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RAGBRAI Training: Ready or Not, RAGBRAI is Almost Here.  Are you Ready?

  • 2 July, 2018

by Coach David Ertl

I just turned my calendar to July and realized that time is running out before the start of RAGBRAI.  I bet a few of you are thinking the same thing and perhaps wondering if you will be ready.  While you may have thought you had a lot of time to get ready back in March, all of a sudden it’s July and your preparation time is growing short.  What if by chance you didn’t follow my plan and are short on training miles?  Will you be in shape to ride RAGBRAI?  I’ve received several questions about this lately and would like to share my thoughts with you.

First of all, my rule of thumb is to try to have 1,000 miles of riding in this year by the start or RAGBRAI. If you have that many training miles in, I am fairly certain you can complete RAGBRAI in its entirety.  If you haven’t done a lot of long (50-60 mile) rides, you may struggle on the longer days, but if you pace and take care of yourself (more on this below), you should be able to make it in.

But let’s say you haven’t done this many miles. Or what if you just took 10 days of vacation without riding or have been sick, or moving, or whatever, and are now wondering if you have lost fitness. My first question to you is ‘have you done RAGBRAI before’?  If you have, you know what you are in for and you can be a pretty good judge of whether you think you can ride it.  Typically, for people who have ridden the entire route in the past will be able to do it again even without a lot of training. For one thing, endurance fitness tends to stick with you.  You don’t lose your ability to do long endurance rides as quickly as you tend to lose aerobic fitness or strength.  That doesn’t mean you can just jump into RAGBRAI with little to no training, but a few hundred miles with a few longish rides may be enough.

Another consideration if you are wondering about your fitness is to back off and not ride all the days or all the miles each day.  If you have a team or vehicle and can catch a ride for all or parts of some days, that is one strategy for getting through the ride if you are unprepared.  Some people decide just to do 3-4 days and not the whole thing.  It’s best to have a backup plan worked out in the event you find you just can’t go the distance.  But please don’t rely on RAGBRAI sags to save you if you jump in for more than your body can handle.

If you think you can go the distance but aren’t entirely sure, here are some tips to help get you through – and these tips go for everyone, not just those who may be a bit under-trained.  First of all, RAGBRAI is not a race.  I say this every year and just said it again. So tip #1, pace yourself.  The longest mileage day is on Monday, July 23, with 72 miles of riding (but, psst, it also has the most downhill of any day!).  Anyone who is in decent shape and has done at least some riding should be able to complete this distance. If you have done at least a 30 mile ride during your preparation you should be able to ride 72 miles if you have all day, which you do!  (Sorry, but if you haven’t trained at all I can’t help you). Just riding 8 miles an hour will get you there in 10 hours.  On July 23, you have 14 hours and 42 minutes of sunlight, so no problem. That gives you plenty of time to make stops and take breaks which leads me to tip #2 – make frequent stops and take breaks.  The nice thing about Iowa is there is a town usually every 10 miles if not more frequently. If you are worried about making it through, stop at each town to rest and enjoy the festivities. The festivities are one of the main attractions of RAGBRAI so you don’t want to miss out on those anyway.  They also provide a good opportunity for tip #3: Be sure to stay fueled and hydrated. This is important for everyone but particularly important for the training impaired.  Food and drink won’t make up for lack of fitness, but poor hydration and nutrition will certainly hurt.  There are plenty of opportunities to get food and drink along the route so make a conscious effort to drink up and get refueled.  Be warned that you can easily overdo eating and drinking on RAGBRAI which can also be detrimental, so my suggestion is to eat and drink small amounts very frequently throughout the day’s ride.

As I’ve mentioned in past years, training is as much about getting your body ready to sit on the bike for several hours a day as it is to build fitness.  Often it’s the sitting that limits people ability to ride more so than their fitness. Refer to my previous blog on this topic. If your rear is in shape, chances are your legs will be too.

Here’s to training (or the lack thereof!)

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: CyclesportCoaching. He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com.

Riders roll out of Newton on day five of the 2018 RAGBRAI Pre-Ride Route Inspection Thursday, June 7, 2018.


  1. Mary Stern

    I know this is unrelated to training but it is about preparing to get there with your bike. I just packed and sent my bike from California (Bike Flights $160 both ways) only to check later and find out that I could have probably brought it for no cost on the plane. For those who have a credit card and/or frequent flyer account linked to their flight, it might count as free carry on. For example in the case of my American Airlines flight, I would just have to make sure it was no more than 124 inches (LWH) and 70 lbs. to count as my first checked bag. I carry very little with me and could have done with one carry on plus an under seat bag. Next year! This is my first and I am learning.

  2. dxnvy

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom San Fran Mary
    See you in the QC very soon, Dixon
    Oh, and don’t forget to wear flowers in your hair

  3. Mike Hemen

    Five years ago we had a very late spring and a very rainy stretch here in omaha. I also was obligated to attend a couple relative’s graduations – one in Connecticutt and one in Tennessee. Of course they weren’t simply hours or even days apart so I was gone for over 10 days. That, along with numerous excuses, my training amounted to less than a total of 50 miles before RAGBRAI. I almost backed out but decided to tough it out. Surprisingly it wasn’t that tough. Granted it was one of the more flat routes that year but still . . . Anyway. Go. You’ll be fine. If not, there is a wonderful support system of about 20,000 friends who will be there for you.

  4. bugs11

    I just leave this here (one of my favorite quotes).

    Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
    Calvin Coolidge

  5. Barbara Arland-Fye

    Thank you so much for your helpful tips! I am looking forward to my first RAGBRAI. I recently completed chemotherapy for follicular lymphoma and will undergo surgery for thyroid cancer after RAGBRAI. Bicycing gives me a sense of freedom, but I know I need to pace myself!

  6. Greg Andrea

    Be strong and be proud of yourself!! You can do it and don’t give up, just take it nice and slow and pace yourself. Prayers to you!


  7. Dave Morrow

    Regarding Mary’s comments: Check with your airline on that bike box. Many of them don’t like to carry bicycles because of the damage claims. Might be bikes that were not properly boxed, but it is still a claim. As for gear, my wife and I took a two-week trip to Argentina in their late winter a few years ago. We just used carry-on luggage. This spring we rode in Italy for 10 days and then toured a bit more with just carry-on luggage. Less stuff = more fun!

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