RAGBRAI Training: Time to Hit the Road
by Coach David Ertl
I have been slow getting started writing these training blogs this year and I have one good excuse. I haven’t been riding outside a whole lot yet due to the weather and perhaps mistakenly assumed you haven’t either. But depending on where you live, your bike training season may have started long ago, or maybe even never ended if you live down south. However if you live anywhere north of I-70 in the U.S., you’ve had a doozy of a winter. Thank goodness for smart indoor trainers, Zwift and cross country skis to give us something to do for the past six months. But even up north now spring is coming (reluctantly) and signs of life are re-appearing after the long winter’s break. It’s hard to believe we will be complaining of the heat in three short months. Now is the time, if you haven’t already started, to get on your bike and to start racking up the miles.
RAGBRAI is all about having the endurance to sit on your bike for four to six hours a day for seven days in a row. Well, not quite. It’s not only about sitting on the bike for that long, although that is a very important aspect I’ll address later, but you also need to pedal the bike for all those hours and that requires fit leg and heart muscles. You don’t have to be fast to complete RAGBRAI (it isn’t a race you know, or do you?), but you have to have endurance to make it through. Coaches like to have little secrets they can use to help people achieve their goals, but I have to tell you there really isn’t a secret for developing improved endurance. You need to ride your bike, a lot. As a cycling friend once said, you can’t fake endurance. Either you have it or you will know you don’t on your first long ride.
Therefore the very #1 piece of advice for preparing for RAGBRAI is boring. Ride your bike, then do it again, and again. That’s called ‘recycling’ by the way. But I am determined to elaborate on this boring advice and fill up this blog.
First of all, besides riding a lot, you need to be systematic about it. Start small and work up. If you have been entirely off your bike all winter, start with short rides, 10-15 miles and work up. If you’ve done a lot of riding before, especially if you are a RAGBRAI veteran, your endurance will come back quite quickly. Your longest ride each week can increase five or even 10 miles more per week. Before you know it you’ll be knocking out 70 mile rides again. But don’t do that the first week out or you will be a wreck. Start small and build slowly but gradually. Not only should your longest ride of the week increase each week but your weekly mileage should also increase gradually throughout the summer. Refer back to my training plan for some specific guidance here.
Secondly, the more miles you can get in before RAGBRAI, the more fit you will be and therefore the more you will enjoy your journey across Iowa. I recommend getting in 1000 miles as a minimum. You can get by on less but it will be more work and your sit muscles may not be ready for the task either. You can of course get more than 1,000 and that will get you into the enjoyable level of riding through RAGBRAI. That may sound like a lot but considering you have three months yet to train, that’s less than 100 miles a week, and if your long ride of the week is up to 50 or more miles, you won’t have any trouble getting in 1000 miles.
Thirdly, you don’t need to be fast while riding on RAGBRAI. The longest day is 84 miles. Even if you ride it at 8 mph, it will take 10 hours to complete the ride (stops not included). There is plenty of daylight in July in Iowa to get through each day’s ride well before dark as long as you don’t stop and party too much along the way. So focus on riding far, and not necessarily on fast. It’s okay to incorporate some faster training if you wish, as that will built greater fitness and make the miles seem easier, but you have to be able to go the distance before you can worry about going the distance faster.
Fourth, you can work on endurance in a number of ways. You can increase duration of rides: You can ride longer as the season progresses, adding miles to your rides. You can increase the frequency of rides: You can ride more days a week as the season goes on. You may start out riding 2-3 days per week and work up to 5-7 by July. Or you can ride more than once a day (2-a-days) to get in more hours on the bike (commuting by bike to work is a great way to do this). Or, you can add intensity: There is scientific evidence that riding faster can also help improve endurance. But I’d work on duration and frequency first.
Finally, you need to ride enough to allow your body to be able to handle all those hours on the bike during RAGBRAI week. In all you may be on the bike 35 -40 hours during RAGBRAI – that’s as long as some of you sit at your desk during a work week! You need to make sure your seat, hands, arms, shoulders, back and neck are up to the task of perching yourself on a bike for that long and the best way to train those body parts is the same way you train your legs – by riding your bike, a lot.
So start your journey of increasing your endurance. So get out and ride and then ride some more.
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.