IRONMAN WISCONSIN - Race Course Venue Review - Guest Post by Rob King

Considering racing IRONMAN Wisconsin in the future? Read this race course review by Rob King. 

(The below was entirely written by AG athlete Rob King) 


Ironman Wisconsin is set in Madison, Wisconsin.  It is the capital of the state and the run course loops around the beautiful capital building in the middle of town. The race is known for its crowd support not only on the run but also on the bike course.  I would love to know where there are more people out on a bike course cheering because that may be the next one I sign up for!  It is especially helpful because this bike course is HARD, 6k+ feet of climbing hard.  

Starting with transition, it is all situated at the Monona Terrace a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building that sits right on the edge of Lake Monona.  T1 and T2 are both inside within a room of the facility and bikes are racked on one of the middle parking levels leaving tons of room for bikes and also a nice clean cement surface to run on when barefoot.  This also means you get to run of the much talked about helix (spiral road to get to higher levels) from the water to T1 so do not expect a fast T1.  My T1 was 7:04 and I thought it was pretty quick since I was out of the water early and had 2 volunteers to myself in the changing room.  From there you bike down the opposite side of the building on another helix and onto the bike course.

The swim is a mass start like Ironman should be with a very wide start area.  The faster swimmers are going to start as far to the left as it is on the buoy line.  If you want to get a good position you need to be in the water 10 mins before the gun as it takes some time to navigate bodies as you swim.  From the start to the first turn buoy it is a straight shot and there is a large white building in the distance in line with the turn buoy you can use as a sighting reference.  This course is great for those not great at sighting because the turns are minimal.  

The first turn buoy you then go 200-300 yards to the next turn buoy where it is another straight shot for a long time.  The orientation of this swim course keeps the sun out of your eyes in the places you would be sighting which makes for a faster swim due to reduced need for repetitive sighting to figure out where you need to go.  After you do another 200 yard section at the next turn buoy you hit the last turn and it is a diagonal section back at the swim ramp.  You are able to spot either the helix or the swim arch which is important as it is easy to get too far to the right of the exit because you naturally will move more to the shore due to the current.  Be diligent to keep to the left until you know dead where the swim arch is to save time from going off course.  The swim exit is great and they have a mat into the water and you will want to swim all the way until your hands can touch it.  Do not waste time walking as soon as you see the bottom as it is easily waist deep.  From here there are wet suit strippers right away and you will make your way up the helix lined with spectators and it is an amazing way to end a swim.

Bike course: As stated earlier, the bike course is challenging and is demanding of correct pacing of nutrition from the start.  The course is two loops, however the 1st loop and 2nd loop are different in that you only have to climb the now notorious Barlow hill once.  The first 15-20 miles of the bike are really nothing to write home about.  You bike on part bike path, though the back of a very large industrial parking lot and then finally onto real road at about mile 6.5-7.  Around mile 15 is when you get into the loop area and this is also when the roads start to get a little worse.  Being honest with yourself, did you really expect perfect roads in the mid-west?!?!

 Between mile 15 and 35 it is a mix of rollers and around mile 25 (and mile 75) there is a pretty decent sustained climb and you need to be as controlled as possible without going out of your prescribed effort/zone/power because you are going to be well above it when you get to the Barlow climb.  Right before the barlow climb at mile 35 there is a fast decent with a very very sharp turn that you need to be careful on because you can easily go of the road if you over cook it.  The Barlow climb is about 650 meters (2,132 ft) long and gains 85 meters (278 ft) over this section, NO JOKE! After the Barlow decent you are now onto the part of the course that you are going to be on twice.  It is highly recommended that in training for this course that you are comfortable getting in and out of your aero bars because by mile 50 you feel like you have done this movement 10,000 times.  The advantage of this 2 loop bike course is that you now know what gearing you need to be in for the upcoming sections allowing you to stay in zone by adjusting early.  This is especially important when you are approaching what is listed on the ironman website as aid station #3 around mile 45/85.

 You are on a descent going into this aid station and it is easy to roll into this one way too fast and I almost missed my 2
nd bottle which would have left me with not enough to drink for the next hour.  Other than these major sections it is just rollers or flat and the road is a bit rough which will test your core strength.  In the last mile back to transition when you are alongside of the lake again this is when you can get ready to transition and get out of your shoes as you pedal on top of them if this is your plan.  You will go back up the helix which is really not that steep and you bike will be taken as you run back inside to get your run gear.

Run: Out of T2 the first mile is a nice easy downhill section so you can be easy and get the heart rate back down after transition without losing much pacing.  The outbound section on the way to Camp Randal Stadium at mile 2.5 is pretty quiet and a very good section to be diligent and lock in a heart rate without much distraction.  At mile 2.5 and about 15.5 you make a loop around the sidelines of Camp Randal Stadium on their field turf which is nice and soft.  As you leave the Stadium you get into the outer portions of the course where there is also great cheering support.  

The steepest hill on the course is Observatory drive about mile 5 and 18.25 and on the second loop you will see a lot of people walking it instead of running.  On the first loop there was a family cheering and walking along side and I heard the Mom say to the family, “can you guys slow down, my feet hurt” apparently I scoffed and laughed so loud that her husband found it very funny.  After you go down a steeper section from the climb you get onto State Street which is electric with spectators along all sides and it is a great section to take your mind off the aching legs and it is a bit energizing.  This is basically the half way point/turnaround of the loop at around mile 6-6.5.  On the way back you are alongside the lake as opposed to going back up Observatory Drive and it is on a shaded dirt path where it is somewhat quiet and a good break from the loud music.   

At around mile 11 you run alongside the Stadium as opposed to going inside it and you head back to town for your turn around into the finish line or lap 2.  This is a somewhat flat section until you get close to the Capitol building again and the atmosphere gets exciting with more spectators the closer you are to the turnaround/special needs area/turn into the finish like chute.  Even if your legs are tired, when you see that Capitol building get those suckers going and Finish your day and high five the spectators down the long finish line chute.  

This was the 5th Ironman I have completed and easily the hardest bike course. It is ranked as the 3rd hardest bike course in North America (Lake Placid is #1, Cozumel #2 due to wind

On course Nutrition: 

 Endurance (Orange)
Clif Shot Gels
Clif Mini Bars
Clif Bloks  

Gatorade Endurance (Lemon Lime)
Chicken Broth (after dark) 
Clif Shot Gels
Clif Mini Bars
Clif Bloks
Red Bull

The Author: 

Rob King is an Age Group Triathlete and coach based out of Colorado. Follow him on INSTAGRAM.

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