Riders enjoys a cold mist shower as they enter the town of Farnhamville, Iowa during Ragbrai XL on Tuesday morning. (David Purdy/The Des Moines Register)

Riders enjoys a cold mist shower as they enter the town of Farnhamville, Iowa during Ragbrai XL on Tuesday morning. (David Purdy/The Des Moines Register)

by Coach David Ertl

This year’s RAGBRAI goes through north-central Iowa, somewhat south of Clarion, Iowa.  One of Clarion’s claims to fame is that it is the birthplace of the 4-H symbol.  For those of you who don’t know, 4-H is a youth development and mentoring program. The four H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health.  The iconic 4-H symbol is a 4-leaf clover with the four H’s on it.  You can read about it here www.4-h.org  if interested.  So why am I mentioning this and what does it have to do with RAGBRAI training?

In my last blog I talked about the importance of Frequency and Duration in your preparation for RAGBRAI.  I received an email from a reader who reminded me that there is more to RAGBRAI than just having endurance. I certainly agree with him. Although endurance should still be the basis of your training, there are other factors to consider as well.  He mentioned the 4 H’s of RAGBRAI. Not to be confused with the 4-H organization, these H’s are: Heat, Humidity, Hills and Headwinds. As you are preparing for RAGBRAI, it is good to keep these factors in mind as they will greatly affect your riding speed and stamina.  I will briefly touch on these here and devote more details on these in future blogs.

Heat: July is the hottest month in Iowa (average high of 86 degrees F), and RAGBRAI week usually seems like it is the hottest week of the month. It is important to prepare for this heat by riding in heat prior to heading out for RAGBRAI.  Hydration is your number one ally in dealing with the heat, along with frequent breaks to cool off and wearing light colored clothing can help.

Humidity: Summers in Iowa are very humid. This along with the heat creates very high heat index numbers.  Humidity makes the heat seem worse because your perspiration doesn’t evaporate as well and therefore you don’t get as much cooling effect.  Like with heat, hydration and using other strategies to stay cool will help deal with this. High humidity also sparks afternoon thunderstorms so be prepared for those as well.

Hills:  No, Iowa is not totally flat.  Yes, there are places where it is pan flat and you will ride through some of those areas this year. But we are bordered by two major rivers (Missouri and Mississippi) and they are down in significant river valleys.  And all across Iowa are little valleys where streams and rivers cut through the plains.  We don’t have mountains in Iowa but we have lots of valleys. Some of these can be rather steep, although they are quite short.  Be sure to include some hills in your training.

Headwinds: I don’t know if the first RAGBRAI went from west to east on purpose, but it is a good thing the tradition started that way.  In Iowa the prevailing wind patterns which are typically from the south, southwest or west.  However, it doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes RAGBRAI heads south into a southerly headwind or a headwind shows up straight out of the east. Headwinds can be just as challenging as hills, perhaps more so because headwinds last all day.  Hills end.  At the end of a long, hot, humid day, a headwind can just wear you out. So when you are out riding, don’t curse the headwinds. They will help prepare you and make you stronger.

Keep riding and use the elements to help prepare you for what will come.

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: http://ift.tt/KCPCu1 . He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com.


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