RAGBRAI LI Day Passes are still available!

RAGBRAI Training: Over the Hill Gang

  • 7 April, 2023
  • Andrea Parrott

No, I’m not referring to the 1969 western comedy, I’m referring to you. After doing RAGBRAI L you will all be part of the over-the-hill gang. This year’s route will go up a total of 16,549 feet! That’s over three miles straight up! This year’s RAGBRAI is the 6th hilliest in the 50 year history of the ride. Now it’s not all at once and it’s not straight up (although at times it may feel like it), but it is pretty much non-stop. To illustrate this point, here are the elevation maps for each day.

Except for Day 3 and 4, you will be mostly either going up or going down. So be prepared, both physically and mentally. Here’s how:

Physical Preparation: This one will seem obvious – to prepare for hills, get out and ride up hills. The difference between a casual cyclist and one who is more serious and actually training for something is that the serious cyclist will actually seek out hills to ride. It’s tempting to avoid hills on your ride but you won’t be able to avoid them on RAGBRAI so best to be prepared for them.

The hills in Iowa are not long but can be fairly steep at times, so you don’t have to live in the mountains. Just whatever hills you can find in your area will suffice. Intentionally seek out routes to ride that has hills. When riding up hills, you can either stay seated or stand out of the saddle. I’d recommend doing both as they work different muscle groups. Some people don’t feel comfortable standing and climbing but it’s a good skill to develop. It comes in handy especially on the steeper climbs. You can also play around with different gears when climbing. Using a harder gear will work your muscles more while spinning up hills in an easier gear requires more aerobic fitness. Both are good to have. To read about using gears properly, refer to my most recent previous blog: RAGBRAI Training: Do you have gears on your bike? Learn to use them!

Some of you are lucky and can’t avoid hills where you live. So ride them knowing they will help you get across (and up and down) Iowa, and realize that some people are less lucky and don’t have hills handy. Hopefully you have at least one hill near you that you can practice on. If that is your case, then ride it several times in a row, or do a loop that contains the hill several times. Don’t worry about what the homeowners think – you are on a mission.

So, what if you are one of the unlucky ones and have no hills to practice on except the local highway overpass? You can still prepare for climbing without hills, but it takes a little more creativity. There are two main tools at your disposal. One is to use your gears to mimic a hill. On a flat road, shift to a much harder gear than you normally would for a level road. This will create a much higher resistance on the pedals. You will be pedaling much slower than normal, which is true when climbing a hill too. You can do this for a minute at a time, and work up to longer periods of time. Focus on pushing hard on the pedals without letting up until your simulated hill ends. Pick a place ahead of you where your imaginary hill ends and push hard all the way to that point. Then shift to an easier gear and pedal easily before doing another hill simulation.

The other tool at your disposal is wind. You may not have hills but I guarantee that no matter where you live, you will have windy days. Instead of cursing the wind, be glad that you can go out and do hill training! Okay, maybe you won’t be that excited, but use the wind to your advantage to build leg strength. Find a stretch of wide open road where there is a steady strong headwind. Grind away into the wind – it feels remarkably like climbing a hill. Use your gears to find a cadence that is reasonably hard like you would be pedaling uphill, such as 70-80 RPM. Decide how long each hill simulation will be, before shifting to an easier gear and recovering. Just do a few of these into the wind and then enjoy the tailwind home. That will be your downhill.

Mental Preparation:  Half the battle with hill climbing occurs from the neck up.  How you approach hills mentally greatly affects how much you will love (ok, maybe just like) hills vs hating them. If you hate them, you have already lost much of the battle. This is a good reason to seek out hills. The more you do them in preparation, the more confidence you will have when you hill after hill on RAGBRAI.  While you may not learn to love hills, if you know you can get up and over them, you will be better ready and able to tackle the hills.

For more information on training for RAGBRAI, check out my last 14 years’ worth of training blogs here.

Also, if you have questions about training that you would like me to address in future blogs, please send them to me at cyclecoach@hotmail.com.

Keep it up!

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.

News Flash: David is the proud recipient of the 2023 Newbies Award.

Submit a Comment

Related Articles
No results found