RAGBRAI Training: Think Iowa’s Flat? Think Again.
Everyone who isn’t from Iowa tends to have a stereotype of Iowa – that it’s flat as a pancake. I know I did before I moved here.
Compared to other hilly or mountainous states, Iowa’s topography is relatively flat, but we don’t ride bikes relatively! We ride on actual roads that go across, and up and down, the countryside. Iowa is generally flat terrain, but it’s had 10,000 years of erosion which has carved out a network of streams and river valleys all across the state. The hills in Iowa are typically places where you are coming up out of these valleys. The closer you are to the eastern and western borders of the state, nearer the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the more undulating the terrain becomes. Iowa is fairly level, but it isn’t flat, if that makes sense.
I just read an article on another website that compared the elevation gains of this year’s RAGBRAI with this year’s Denver Post Ride The Rockies. You can read the article for yourself here, but here’s some of the interesting statistics:
RAGBRAI has a total of 21,206 feet of climbing this year while Ride The Rockies, which goes over several mountain passes, climbs a total of 21,604. And I don’t believe that this RAGBRAI total includes the addition Karras Loop.
The first two days of RAGBRAI each have more climbing than any of the days on Ride The Rockies.
A lot of the climbing on Ride The Rockies comes in just one or two climbs, where on RAGBRAI the climbs are much shorter, but hit you a lot more often. In a way, climbing long mountain passes may be easier. You know they are coming and psych yourself up for them. As a matter of fact, that’s the reason people go to Colorado to do rides – to challenge themselves in the mountains. But what a lot of people doing RAGBRAI don’t realize is the amount of climbing they are in for when they sign up for a ride across ‘flat’ Iowa. Psychologically as well as physically, our short but fairly steep hills can get to you after a long hot day in the saddle.
Now don’t let this news scare you away. I’m telling you this well in advance so you have time to adequately prepare. Because our hills are fairly short, you can get up and over them, but what you will need is stamina to hang in there on those days where it seems like it is just one hill after another. Some days it is! The two best things you can do to start preparing is to do a lot of riding to build endurance, and to find hilly roads on which to train. Some cyclists tend to shy away from hills when they ride because they are, well, hard! But use your hills to build strength and confidence in your hill climbing ability. I get quite a few questions from people who live in truly flat places, like Florida, who don’t have hills on how to prepare for hilly Iowa. I will address ways to train for hills, even if you don’t have any, in future blogs.
Let’s face it, if Iowa was pancake flat, what fun would that be? It’s the hills that make it interesting! So get out there and start riding so you will be able to conquer RAGBRAI, knowing that you really have accomplished something.
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 Coach@CyclesportCoaching.com