RAGBRAI Training: Rule #3: Ride Fast
by Coach David Ertl
All right, I know I’ve said numerous times in this blog that RAGBRAI is not a race, so why would I tell you to go out and ride fast in training? Let me explain my reasoning.
The whole purpose of riding and training to prepare for RAGBRAI is to be in the best shape possible as you embark on your journey across the state. Being in shape means many things. It means having the leg strength to push the pedals up hills. It means having the endurance to ride 50, 60 and 70 miles in one day without feeling exhausted. It means being able to accelerate to pass other cyclists, get through an intersection or get away from a chasing dog. All of these aspects of fitness can be improved simply by riding your bike as frequently as possible (Rule #1) and as far as possible (Rule #2). But if you want to give yourself a little more edge, you might consider adding a little speed to your training. But before you do that, make sure you have a good base of riding fitness already before trying to go fast.
Riding faster than you do normally to will force your body to work harder. This causes your heart to beat faster, your muscles to work harder and your lungs to expand more. All of these things will accelerate the rate at which you gain fitness and the extent of fitness reached, compared to just riding more at the same speed you always do. So if you are already riding as often and as far as you can or feel you need, then it’s time to incorporate some speed into your training. Besides, going fast is more fun (for most of us) and adds to the feeling of accomplishment with our cycling.
So here are some ideas on how you can incorporate some speed training into your ride. Speed work can take on many forms. It can be designed as structured intervals or it can simply be random periods of faster riding mixed in with slower riding. Intervals can be done by riding for a certain period of time or distance at a faster than normal pace. If you normally ride at 15 mph, try riding at 17 mph to a minute. Then take a couple minute breather and repeat again and again several times during your ride. You can vary the length and speed of the intervals and the recovery periods. The point is to push yourself to ride faster than you would otherwise. Or you can throw in some sprints during your rides such as sprinting to Stop Ahead signs which is a cycling custom (Safety note: I said Stop Ahead signs, not Stop signs!). On the other hand, you can just build random speedwork into your rides without being so structured. One great way to do this is to ride with other people, some who are stronger than you. They will push you to keep up with them. You can also just randomly decide to ride fast. For example, every time you come to a stop sign, after stopping completely, sprint away from the intersection and ride fast for 30 or 60 seconds. You can push hard every time you come to an uphill. Or you can do dog sprints – every time you are chased by a dog, ride as fast as you can to outsprint it. The Swedish have a name for this sort of random interval – “Fartlek”, one of my favorite words! It means “speed play” – just have fun mixing in faster periods with slower periods of riding.
Now, keep in mind that Rule #3 is only for those who already feel they have a good base level of fitness and it is optional. You do not need to train fast to ride RAGBRAI, but it can make you even stronger and fitter faster. And remember, never ride faster than you feel comfortable. One wreck can undo a whole bunch of training!
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: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.