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You Still Have Time to Get in Shape for RAGBRAI

  • 31 May, 2009
  • TJ Juskiewicz

Don’t look now, but it is June already and RAGBRAI is next month! Yikes!   I hope you are well are your way to getting in shape for this epic tour across Iowa.   However, if you have just started riding or haven’t done as much as you hoped or planned to by this point, don’t fear.  You still have plenty of time to get ready.  But you need to do it in an aggressive and progressive fashion.  Here’s a plan you can use in the remaining six weeks to get your body in shape.

m0727ragbrai16hbI am going to assume you have done at least a little riding by this point and you are not starting out from scratch.  I’ll assume you can ride at least 20 miles at a time.   By the time RAGBRAI starts, you need to have ridden at least a 70 mile ride, and have ridden more than 100 miles in a week, preferably more like 150.  If all you have done is 20 miles as your longest ride, simply add another 10 miles to your long ride each week and you will be at 70 by the time you leave for RAGBRAI.

Below is a guide for getting in shape by the time RAGBRAI starts.   It would have been better if you had built up more gradually but if you haven’t, then here’s a roadmap to get you there.

  • June 1:  Aim for 25 miles for your longest ride and at least 60 miles for the week.
  • June 8:  Aim for 30 miles for your longest ride and at least 70 miles for the week.
  • June 15: Aim for 40 miles for your longest ride and at least 80 miles for the week.
  • June 22:  Aim for 50 miles for your longest ride and at least 100 miles for the week.
  • June 29: Almost there.  Aim for 60 miles for your longest ride and at least 125 miles for the week.
  • July 6: Last big training week.  This week should see your maximum number of miles and your longest ride should be 70-80 miles.  Try to get two long rides in on the weekend.  Aim for 150-200 miles this week.
  • July 13:  Rest week – your training is done, now you need to rest your legs so they are fresh for the start of RAGBRAI by the end of the week.  Just do a few easy rides, nothing too hard or too long.  Remember, unlike studying, you can’t cram when it comes to training.  

So do your preparation and you should really enjoy RAGBRAI.  Do the necessary work now so the ride is a breeze.

If you would like more cycling training information, check out my website www.CyclesportCoaching.com where you will find numerous free articles. 

By the way, I also just had a book published, by the name of ‘101 Cycling Workouts’ and as the title suggests, it contains 101 different workouts to improve your cycling, both on and off the  bike.   Check it out at www.101CyclingWorkouts.com

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches individual cyclists,  the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and the JDRF Greater Iowa Chapter for the Ride to Cure Diabetes.  He is also an NSCA certified Personal Trainer.  He can be contacted at Coach@CyclesportCoaching.com .


  1. Erik P

    Any recommendations on a minimum length per ride? ie. is it better to do five 10-mile rides than ten 5-mile rides?

  2. Coach Ertl

    Minimum is anything you have time for, but as RAGBRAI gets closer you will want to try for longer rides whenever possible. But when you don’t have time, do a short one, even a 30 minute ride will do some good, just crank up the speed a little more on short rides.

  3. Jeff

    This is my first RAGBRAI and I have been riding about 15 miles per week (one ride each week) for the past 3 weeks. I am also training for a run where I have to run 3 legs of approx 5-6 miles each spaced out about 8 hours apart. I have been running more than riding because of the demand for the run (the run is over rabbit ears in CO). The run is two weeks after RAGBRAI. Does the running help my training for the ride, and considering I am training for both, how should I train for the ride? Time constraints are also a major issue for me.

  4. Rob

    If we stick to the recommended guide, can you be more specifice on the final week for a few easy rides, not too hard or too long?

  5. Alex

    Thanks for the training advice and encouragement! I’m relatively new to the sport, but I’ve gone all-out in it so far. I’m wondering what a “good training pace” is for your recommended workouts? Understanding differences in physique and ability, feel free to provide the answer as MPH, heart rate, Watts, or anything else.

    What’s a “good pace” for the above training?
    What does that translate to for a RAGBRAI pace?

    Thank you!

  6. Coach Ertl

    Good for you for getting into the sport of cycling. It’s a great activity which is both fun and good for you (can’t say that about most things). Your question about the proper training zone is a fairly complicated one but let me try to break it down to what you need to know for training for RAGBRAI. Because RAGBRAI is a long distance endurance event, you will be riding it at a fairly low intensity pace, what I call ‘endurance pace’. The bulk of your training should be at this same pace, especially your longer rides. What you want to train is your ability to pedal for hours a day. However, it is also good to throw in some more intense rides, in other words, ride more intensely than you plan to during RAGRAI. This will help boost your cardio or aerobic fitness level and help make it easier to ride at your endurance pace. Just push harder than you normally ride, to the point where your breathing becomes harder and your heart rate rises. It’s also good do some hill climbing to work on your leg strength. When you come to a hill, make an intentional effort to attack it, ride up it harder than you might normally ride it.
    If you want more in depth info on heart rate training, go to my website and download the free booklet I’ve written, ‘Basics of Cycling Training’. http://cyclesportcoaching.com/eBooks.html

    Good luck as you finish up your preparation for RAGBRAI and enjoy yourself.

  7. Chris

    THis will be my first RAGBRAI, and I am currently riding about 100 to 125 miles per week with long rides of 40 miles for about a month. I have read the above training schedule do you think I should increase my milage?

  8. monte

    I have been riding for three year’s and it’s not a race, enjoy the town’s and people in them. go dragon’s

  9. Coach Ertl


    You weekly mileage is pretty good. What I’d suggest now that RAGBRAI is only a few weeks away is to increase the distance of your long ride. I’d suggest increasing it by 5 miles per week, so 45 this week, 50 next, etc. If you can work up to 70 miles for your longest ride you will be ready to go when RAGBRAI rolls around.

    With good preparation RAGBRAI will be enjoyable and fun. Work now and enjoy the ride.

  10. Christina

    I’m getting a little worried … I’m a year round biker in a east coast city so I’m always riding. But mostly only a few miles here and there to get around. But it trains me for roads so I feel good and fine that way. However, for Ragbrai I can’t quite believe this, but I am just starting training now — a month off! Is that crazy? … I rode 200 miles last summer, fully loaded and have done tours before, but nothing like 400. I’m 38 and in fairly good shape, but I’m concerned about hurting myself potentially. Any heads up you would give me about when to say “no not ready this year” … I do want to do this, it’s just been one of those springs.

  11. Kevin

    I am not concerned with the physical training aspect of the ride. I am however concerned about certain body parts not holding up, rump, feet (blisters) etc…Will your suggested training plan prepare well enough for this?

  12. Coach Ertl

    Regarding the last week’s preparation, you want to take it easy. It’s not like college, you can’t cram for RAGBRAI. If you aren’t in shape with one week to go, there’s not much you can do at that point. However, what you can do is make sure you are rested so that you will be able to take advantage of your fitness to it’s full extent on RAGBRAI. All you need to do are a few easy, short rides, say on Tuesday and Thursday, 10-20 miles. Mainly you want to keep active and move your legs and also use this time to make sure everything on your bike is working well. If not, get it attended to before RAGBRAI. Keep riding now but the last week is mainly for rest and preparation.

    Have fun!

  13. Coach Ertl

    I believe you still have time to get in shape for RAGBRAI. Since you have a background riding, you can quickly gain fitness. Mainly you want to focus on your long ride of the week, and increase the mileage 5 or so miles each week. Obviously the more you can get in before RAGBRAI the better, but also be careful not to overdo it – not too much too fast.

    I tell people that if they can work up to a 60-70 mile ride prior to RAGBRAI they will be okay. But you also want to get out as much as you can on other days even if it is just 10 miles. You need to condition the rest of your body and not just your legs.

    If you can ride consistently and work up your longer rides, you will be okay for RAGBRAI. Remember that you have all day to do RAGBRAI. If you only ride 8 mph you will make it in each day, so don’t feel you need to be fast.

    Good luck and get out there and ride!

  14. Coach Ertl

    You are correct, it is not just being fit enough to do the riding, but you have to get the rest of your body ready for the ride. Most people can do RAGBRAI with a moderate amount of riding beforehand, and some do. But what they notice most is their rump hurting. They aren’t used to sitting on a bike saddle that long and may develop saddle sores. I think the best motivation to get a lot of miles in prior to RAGBRAI is not the legs but the rump.

    There are two solutions to this. 1) ride as much as you can before RAGBRAI to toughen up your soft undersides and 2) wear those padded bike shorts. These really do help take the pressure off your derriere and prevent chafing. You really want to avoid wearing anything with seams between your butt and the saddle, such as regular shorts or underwear.

    Your hands may also develop blisters where you rest on the handlebars for hours. Bike gloves are inexpensive and will help your hands feel better. They also help your hands from becoming numb.

    So get out there and prepare your entire body.

  15. Logan

    Hi to all

    I have been riding steadily since April, I put 50 miles on during this last weekend. I have put 350 plus mile on so far this year. I hope to ride Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of RAGBRAI. What are your recomendations for the remainder of my training? Thanks so much for the advice.


  16. Coach Ertl

    You are off to a good start. If you only plan to ride the last three days, you are almost there. What I would recommend is to work up to a long ride of 70 miles prior to RAGBRAI if you can, at least more than the 50 that you did. Also put together to back to back rides on a Saturday/Sunday of 50 miles each. This will help prepare for three consecutive days on RAGBRAI. If you can do this, and take it easy on RAGBRAI, then you should have no problem completing it.

  17. Max

    This is my first RAGBRAI as well as my first long distance ride. I only plan to ride on Friday from Ottumwa to Mt. Pleasant. I need to know a couple of things. First, what is the terrain like? The second thing is, there is a five-mile long lake near my house. I have only tried going around once so far and made it in just under 30 mins. How many laps around the lake do you suggest I ride before I can get used to the amount of riding during RAGBRAI? Thanks for all the advice so far.

  18. Brenda

    I am a first time Ragbrai rider myself. I was wondering as well about the elevation of the hills? I live in Northwest Arkansas and we have several hills that I climb, the highest I have climbed had a 17% grade, it was all most too much. Do you know what the average grades & miles are of the hills? This is my second year of riding my bike. Last year I rode 2,000 and this year I probably have done around 800+, with the longest ride w/ hills of course was 56. How do you think I will do?
    I like these responces you have given – they provided a lot of help!

  19. Coach Ertl

    The terrain from Ottumwa to Mt Pleasant isn’t very hilly, it’s rolling to flat. Does be mislead by the name, Mt Pleasant is anything but a mountain! There are some ups and downs and the total elevation is about 3000. Check out this profile at http://www.geobike.com/geobike/profilen.php?P=2676

    If you are able to ride around your five mile long lake, that’s about a 10 mile round trip, correct? If you can work up to riding around that at least 5 times, then you should be able to ride 77 on your RAGBRAI ride. Just be consistent and get as many miles in as you can.
    Good luck.

  20. Coach Ertl

    Our bike team goes down to Fayetteville, Arkansas for training every spring because you have more hills and steeper hills there than we do here. If you are training in the hills there you will be fine here in Iowa. Our hills are typically less than 8% grade because these are all paved county roads. If you have 800 miles so far, try to get another 200 miles in before RAGBRAI and I’m sure you’ll be fine. Try to be as consistant as you can and ride almost every day now if possible. Try to get one or two longer rides in between now and then (60-70 miles).

    Have fun and enjoy our constant but smaller hills.

  21. Susan

    I am 47 and this is my 1st time for RAGBRAI. I have been riding 22 miles 4-5X week since April. I have gone on three 65 mile rides recently. I have a history of a high heart rate (in general) with irregular beats and exhaustion when I work out too hard. I experienced this and a major headache in my forehead after each of these 65 mile rides (I think from running a high heart rate for such a long time; 5 hours). I also had a the very strange experience of my heart rate being 20-40 points lower on my rides the day after. Considering the hills, distance of RAGBRAI, and my heart/headache stuff, should I give up on RAGBRAI?

  22. Jeff

    I have heard a lot about training for RAGBRAI. I ride to work 4 days a week which is about 9 miles one way. I then try to get in at least 30 to 40 on the weekend. I feel that I am ready but since this is my first time I’m not sure what my food intake should be. Would you be able to help me out?


  23. Matt

    Hey Susan,
    I suggest you talk to your doctor about Ragbrai and your heart condition. As for me, I get frequent headaches as well. Mine are from dehydration. Fluids and Excedrin work wonders for me. If I feel a headache coming on, I pop in two Excedrin.

  24. Matt

    Hey Jeff,
    I have gone some years without packing any food. The ride is full of more vendors than you need. However, if you want to save some money, you can pack some food, such as granola bars, or protein powder (for shakes). This also depends on how you are traveling. Some charter services and teams will allow for more flexibility than others. If you are able to pack bread, meat, etc… go for it.

  25. Justin

    Just wing it, and ride yourself into shape as the week goes along.

  26. Schley Cox

    On a ride near my home in western (flat) Kentucky I asked a Colorado rider the best way to train for a ride up past Estes Park and then over the continental divide at Trail Ridge. I had driven that route before and greatly admired the riders I saw inching their way to the top. He thought for a moment as he pedaled along and then smiled and said, “Ride out there.”

  27. Ashley Linn

    I’m planning on RAGBRAI this year. I’m hoping it will be a fun ride, especially since I have someone who is planning on meeting me at the end. I can’t wait to accomplish the approximate 500 mile ride across Iowa. I’ve been riding since I was a kid my grandpa does RAGBRAI almost every year. I’m psyched for the ride in 2011.

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