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RAGBRAI Training: We are coming down to the wire – time to get serious about training for RAGBRAI!

  • 21 June, 2021

A few moments ago it was snowing and RAGBRAI was a distant thought. Then something happened – namely spring came  (reluctantly) and blamo, now its full-on summer and RAGBRAI is just around the corner. How does that happen every year?

You may be wondering the same thing and now you are thinking, “Boy, I’d better get riding”. Uh, yeah. Now based on the local bike trails around Des Moines, lots of you have already been out there, but I know the tendency to put things off, training included, until all of a sudden RAGBRAI is almost here. So what should you do in these last few weeks, especially if you haven’t been following my plan all along and find yourself a mile or 500 behind where you want to be?  Well, here are some suggestions.

First of all, just like there is no crying in baseball, there is no cramming in cycling. You can’t just pile on the miles to make up for lost training time. Once a day goes by that you didn’t ride, you can’t get that time back, and you need time to develop fitness. You see, one of the basics of training is you push your body and then allow it to recover. It’s not the training per se that makes you stronger – that actually breaks your body down –  it’s the recovery from the training stress that makes you stronger and fitter. Two things happen when you try to train too much, too fast – you shortchange your recovery (the part that makes you stronger) and you risk injury and burnout. You can read more about cramming in my blog specifically on this subject.

Let’s say you are currently riding four days each week but you find yourself way behind in your training for RAGBRAI and here it is 3-4 weeks away. So you ramp up your riding, doing five, six maybe even seven days of riding each week. What happens to your recovery days? They vanish. So you don’t get the recovery your need and you gradually grind down your body. If you have ever done this (and I have), you will notice you always feel tired, even when you aren’t riding, your legs are sore when your ride and don’t have a lot of pep, and you probably start getting irritable around your spouse and dog. These are warning signs that you are overdoing it.  And they can lead to burnout if it goes on long enough. You would hate to get to RAGBRAI feeling terrible or perhaps with an overuse injury, not even wanting or able to ride or enjoying it even though you’ve been training like crazy (and that’s exactly how you’ve been training if you’ve been doing this!).

So what can you do if you are behind? It is okay to pick up the amount you are riding. As long as you are reasonably fit and healthy, you should be able to handle five days of riding per week. A nice plan is to take Mondays and Fridays off as recovery days, and ride the other days. Assuming you work a five-day work week, you can do shorter rides on Tuesday-Thursday and then do longer rides on Saturday and Sunday. This works out well. You will be tired after the weekend so Monday is a good day to rest. Many times I’ve said “Thank goodness its Monday so I can go back to work and rest”. Then after three days of riding during the week, you will again be tired and Friday is a good day to take off and rest up for the big weekend ahead, and enjoy your Friday evening with family and friends whom you’ve been neglecting.

On weekends, this is the time to work on your longer rides, gradually increasing the length of the rides. If you are a fairly experienced cyclist who has done long rides or RAGBRAI in years past, you will notice that endurance comes back fairly quickly. You may be able to increase your long ride by 5 or perhaps even 10 miles at a time. On weekdays, if you don’t have as much time, do shorter rides but make them more spirited – more intense. Push a little harder or ride with friends who tend to push you. Just don’t overdo it. You shouldn’t feel totally wiped out after these. Your boss may allow you to sleep on the job on Mondays, but probably not every day of the week (unless you are working from home wink wink).

Now if you have been training steadily and wisely, there are still some things you can do in these final weeks to put the frosting on the cake (or should I say pie?) in your RAGBRAI preparation. You are in good shape (literally and figuratively). Just keep doing what you have been doing, hopefully following my plan more or less, and keep gradually inching up the distance on your long ride.

But what everyone should do, regardless of what you have or have not been doing, is to back off that last week going into RAGBRAI. Serious athletes call it tapering, but you can just call it taking it easy. That last week, you should focus on packing, making sure your bike is in tip-top shape, doing a few shorter rides just to keep your legs tuned up, but nothing serious or hardcore. You should not be doing the longest or hardest ride of the year during the week prior to RAGBRAI. You want to give your body a chance to fully recover and be fresh for the start of the weeklong journey across the state of Iowa so you can enjoy it.

So save the cramming for studying, and get out and train wisely! Starting now.

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: www.cyclesportcoaching.com. He can be contacted at cyclecoach@hotmail.com .

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