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RAGBRAI Training: What to Expect On Your First Day of RAGBRAI XLVIII

  • 16 April, 2021

RAGBRAI XLVIII starts off with a bang.  On your first day of this seven day trek across Iowa, you are given a big dose of both mileage and hills: 83.8 miles and 2681 feet of climbing. Good thing it’s your first day and you are fresh.  The ride starts in Le Mars, Iowa.  Home of world famous Blue Bunny Ice Cream by the way. This might be your chance to fill up as you will certainly burn it off soon.

Day 1 highlights two of the most important aspects of training that will come into play on this very first day.  1) You will have the second longest day in terms of mileage and 2)  you will have the most climbing to do of any day in this year’s ride.  First, a word of warning. You are going to be fresh on this first day of RAGBRAI.  You are also going to be excited especially if its your first rodeo.  You will feel good and may be tempted to ride fast and hard and attack the hills. Please don’t. Pace yourself. You won’t feel this good on day 7 (and probably not on day 2).  Ride like you have 454 miles to go, because you do.

Because this day offers the second longest mileage of the week (only second by a mere 0.9 miles behind the longest day), it emphasizes the need for you to build up your endurance prior to RAGBRAI. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, you have plenty of time to build up your endurance gradually to be able to ride 84 miles in one day.  And I will also mention that you don’t necessarily need to ride 84 miles in training to be able to do 84 miles on RAGBRAI.  I use a rule of thumb that if you can do 70% of the distance in training, you will be able to do the whole distance on ride day. So that would mean you should aim for at least 59 miles as your longest ride in training. There are a couple of reasons for this.  For one, you have all day to complete the distance during RAGBRAI. On a training ride you most likely won’t be spending all day out there riding. If you can do 59 miles in 4 or 5 hours you can certainly do 84 miles in 14 hours!  Also, on RAGBRAI people tend to stop and take breaks frequently as they pass through towns. This gives you a series of breaks so you aren’t doing to entire distance in one sitting. I’ll cover more on this sitting thing in a future article.

The other feature of day 1 is the amount of climbing. 2681 feet in total (that’s a half mile up or two Empire State Buildings). But it isn’t all at once – that’s the good news. The bad news is it is spread across the whole course so you have constant climbing throughout the day.  More uphill than down today. Now it will help to train on some hills to get used to them.  One thing to keep in mind is that hills are at least as much of a mental challenge as a physical challenge. Yes, they are harder work to climb on a bike that riding on the level, but most likely your bike has gears, lots of them, so use them. That’s what they are for.  Make sure you know how to use all of your gears before you start.  Know how to use both the front and back shifters and what direction they work to make riding harder and easier.  By shifting to an easier gear, it makes it possible to ride up hills with easier effort.  Of course you will go slower in an easier gear, but the objective here isn’t to win RAGBRAI (surprise! – no prizes for the winners), it is to get up hills as easily as possible.  So be sure to practice riding and shifting on some hills.  If you don’t live in an area with hills, you can still learn how to shift. You can also use headwinds to pretend you are climbing hills.  Most people have wind where they live.  If you don’t, let me know and I will move there.

So there you have it – the first day of RAGBRAI contains two of the major requirements of training for this ride – endurance and hill climbing ability. Get out there and start working on it.

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 .


  1. Rick Miller

    Actually on day one there is some elevation change between LeMars and Sac City. Once we leave LeMars it is downhill all the way to Clinton. The host town elevations are as follows:

    LeMars – 1233
    Sac City – 1217
    Fort Dodge – 1154
    Iowa Falls – 1105
    Waterloo – 882
    Anamosa – 830
    DeWitt – 708
    Clinton – 606

    So there is more downhill than up hills on all days this year. The total elevation difference between LeMars and Clinton is 627 feet. However in 454 miles of riding it averages out to about 16.5 inches per mile.

  2. Mary Pekot

    Can you offer any advice about stretching at mid day stops or warming up before starting out for the next segment? Is stretching and warm ups necessary for a 30 minute stop?
    I’ve found these write ups very helpful. Thanks!

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