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RAGBRAI Training: What's the Difficulty of this Year's Route and How Should You Prepare?

  • 1 February, 2011

What’s the difficulty of this year’s RAGBRAI route and how should you prepare?  Now that the overnight towns for this year’s RAGBRAI have been announced, we can begin to understand how easy or difficult the ride might be.  However, some things are for certain with any RAGBRAI. 

First, it will be hot and humid so you need to be acclimated for that (but you can wait for winter to end before preparing for that). 

Second, there will be some days that seem longer than others due to the wind, heat, accumulated fatigue or hills. 

Third, you should do plenty of training to get ready for RAGBRAI and the training this year isn’t all that different from other years because all RAGBRAIs have some things in common:  they are long, they have hills, they will be hot, and you will get more tired with each passing day. 

Okay, with all those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at this year’s route and put it in perspective with other routes in past years.   Don’t be lulled into complacency at the headline that this year’s RAGBRAI is only 454 miles and is the 14th shortest on record. While shorter than average, it’s only 18 miles shorter to be exact, and after 454 miles, believe me you won’t miss those extra 18.  454 miles is still a long way to ride a bike in a week!   However, it is also the 16th hilliest route, so don’t let the shorter distance fool you.  What it lacks in distance it makes up in hills.  This year’s route is rated as the 22nd most difficult route out of 39, so fairly mid-pack. 

What is a little unusual is that all the days are fairly close to 70 miles.  Some years there are long days and shorter days mixed in.  This will be a fairly consistent set of daily rides.  Of course as always there will be the Karras loop available for those who want to do a century ride on one of the days.  

So what does all this mean?  It means that you need to prepare for RAGBRAI like always.  What that means is you should ride your bike before you head off to RAGBRAI, and you should ride quite a lot.  I’d recommend shooting for at least 900 miles of riding before you get to Glenwood on July 24.   You will also want to prepare for hills as this ride will have more than its share of them.  The good news though, if you don’t like really long days, the longest is ‘only’ 75 miles on Day 6.  So no need to have to be able to tackle an 80 or 90 mile day.  Just remember, as with all RAGBRAI’s the better you prepare, the more fun you’ll have. 

Keep watching back here for more specific training tips as the season rolls along. But for now all you need to worry about is getting active, or staying active. Try to do some riding either outside or indoors, or do some other activity which involves getting your heart rate up for an extended period of time, so any aerobic exercise is great such as jogging, swimming, XC skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and the like.  

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 



  1. Colin Farnworth

    Living in England will make it difficult to prepare for the heat and humidity so we will have to make do with hills. We have no shortage of ups and downs so let’s hope that we can be sufficiently prepared before July. So far I have put 150 miles in since New Year but the weather could still close in at any time and stop the training in its tracks.Fingers crossed that the other two killer H’s stay in the moderate range

  2. David Ertl

    You don’t necessarily have to ride in a lot of heat to be able to survive, no thrive, at RAGBRAI. But for you and those who live in cooler climates, do more of your rides in teh middle of the day when possible to get to riding in the heat. Don’t do all your rides in mornings or evenings. The best way to avoid any heat issues is to ride withing yourself when it’s hot on RAGBRAI and keep the fluids going in all day (non-alcoholic preferred). Take frequent stops if you are feeling the effects, and wear light colored jerseys on the hottest days. At least you have hills to train on.

  3. Edwin Lurssen

    It will be my first RAGBRAI. Hope the weather resembles that of my country of origen: Guatemala. We have humid and mild temperatures, and Lots of hills… Oh God…. we even have volcanoes. I will be preparing and training out of Southern California during 6 months. I hope I will be Ok. No team mates tough. I hope some Californios will help me around the experience. Look for my big country flag, blue and white…. that will be me.

  4. Papa T

    Do you think we could maybe have some volcanoes this year? That would be awesome!!

  5. Coach David Ertl

    We’ll work on it but no guarantees! Maybe an earthquake.

  6. Kelly Knutson

    The best way to prepare for Ragbrai is to buy a tent…. camp out in a heavy thunderstorm with strong winds and torrential downpours ….. then pack everything up the next morning soaking wet ….. and go for a long bike ride. After unpack hang everything up to dry and have beer.

  7. Jon Knutson

    To get ready for RAGBRAI, first run up and down 10 flights of stairs while carrying a 20 lb medicine ball (a 16 lb bowling ball will also suffice). Next pull a couple of kids on a plastic sled around your yard (preferably in the snow). Jumping Jacks in the Sauna at your local health club (about 15 minutes at 180 degrees Fahrenheit should be enough). Next time it snows use a manual shovel to clear the driveway – no snowblower allowed. Finally quit your office job and work at a foundry or a landscaping firm – volunteer for the toughest tasks and you should be ready for RAGBRAI

  8. Steve

    The most important thing for beginners to understand is to train on hills. Avoid bike trails (which are generally flat) and figure out some long steep hills to train on. Why? Because there are a lot more hills on RAGBRAI then newbies ever figure there to be, and you will destroy your knees the first day or 2 down in southwest Iowa if you have only trained on flat land. If you live in a very flat area, then get a stationary bike and crank up the resistance in order to replicate going up hill. Your knees will thank you come July.

  9. Jen @ howimountain.me

    I’ve complete 3 whole spins on a road bike, EVER. So clearly I’m ready to tackle this challenge. I’ll be riding my first century June 5 in Tahoe… so I just might see you there. It sounds like tons of fun!

  10. Don Lobmeyer

    I’m currently deployed to Djibouti, Africa and with the heat and humidity here I will be ready for that in Iowa. I did the HHH in August here on dirt and gravel roads, which was more challenging than Iraq in 2006 when I did it and it reached 117 degrees there. Just not able to train on the hills on the bike anyways. I will be doing the Bike Across Kansas in June for the first time and will be up for the challenge.

  11. Dave Yolton

    I have been lucky enought to have been picked to do the “Ride the Rockies” for the last three out of four years. This years RTR doesn’t look like much of a ride. I have been told by many people that the RAGBARI is a lot more fun. This may be the year to try it.

  12. David

    Dave Y
    If you haven’t done RAGBRAI then by all means do it this year. It’s one of those cycling bucket list things to do. Very different atmosphere and lots more people. For one week of the year, cyclists rule Iowa.

  13. Jonathan

    This will be our first RAGBRAI and we’re totally pumped. After 8 years of dialysis I had a kidney transplant last March, and for the first time as an adult, I’m “healthy.” This will be a huge task for us, so these training tips are very appreciated – I’m super excited to get out there though, and ride for a cause. We’ve created a team to ride in memory of my donor, and to raise money for the charity in her name – it will be an awesome dream-come-true for me to be able to accomplish something like this.
    Coming from the Denver area I have no shortage of hills to train on – just lots of fear of actually getting on them and riding! :)
    Thanks again for the training tips – look forward to more! Hope to see all of you out there this summer – I’ll be the guy in the “TeamTGF” jersey.

  14. ihateragbrai

    Many of Newton’s citizens would prefer you avoid our town, preferably using the westbound lane of I-80 on your way to Grinnell. Last time you stopped here we considered filing for government aid as a disaster town.

    Have any of you considered obeying traffic control devices? Supposedly Ragbrai is all about safety. Yeah right. Just one example is this picture, not counting the one in this article, from this very site: https://ragbrai.com/wp-content/gallery/best-of-ragbrai-2009/dmrdc5-5q7mbuvi34yf088h99f_original.jpg

  15. Mary

    I found Ragbrai to be very organized and safe. The further to the left of the road you ride, the faster the pace. Everyone was very kind and helpful. I love iowans and you will too.
    Put this on your bucket list because this 57 year old gal is going for number 2 ragbrai this year and I can’t wait!!! See ya later, gotta go get on my bike.

  16. iridiumred

    Fortunately, ‘ihateragbrai’ isn’t remotely typical of the Iowans you’ll meet.

  17. ShouldBFun

    sorry I can not go – but I know my wife has already put our hat in the ring for people to stay at the house when you get to Coralville/Iowa City. With the kids gone and a big backyard we should be able to take a smallish team (depending on how many people sleep inside or out). I know our former exchange student wants to come back and do the whole thing some time… I told her to practice on the German hills.

  18. Steven Kadera

    I left Iowa 25 years ago and came to Wisconsin. I started riding 7 years ago and I actually enjoy the hills we have here. The heat and humidity are also quite available. The two things I’ll need to get accustomed to is large crowds of bikes and a helmet! At 60 years old this will be my first RAGBRAI. See you there!

  19. Megan Trullinger

    I am considering riding for the first time in ragbrai this year. I have been reading all the info on this site. A lot to take in but I am stoked to try. Looks like I need to start a training program to get ready for it. Any good advice on where to get a cheaper used bike for a first timer? any other good advice or words of motovation anyone can give me would be greatly appreciated!! Thank you!

  20. Fred Stieglitz

    For Megan Trullinger. If your still looking for a good used bicycle you should check Craig’s list. I found a number of good bikes, the sellers were located within miles from my home. Good luck Fred

  21. Cindy Wax

    My husband and I did two of the rides and enjoyed ourselves. The sense of accomplishment when you’re done is a high not to miss. I am not a bike rider and took the training tips very much to heart and did a lot of miles on my bike and was comfortable except for the first day of the first ride. I did not pace myself and tried to keep up with the better riders. I didn’t do that the rest of the ride. My other tip besides learn your own pace is to not just be in shape but ride your seat. My son rode with us and had no trouble with riding and what was needed with the muscle category. It was his seat and his comfort level there. He did bike ride to get ready for the ride and paid for it. His sweatshirt spent more time on his seat than on him. :)

  22. Tom McGraw

    Any insight on how cool the nights get?

  23. Josh

    Hi – when training are miles logged indoors the same as those logged outside? Its been cool and rainy in NY this year so I have been doing more indoor training. Let me know if I need to adjust accordingly. Thanks!

  24. Greg Walker

    Thought this article was about the difficulties of this years ride. Saying there are hills is a big help! Maybe some more specifics…like which areas have the biggest hills. If you wanted to introduce an elderly person or non-rider to RAGBRAI, it would be nice to know which part of the route would be best. You should have chosen a different name for this article.

  25. Cindy

    The nights dip all the way down to 88 maybe 90 with humidity in the 70% range. BRRRRrrrrrrrrrrr

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