- Riders pass down a rural highway on day 5 of RAGBRAI XLI on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in rural Marion County, Iowa. (Charlie Litchfield/The Des Moines Register)

by Coach David Ertl

When reading about improving cycling fitness, you may see the terms used to describe how to train:  Frequency, Intensity and Duration, or Time (sometimes referred to as FIT).  These are the three components that make up the total amount of training that you do.   RAGBRAI is a long multi-day tour.  The main aspect of fitness you should focus on for a successful RAGBRAI is to be able to go the distance. This requires endurance and the best ways to increase that is to do a lot of riding.  This means to ride often (high Frequency) and for long distances (long Duration).  But you don’t really have to worry about getting faster, at least not to ride RAGBRAI.  So don’t really worry about Intensity, unless you like to ride fast and push yourself.  Given that RAGBRAI is more than 400 miles and seven days long, your main priority is to be able to ride your bike that far.  You have all day to go the distance each day, and that means you can ride a relatively slow pace and still have plenty of time to get in each day.  So here is a little explanation on how to work on Frequency and Duration.


Frequency refers to the number of times you get out and ride.  For some of you, getting out three or four times per week may be all that you can fit in, for others it may mean riding every day.  Frequency and Duration play off of each other.  The fewer times you can ride, the longer those rides should be.  So if your main chance at riding is on weekends, make sure you get in longer rides on those days.   Another option is to ride more than once per day.  I don’t typically recommend this as you may build up fatigue and rest is important.  But if the best way for you is to get in multiple rides in a week is to ride twice a day, then that is okay to do.  For example, a good way to get in more miles is to commute by bike to work and back. This gives you two rides a day and allows you to get more miles in your legs than if you had to squeeze a ride in after work.  Just be aware that if you do two rides a day, you do need to build in a rest day where you just ride once more easily, or take a day off.  For example, if you can only ride three days a week, adding in a second ride on a couple of those days will get you up to five rides per week. That is almost as good as getting in rides on five different days.  Because RAGBRAI is a multi-day ride, as you get closer to summer, be sure to get in multiple days in a row on the bike to get your body used to getting on the bike every day for several days in a row.


Because of the distance of RAGBRAI, the most important way to train is to ride increasingly longer rides as the summer approaches.  While you may only be able to ride a few miles at a time right now, work on increasing your ride distances as well as the total mileage you put in each week.  You can refer to my training plan on this website to get an idea of how many miles you might want to try to aim for each day and week leading up to July.  A good rule of thumb is to increase your longest ride each week by 5-10 miles, depending on your ability and fitness level.  If you have been riding in past years then you can probably bump it up 10 miles per week. If you are new to cycling, 5 miles a week is plenty.  That may not sound like much but over 8 weeks, that’s 40 more miles you will be riding on your longest ride.  For each week, you should aim for adding 10-20 more miles to you weekly training.  Again, the most important thing to do is to put miles into your legs and hours on the bike.  The more you do now, the easier they will be in July!

The weather is getting better, so get out and start getting those miles in.

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: . He can be contacted at