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RAGBRAI Training: Time in the Saddle

  • 22 March, 2024
  • Andrea Parrott

The past couple of blogs have dealt right up front with a topic at the front of many of your minds – how to deal with all the hills on this year’s RAGBRAI. This week I am focusing on a different dimension of your fitness, but it too will offer benefits to your climbing prowess – read on.

As I’ve said many times previously, the most important aspect of preparing for RAGBRAI is to ride a lot – build your endurance. After all, RAGBRAI is about riding a lot of miles, seven days in a row. This requires that you train for that, which means putting a lot of time on the bike, and in the saddle. More on the saddle part later. You don’t have to be fast, but you have to be able to put in the hours and miles on your bike, both in training and while on RAGBRAI. I typically use a rule of thumb of suggesting that people have 1,000 miles of riding in prior to RAGBRAI. I know many of you seasoned riders do much more than that and I know people survive RAGBRAI by doing less. But you don’t just want to survive RAGBRAI, you want to enjoy it and to do so, I’d recommend putting in the miles. So your training should focus primarily on being able to ride the distance, and then being able to do it over and over again once on RAGBRAI.

To prepare for this, first I suggest you take a look at the 2024 training plan I put out earlier this winter. This gives suggestions on the minimum amount of riding you should do to be ready. Pay attention to both the total distance each week to shoot for, as well as the distance of the longest ride each week. Both gradually progress each week throughout the season. Now, to be even better prepared, feel free to do more, just don’t do a lot more too quickly. Keep making gradual but progressive gains in your weekly mileage and longest ride.

The more you ride in your training, the more fit you will become so those continual hills ahead of you won’t be as daunting. Additionally, the more miles you ride, the stronger your legs will get which will also help you get up and over those hills. One thing you might consider to help you build strength and stamina is to do what is called a reverse split on your longer rides (no this has nothing to do with a gymnastic move). What it means is you ride the second half of your ride a little faster or harder than the first half. Yes, you will be more tired on the second half, but that’s the point. Make it a point to push harder on the second half when you are tired to simulate having to ride hills late in the day on RAGBRAI when you are tired. To do this, you can either increase your pace (pedal faster in the same gear and hit a higher MPH) or shift to one gear harder and push harder on the pedals on the way home. You don’t have to necessarily go any faster but the increased resistance will simulate riding uphill when fatigued. This second half doesn’t have to be very much faster or harder, even one MPH faster or one gear harder is enough – it will feel plenty hard. It may not feel all that fun (training sometimes isn’t) but you will feel the payoff on RAGBRAI and you pass people at the end of the day!

Of course the other benefit of spending a lot of time in the saddle is that you prepare your own seat for the long ride ahead. I’ve blogged about this several times before and you can find articles on this topic in the archive section. But a saddle sore can end your ride abruptly, so long miles in the saddle will toughen you up so hopefully your derriere will be up to the challenge as well as your legs.

Long live long rides!

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 e-books at his website: He can be contacted

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