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RAGBRAI Training: How to Recover Day to Day on RAGBRAI

  • 24 June, 2019

by Coach David Ertl

The other day I received a question from a RAGBRAI rider wanting to know how to better recover after back to back long rides on RAGBRAI. He said he is fine doing one long ride but trying to do two days in a row is where he struggles.  So I thought I’d share my response with all of you as others may have the same question.

So far I have written in these blogs mainly about the total amount of riding you should do, and the types of riding you can do, to prepare yourself for the rigors of RAGBRAI.  But I really haven’t written about how to deal with riding long rides for multiple days in a row, so here goes.

The methods you can use to endure several days in a row of long rides on RAGBRAI fall into three categories: Fitness, nutrition and hydration, and rest.

Fitness:  Obviously to be capable of riding long distances on a bicycle, whether one day or multiple days in a row, requires an adequate amount of fitness.  I use the guideline that if you have ridden 1000 miles prior to RAGBRAI you should have adequate fitness to successfully complete the event.  But there are some tweaks you can make to your training to better prepare yourself for consecutive days of long rides. First, I’m going to assume that you are working your way up to long rides, at least 50 miles. If you can ride 50 miles in training, you should be able to complete the longest day on RAGBRAI which this year is 84 miles which is quite long. But the reason I say you can do that even if you have only ridden 50 in training is because you have all day to complete the 84 miles.  You can make frequent stops, where you can rest, get something to eat and drink and then continue on.  You can ride quite a leisurely pace and still make it in by suppertime.

However, doing 84 miles is one thing.  Getting up the next morning and riding another 66 miles requires a slightly different approach to training.  One option is to make sure you include back to back long rides in your training.  So besides just increasing the distance of your long ride each week, you might do two days back to back of slightly shorter routes, say 40 miles each day. This helps get you used to getting back in the saddle the next morning after a long ride the previous day.  You might experience some stiffness the second day but this should subside once you get warmed up.  Remember, pace yourself. If you don’t push yourself past your comfort zone, you shouldn’t develop undue soreness or stiffness the next day, assuming you have put in the riding ahead of RAGBRAI.   If you can fit in 3 days in a row of riding, that’s even better.

You will note that if you use my RAGBRAI training plan, I do suggest doing two long rides on weekends.  I chose weekends because I’m assuming most people work and have more time on weekends. But if you have a different schedule or are retired, you can do these back to back days whenever it fits your schedule.

Nutrition and Hydration:  Much of the fatigue you experience the day after a long ride (assuming you have been training!) may be due to inadequate replenishment of food and fluids. When exercising, you use a combination of fat and carbohydrates. Carbs come from the food you eat (fruits, veggies, bread and pasta, beans, sugar, potatoes) while fat comes from both food and your bodily reserves. Your body can only store a small amount of carbs so  you need to replenish those daily.  When your carbs run low, you can feel low on energy. So to avoid this form of fatigue I suggest you eat a small amount of food containing primarily carbs while you are riding and then enjoy a carb-rich meal at the end of the day. There’s a good reason pasta and pie are plentiful on RAGBRAI. This will refill your stores of bodily carbs (called glycogen) so you will have energy for the next day’s ride. You don’t have to focus on eating fat as your body fat has almost an infinite supply (at least for RAGBRAI). You can ride about 100 miles per pound of body fat, so you aren’t going to run out in one week most likely!

The same goes for fluids. Make sure you are constantly drinking during the ride and then continue to consume fluids at the end of the day. (This is not a license to consume all the alcohol you can at the end of the day as that will definitely add to your fatigue the following day).

Rest:  This may seem obvious but rest plays a key role in recovering from a daily long bike ride.  This may be easier said than done. If you are sleeping in a noisy campground in a tent, where it is 80 degrees and humid at night, or staying up late partying, good quality rest may be hard to come by.  But do your best to get to bed fairly early and get as much sleep as possible.  Also, after the ride is over each day, avoid too much strenuous activity if you are concerned about recovery, as that will also add to your fatigue the following day. Try to minimize walking (ride your bike places) and stay off your feet as much as possible.

And if all else fails and you feel really tired, consider hitching a ride for one day to have a day off during RAGBRAI.

Here’s hoping for a successful seven consecutive days of riding!

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.y Coach David Ertl



  1. luka0007

    I would add in high-intensity interval training to this list as an option. What this entails is perhaps a 10-15 mile ride where you select sections (hills, sprints in the flats) and go absolutely 100% effort. The trick with this regimen is mental. To mentally take your body to 100% effort where you may be ugly crying. I can’t say it’s fun or pain free; but, the results are incredible. Important note, you need to mix in the casual, longer rides 40-60 miles where you keep a low to moderate effort to recover and put to use the results of the the HIIT workout. 6am hill repeats anyone?

  2. Mike Hemen

    I know I’ll be looked down on (pun intended) by some but I’m 70 years old and have been building and riding recumbents since the middle ’80s. I’ll never again sit on a coke bottle for week. Yes, I’m giving up some speed but after a 100-mile day, I”m sitting on my bike-mounted lawn chair, visiting with my friends. How many can say that after a century on an upright? Just a thought.

  3. ritarowe

    This will be my 28th Ragbrai, and you are spot on with your recovery perspective. Fluids with electrolytes are also important and there are many to choose from along the way for variety.

  4. Todd Williams

    Bottomline…DIET HARD NOW! For the next 28 days GO LOW CARB until Day 0. We will be 10 to 20 lbs lighter and will enjoy a new bounce in our step. The next day will be easy both physically and mentally and we will look forward to celebrating our lighter self day after day! We will be faster and have better endurance due to the lighter load. We will look and feel great in our riding apparel! Our lighter selves can enjoy as much carbs and good food as we like during the entire week. It would be a darn shame to think about dieting during this week long celebration of the healthy choices we made preparing for this year’s RAGBRAI!
    I promise the delayed gratification of dieting hard now will make the flavors of RAGBRAI 1000% greater!
    WARNING! Consult your doctor if you are thinking dieting may be bad for your health!!

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