RAGBRAI Training: There are Lots of Ways to Train, But Plain Old Riding is the Best Way!

People, especially coaches like myself, get into learning about all the best ways to train for cycling.  There are intervals, hill repeats, jumps, steady state threshold workouts, leg strength workouts, and on and on.  But if you are preparing for RAGBRAI, the very best way to train is to simply ride your bike.  More is better (up to a point).  

You see, RAGBRAI is not a race.  It’s not about speed.  It’s about being on your bike for many hours a day pedaling along at a comfortable pace.  To have the best possible experience while riding RAGBRAI, you need to prepare your body to do just that: sit on your bike and pedal comfortably for several hours.  The best way to train your body to do this is to go for progressively longer rides.  Aim for adding 5 miles to your longest ride each week, and increasing your weekly mileage by 10 miles per week.  Try to work up to a 70 mile ride before RAGBRAI starts.

Now there are some things you can do to improve your cycling ability beyond just the basics needed to complete the ride. If you would like to be stronger on hills or into headwinds, go looking for hills rather than avoiding them.  When you find a hill, attack it.  This will prepare you mentally as well as physically for hills on RAGBRAI. Same with a headwind.  Don’t let a headwind discourage you.  Use it as a training tool to make you stronger.    If you would like to ride a little faster than you do now, pick up the pace for short periods of time, such as for one minute, and then ride normally for several minutes. This is called interval training.

But fancy training techniques will only work if you have your base fitness established, and that is done by getting out and just riding your bike as far and as long as you can.  If you are riding more than 150 miles a week, then you can get fancy.  Until that point, however, just focus on getting in the miles. For a ride like RAGBRAI, that’s actually enough to get you in shape you need, to have a successful ride.

Ride on, and on, and on  – Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and owner of Cyclesport Coaching ( . He coaches individual cyclists, the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and the JDRF Greater Iowa Chapter for the Ride to Cure Diabetes.  He can be contacted at

1 Comment

Jude, Jun 2, 2010 at 4:17 pm

What about riding twice a day? Is it better to ride once a day or would it help to spin on a trainer in the morning, then ride outside in the afternoon?

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