RAGBRAI Training: There’s Something Unique About RAGBRAI (and how to get ready for it)

  • 2 April, 2021
  • Andrea Parrott

Propelling yourself across the state of Iowa under your own power in one week is quite a feat. And you would be well served if your body is prepared for the task.  There is a unique aspect to a bike ride as long as RAGBRAI and this article will discuss what that is, and how to get ready for them. Actually there are many unique aspects to RAGBRAI but I’m just talking about the riding part today.

That unique aspect is this: 7 Consecutive Days of Riding (and riding quite a long way each day).   Almost anyone, with a modest amount of training, can ride a bike 80 miles in one day.  But sleep in a tent and then get up and do it again?  That takes more than just casual riding to get ready.  It reminds me of when I would go on ski trips. The first day I felt great, the second day I could feel a little sore but not too bad.  By the third day I was getting stiff and sore and by the fourth day it began to feel like a chore to get up and move. You don’t want to happen to you on RAGBRAI. Well, it probably will happen but you can lessen the effect by being as ready as possible.

So how do you prepare for a multi-day ride, where you are riding 50+ miles each day?  The answer may surprise you:  By working up to riding long distances and by training multiple days in a row. (I tell you, this coaching stuff is complicated – not to be left for the amateurs 😊).  Okay, so maybe it isn’t so complicated, but you should try to do it, but the secret is to build up to it gradually.  Here’s some examples of ways to do just that:

Build up your distance gradually.  If you’ve seen my RAGBRAI training plan, you will notice how I recommend building up to your longer rides gradually, adding about 5 miles to each long ride each week.  If you start with 15 miles now, but June you will be able to do 80 miles.  And here’s a training tip. You don’t actually have to even ride 80 miles in training to be able to do it. If you can ride 60, you can do 80, it will take longer and you may go a bit slower. But as long as you keep fueling and rehydrating your body, you can do it. Having said that, though, I would still recommend aiming for 80 miles in training prior to RAGBRAI if you can. That will ensure you can do it and give you confidence.

Add multiple days of riding in a row, but not all at once.  This gets a little trickier.  As you can see in my training plan, I recommend riding a couple of days during the week (Tuesdays and Thursdays are typical days) and then both days on the weekend, if you have a M-F job.  The reason for Tuesday-Thursday is to give yourself a day off in between your riding days to recover.  You do more and longer rides on the weekend when you have more time and this forces you to get in two days in a row.  Then you could do Tues-Wed and Sat-Sun to get two back-to-back days.  However, as you get closer to July, it would be a good idea to add in a Wednesday ride so your body can get used to riding three days in a row.  You can shift the days around to fit your schedule. For example, you could do Fri-Sat-Sun as a block.   And of course you will be doing longer rides on each of the weekend days. If you don’t have a M-F job you can still mimic this pattern choosing whatever days work best for you.  The combination of riding multiple days in a row, and riding longer rides will get you ready to do back-to-back-to-back days of riding on RAGBRAI.

Of course, you won’t do as much riding in training as you will during RAGBRAI. That’s true of most types of athletic events. You don’t  see marathoners out doing marathons for training (well, not most), but if they can work up to a  20 mile run, they should be ready to race 26. That’s how it works.. The same applies here. If you can work up to three days in a row, or even four, this will help get you used to a seven-day ride. But you don’t have to ride 400+ miles in a week to be ready.   In my training plan, the longest week is 130 miles, far shorter than 400, but if you can do 130 in a week, you can do 400 at show time. Believe me, it works.

But first you need to get started getting used to being back on the bike. If you live in northern North America, we had a whopper of a winter with not much outdoor riding opportunities. So if you are just getting back on the bike, build up your basic fitness first, so you will  be ready to handle the workload that’s coming.

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: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com. He can be contacted at cyclecoach@hotmail.com.

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