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RAGBRAI Training: Quantity and Quality of Cycling Training: Go Farther and Get Faster

  • 26 May, 2019

by Coach David Ertl

In my last blog I discussed training to go the distance: how to improve your endurance.  Endurance is your most important training goal for a ride like RAGBRAI. However while many of you may be satisfied with just ‘going the distance’, and making it through the whole ride, others of you may want more than that.  You may also want to be able to ride faster, and be stronger riding up hills. To address this type of goal, think of training in terms of quantity and quality. Endurance is quantity. You need to do more riding (more hours in the saddle pedaling) to increase endurance.  Speed requires a higher quality of training. In other words, it requires more intensity.  Just as endurance requires training by riding farther, speed requires that you train faster than you are used to.  This blog will be focused on things you can do in training to get faster at cycling.

First off, and this may sound contradictory but increasing your endurance will not only help you go farther but it can also help you get faster. This is because as you ride more, everything about your body gets better at cycling. Your muscles get stronger, your red blood cells increase,  your heart gets stronger, your lungs get more efficient. I am pretty sure that if you put in 1,000 miles of training before RAGBRAI, you will find that in July you can ride faster than you can now.  But if you want to get noticeably faster and stronger, you will need to add more intensity.

This is going to sound really obvious and you are wondering why you are paying me so much to coach you, but if you want to ride faster, you need to ride faster in training. Ta da!  But there is truth in that simple statement.  If you can ride 15 mph now and want to ride 17 mph, you aren’t going to get there riding 15 mph.  But behind this simplicity are some tricks you need to know.  If you can ride 15 mph, don’t go out and try to start training at 20 mph.  That won’t last long. Someone, a long time ago, invented interval training. Because you can’t just go out and start riding faster on your rides, intervals were invented.   You may not be able to ride 20 mph for very long but you can probably ride at 18 mph for 30 seconds at a time, then rest and recovery, then do it again.   Because you are recovering between each interval, you are able to do it many times. Maybe you can do 10 intervals – that’s a total of five minutes at 18 mph.  You can ride this fast this way, but couldn’t ride at 18 mph for five minutes straight. That’s the principal behind intervals. Do shorter, more intense efforts, then recover and repeat.  If you do this enough, you will gradually get faster. Soon you can maintain 16 mph for long periods of time, then 17 and so on.

Another way to add intensity is by riding up more hills.  A lot of you I know don’t care for hills but they are great for training. You can’t cheat on hills – you have to pedal up them and no matter how slowly you go, you still have to work hard.  If you are serious about training (that’s why you have read this far, right?), then add hills to your riding.  As I’ve said before the recreational rider avoids hills while the more serious cyclist goes looking for them.  You can gain fitness, strength and speed by riding hills, and doing so by pushing yourself as you ride up them.  Sure its uncomfortable and you’d rather take it easy (actually you’d rather not be riding hills at all), but this is how you can get stronger and faster.  It also makes you better at riding up hills but that’s a topic for another blog.  By the way, there are some hills in Iowa. Not really big mountains but enough short up and downs to be irritating at 3PM in the afternoon in 90 degree heat.

A third way to get faster is to ride with other people, especially people who are at least as fast as you.  Have you ever noticed if you have ridden with other people that the pace tends to be quicker than when you ride alone? This may be because the people you are riding with are faster than you, and that’s a good way to help you get faster.  But even if they are the same speed and strength as you, something funny happens when two cyclists get together.  It becomes a competition, even if unintentional. It may be because you don’t want to hold each other up, or it may be that competitive spirit coming out.  But whatever, riding with others tends to make you ride faster which can help build greater strength and speed.

A few other things you should know about riding more intensively. First, you should not add intensity to your training until you have a good base of fitness.  What does this mean? Well, I’d suggest having at least 300-400 miles in this season before adding intensity.   Second, increase your speed gradually, one or two mph faster than you are used to.  No need to hurt yourself or get burned out trying to do more than your body is able.  Third, only do your intense riding one or two days a week.  Do more mellow riding the other days and work on endurance.  Intensity is harder on your body and takes more time to recover from.

So there you have it, some tips on getting faster.  Of course, you don’t have to get faster for RAGBRAI if you just prefer to meander along.  You don’t want to get so fast that you miss smelling the roses. By the way, did you know the state flower of Iowa is the wild prairie rose?

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.

1 Comment

  1. Luis Munoz

    Thanks for the training tips Coach Ertl! Down here in the Houston area we are now entering what we call the “indoor season”(Oppresively hot after 11AM!!). So, as you suggest, I use intervals on the trainer to get more endurance and power up the hills! One fellow rider on RAGBRAI 2010 said to another as I was climbing-“There goes Luis! Climbing like there’s no hill!”. For me, it was the biggest compliment I could receive about my preparation for the ride!

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