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RAGBRAI Training: The Most Important Thing to Know About Preparing for RAGBRAI

  • 20 May, 2022

Over the past 13 years I’ve written on all sorts of topics related to training and preparation for RAGBRAI.  This is in part because there are so many different aspects to cover but also because I have to keep coming up with new content to discuss in these training blogs.  That’s not to say that they are fluff or filler; they are all important, but today I’m writing about the most important aspect.  I’ve written about this one before many times but will reiterate it here because we are closing in on less than two months til the big ride, and I’m seeing quite a few comments from riders concerned that they won’t be in shape in time.  So here are some words of wisdom and encouragement for you.

Wisdom part: The most important thing to know about preparing for RAGBRAI is to get as many miles on your bike as you can, as many hours in the saddle as you can, between now and July 23.   That’s it. Simple advice. A little harder to actually do though. RAGBRAI is a long distance endurance ride. There’s a lot of things that separate RAGBRAI from all other bicycle tours.  But from a training perspective the #1 unique aspect of RAGBRAI is its distance – over 400 miles in seven days.   Many other tours are a weekend or a few days.  Very few are a weeklong.   So this requires that you are able to both sit on a bicycle for several (4 to 12) hours per day, for seven days in a row, and to pedal for most of those hours.  Because you will be riding for such a long time over this weeklong ride, that is the way you need to train.  Now obviously most of us can’t go out and ride for hours a day for seven days in a row for practice, nor would we probably want to.  So instead, here are some tips to get your prepared for this amount of riding without actually doing this much riding in preparation, using the FIT acronym.

Frequency.  The frequency with which you train has a great bearing on the amount of total hours and miles you will be riding in preparation. Obviously if you can ride more days a week, you will get in more training.  If you can work up to riding four, then five, then six or seven days a week, these hours add up. And not only that, the more often you ride, the better your body will become at being able to hop on your bike and ride every day. Your body will get used to it and your noggin will get used to the feeling of going for a ride when you aren’t completely recovered, or feel tired when you don’t really want to ride.  Now I am a big advocate of recovery – it’s very important to avoid burnout and overtraining. But its okay to ride for several days in a row to get the feel for it.  Just take a day off every so often to recover and recharge.  Another option to increase frequency, if it fits your schedule, is to do two-a-day rides.  Ride in the morning and again in the evening (bike commuting anyone?).

Intensity.  The intensity (speed) with which you ride is inversely proportional to the distance you ride.  You can ride fast for shorter periods of time but if you ride longer, you have to slow down. It’s difficult if not impossible to ride fast and long (relative to what you consider fast and long). If you are time limited and can only get out for, say, an hour, crank up the speed. Push yourself harder, make yourself breathe harder and make your legs work harder.  You will get more benefit out of this hour than riding at your leisurely endurance pace.  So the less time you have to ride, the faster you should push yourself.  On days when you go long, then you can back off and just ride at your normal long distance riding pace. On short days, ramp it up.

Time.  This is also an obvious one. The longer you ride, the better off you will be.  Try to make your longest ride longer each week. Aim to get in more miles this week than last week.  Ultimately, as stated above, RAGBRAI is about sitting and pedaling your bike for a long time each day.  The best way to prepare is to ride your bike on long rides. Make sure you are  getting in at least one long ride each week, and then work up to two, such as back to back Saturday-Sunday long rides to get the feel for doing two long rides two days in a row.

Encouragement part:  If you have had a setback in your training, or perhaps you just haven’t gotten in as much riding as you would have liked, don’t despair (I know here in Iowa we had a terrible month for training in April).  There are a few reasons for me telling you this.  First of all, if you are reading this, you probably are pretty conscientious about your preparation and probably already have a fair bit of riding under your belt.  Even if you don’t have as much as you wished you did or as much as my training plan suggests, that’s okay.  I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that you don’t have to ride 100 miles in training to be able to ride the century day on RAGBRAI. If you have been able to ride 50, 60, 70 miles in training, then you will be able to ride 100. You have all day to do the 100 miles – almost 16 hours – so you can get it done.

The reason for this is because once you can ride for several hours, you can ride for many more, as long as you keep fed and hydrated, take breaks periodically, and don’t overexert yourself.  If you just cruise along at a comfortable pace, you can and will ride for hours at this pace. The ultimate goal of training is of course to build fitness, but it is equally important for getting your whole body ready for the task.  This includes getting your bottom used to sitting on the bike saddle (probably just as important as getting the legs ready), getting your back, arms, shoulders, hands, neck all used to being positioned on a bike for all those hours.  Once you’ve got those in shape, you will be able to go for a long time.

So do your best: ride often, ride fast, ride long.  Every mile you put in now will get you that much closer to being ready for RAGBRAI, even if it isn’t as many as you wanted.

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: . He can be contacted


  1. Rob Fuller

    All good advice. I add that training for the “camping” part of the week is important too. For most people, sleeping on the ground, dressing in a cramped tent, living out of a duffle bag, and taking care of basic hygiene in public takes forethought and preparation, if not a training trip or two.

  2. Andrew Sauchelli

    Nutrition is a major part of preparing for the long days. Even the 50 mile days will drain your energy. Try different diets for the ride. Since I am a big guy, I start the day with 40 grams of protein in a shake in addition to electrolytes and vitamins and numerous other supplements. I then carry additional protein/carbohydrate powder and fuel up at the pass-thru towns. Recovery is also critical. Get showered and get off your feet asap. I also have a recovery shake with 2 grams of glutamine and many other recovery items. The time to experiment with your nutrition is now…not at Ragbrai.

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