluctantly approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, the snow is melting and its now Daylight Savings Time, hopefully you are thinking about getting back out on your bike again, if you haven’t already.   I’ll let you in on a little coaching secret.  Just promise you don’t tell anyone!   If you want to get faster on your bike, you need to ride it more.  That’s it.  More riding = better riding.  That’s rule number 1 of training.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, it is, especially if you enjoy riding your bike.  

A lot of what I write about training gets pretty scientific and detailed – heart rate, power, anaerobic threshold, cardiorespiratory this, metabolic that…. but the most important thing to know about getting ready for RAGBRAI is to ride your bike – a lot!  You see, you don’t have to be fast to do RAGBRAI.  Even on the century loop, if you ride along at 10 MPH and stop several times, you can still make it in in 12 hours or less.  Most days aren’t nearly this long, especially this year.  So you don’t have to worry about being fast, as long as your are steady and stick with it.  Rather than worry about your speed, you should concentrate on whether you will be able to go the distance.  You want your legs to be able to go around for hours a day, for seven days in a row.  But you also want to make sure the rest of your body is up to it – your arms, back, neck and seat.  The good news is, to train all these body parts the thing you need to do is to get on your bike and ride it.   

Obviously you want to start out gradually.  Even if you have done as I’ve suggested and stayed active over the winter riding your indoor trainer, doing a spin class or doing other activities, once you get back out on the road it feels different.  It will take a while for your body to adjust.  So start out with just a 10 or 15 mile ride.   Concentrate more on frequency than duration at the beginning. Try to get out several times a week and just do short rides.  On weekends, or when you have the time, start doing a longer ride once a week.  Each week increase the distance of your longer ride by 5 miles, and no more than 10 miles at a time.  Not only will your legs start getting stronger, but the rest of your body parts will too. Don’t worry about speed at this point.  Later in the spring and early summer I will give you tips on how to get faster and how to climb hills better, but for now, it’s all about time in the saddle, not speed.  

One of the more frequently asked questions is how much training does one need before attempting to ride RAGBRAI. The rule of thumb I use is you should aim for at least 1000 miles of riding before the beginning of RAGBRAI.  That may sound like a lot but remember that RAGBRAI is more than 400 miles you’ll be riding in one week. You have almost 4 months to get in 1000 miles. That’s 250 per month, 75 per week.  No sweat (at least not until it warms up).   So get riding and start logging the miles.  

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and NSCA certified personal trainer. He coaches cyclists in person and through his website, www.CyclesportCoaching.com.   He can be contacted at Coach@CyclesportCoaching.com .


  1. michael keen

    Dear Coach,I just wanted to give you a update of my training.I was on the spin bike doing power training.10 min warm up then, using wattage as my gadge I would ride to 150 watts for 3 min, then ride easy for 7 min, then repeat this for about a hour and a half.I am doing this about 4 to 5 days a week.Then we had that warm weather about a week ago i was able to get a 50 mile ride in outside. I have to say it felt pretty good.The legs felt good.I was able to maintain a avg.speed of 15.2mph I feel thats preety good for my age.and the condition of my ankle.I put the swimming on hold for now.just doing weight training and riding.I also wanted to thank you for the training guide you sent.I just hope now that I get picked to do the ride.crossing my fingers. Michael

  2. Sandaltan

    I am up to two pieces of pie a week. Key lime and strawberry pies are in season here. By June 15th I plan to be up to four pieces per week. After that I will check with you for some specific advice. My little stoker is having trouble getting with the program. She says it should be pie -beer -pie -beer but I maintain you should concentrate on the pie first. Any advice Coach?

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