Race Course Preview: Ironman Wisconsin

Triathlete running down the finish shoot of an Ironman
January 20, 2017

Brad Seng



After competing in 21 Ironman events and 12 years of racing professionally, I am often asked what my favorite race is. Without hesitation, I respond with Ironman Wisconsin. Every Ironman race has its draw of appeal and challenges. For the athlete, IMWI will deliver in both categories. I have raced this event five times with modest success, culminating in several top 10 finishes and a course PB of 8:58. Here are my course insights which I hope you find helpful.

**Weather:** This race has seen varied weather from cold and rainy in the upper 50s to hot and humid in the low 90s and everything in between.

**Swim:** This is a one-loop affair in the typically calm waters of Lake Monona. The average water temp is 70 degrees. The swim course is basically a large rectangle, and there is plenty of room at the start line for athletes to spread out and find clear water if that is more comfortable. The position of the sun may be an issue on the long back stretch of the course as you will likely be swimming into the sunrise. Dark-lensed or mirrored goggles are recommended unless it’s an overcast day. Sighting is fairly straightforward, and you can use the tree line surrounding the lake along with Monona Terrace to aid you. Water visibility is average, so don’t expect to see more than 5-8 feet in front of you. Mentally be prepared for that long back stretch as you will actually swim past the start area and then complete a long horseshoe pattern to bring you to the swim finish area.

**T1:** IMWI has perhaps one of the longest and most unique transitions being housed in Monona Terrace, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Expect a longer than normal transition time. Exiting the water, you will run up one of the famed helixes, which is the parking ramp connected to this building. Be prepared to run while going around and around until entering the building. What goes up, must come down. After navigating through transition and mounting your bike, you will cycle down one of the helixes before turning left onto the course. Be patient and navigate this safely. There are no Strava awards being given.

**Bike:** The lollipop-shaped bike course will not disappoint! With slightly over 6,100 feet of elevation gain, you can expect a lot of hills. While no single hill can take you out of the race, the cumulative effect of the rolling terrain combined with a few longer hills is like going 12 rounds in a heavyweight boxing match. Each of the hills is like body blows that start adding up after a while. If you stay true to your race and fueling plans, you will be able to effectively take on this challenging course while preserving your legs for the run. Patience needs to be the overall theme for the day, especially for the first loop.

There is a short stretch early in the bike which will take you onto the bike/jogging path that runs alongside Monona Lake. This is a section where you will be sitting up and need to be patient as it has a few twists and turns before leading you onto a main road taking you out of town. The 16-mile “stick” of the lollipop includes some flat terrain and rolling hills once you get away from Madison. Each loop is 40 miles, and this is the meat of the course.

The road surfaces will vary but are mostly smooth country roads with beautiful views. There will not be too much vehicle traffic on the course, but be alert for large farm equipment as you traverse the Wisconsin dairy land. IMWI is one of the more technical courses on the circuit so be prepared to ride within your comfort zone on the descents while sitting up for safe bike handling. There are only a few spots on the course where you can ride with extended time in the aero bars.

The crowd support will keep you going as you tackle one of the longer climbs with people cheering alongside you, similar to what we see in major tour races. As you come to the end of each loop, you will bike through the town of Verona where a carnival-like atmosphere will be awaiting you. This is a great spot for family and friends to cheer you on as you will pass through here twice. IM provides free shuttles to and from this area making it easy for spectators to see you on the course.

Spin up the hills, remain patient, stay true to your plan, and embrace the crowd support along the course to complete the bike in good order and set yourself up for a solid run. Suggested gearing for this race is 11-12/27-28. Disc wheels can be used but are not a significant advantage on this course.

**T2:** You will enter transition after riding back up the same helix you rode down to start the bike. Again, be safe, sit up, and spin the legs to the top before dismounting your bike.

**Run:** As you enter the two-loop run course, you will run around one side of the Capital building before heading towards the University of Wisconsin campus. The first couple of miles are more downhill so it’s easy to go out a little too hot. Be smart and keep things reined in as you build into your marathon. The crowd support on the run course is exceptional with only a few “quiet spots”. Use some positive self-talk and mantras to help propel you through these areas.

The majority of the run course is relatively flat with one challenging hill at approximately miles 5 and 19. There are several sections of the run that are slightly uphill and downhill. These can be more significant if you go outside of your race plan and overextend yourself. You can expect some shade along Lake Mendota and through the tree-lined neighborhoods. The run course mostly twists and turns throughout the University of Wisconsin campus and around downtown Madison.

Upon completing your first loop, you have to run towards and then turn away from the finish line which can be mentally challenging. Tap into the vociferous cheers of the crowd, especially along State Street and around the Capital building as you push yourself to the finish line.

*Brad Seng is a D3 Coach as well as the Head Coach for the University of Colorado Triathlon Team. He believes that getting to the next level in triathlon is often a matter of knowing when to push limits and when to pull back. A breakthrough can also be as simple as working on your mindset, fueling your success with sound mental strategies!*

Coach Brad Seng enjoys working with athletes of all abilities who set a variety of personal goals. He understands difficult training days. Challenging days and subpar workouts are inevitably part of the triathlon landscape, as are the times when you’re feeling great and everything clicks. He believes there are lessons to be learned from experiencing both. Sometimes having to fight for a workout is just what’s needed to achieve an important breakthrough in mental conditioning.  

Coach Brad is a USA Triathlon Certified Level II, USA Triathlon Certified Youth & Junior, Training Peaks Level 2 Certified Coach and NESTA Certified Sports Nutritionist (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association).

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