10, 2006 is the fifth running of the Ford Ironman Wisconsin
According to the event website, one hundred forty-two
athletes from Michigan will toe the line.
more than any other Ironman, has become a phenomenon.
It is more than just a Midwestern phenomenon. It’s
an Ironman event unique to the sport. It’s also
a paradox. It is among the most difficult Ironman Triathlons
in the world with a crowded two lap swim, difficult,
technical bike course and animated run usually contested
in extreme weather conditions but more first time Ironman
aspirants attempt Wisconsin than any other race.
gentlest version of Wisconsin was the very first edition
in 2002. Since then it has been ugly. The first and
second fastest times were set at Wisconsin in 2002 by
Chris Lieto and Chris Legh. After 2002 the race has
taken on an angry character that equates it to the Cheese
Grater of Ironman Triathlons. A quick search of environmental
conditions shows that the record high temperature in
Madison during September was 99 degrees and the low
was 25 degrees. That is a wild swing. Given these weather
records it is as conceivable that you could be racing
in 90 degree heat or a 50 degree chill. The past three
editions of Wisconsin, especially last year, have been
hot. The run course in 2005 looked like a civil war
battlefield due to the heat. The race spared no one,
including temporary race leader and bike course record
holder Bjorn Andersson. Andersson nuked the bike course
in 4:33:35 at an average speed of 24.6 m.p.h. Then the
weather nuked him on the run. “There are too many
turns… You can’t get going. It doesn’t
suit me.” Said Andersson after the event.
to one report the 2005 Ford Ironman Wisconsin had the
highest drop-out rate of any Ironman Triathlon since
they’ve been keeping track, somewhere around 20%.
There are likely several reasons for that.
Wisconsin is among the most populated of Ironman races.
Since the event is located near several large athlete-population
centers such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and Minneapolis
it is a huge destination race. Athletes don’t
have to fly there. With concern over flying your bike
and the attendant logistics the appeal of a big, international
caliber race you can drive to is obvious. Even though
races like Brazil, Florida, New Zealand and others may
have less challenging courses and be more exotic destinations
Wisconsin is more convenient. For that reason the race
sells out every year in the blink of an eye. You get
a population of participants that may be marginally
prepared and you put them on a sinister course of hills,
heat and turns.
reason is the race is easy to commit to, but hard to
follow-through on. When you click on “submit”
the day after this year’s race you invariably
do so with visions of long training rides and strict
diets. The reality that unfolds between hitting “submit”
and the cannon sounding a year later on Lake Monona
is something we can’t always control to the degree
we’d like. Since the race is close, and they post
your name on the website under “participants”
a year in advance you almost get guilt-tripped into
at least trying the thing. After all, it is just a six
is a blue-collar race. There are no hula dancers, no
mystic local lore to inspire you. The locals can be
a trifle grumpy about all the bikes on the road (understandably)
and the painting on the roads to support Uncle Al or
Sister Nancy (don’t do that- use chalk please).
But the fans are like a crowd at a Bruce Springsteen
concert- loud, enthusiastic and in your face.
course itself is truly challenging in every respect.
There is little open water on the swim. With well over
2000 athletes and an in-water start on two laps the
swim doesn’t shake out much. You always have company
in the water. You go up and down a parking structure
for transition and then the bike course.
friends who have done Wisconsin tell me you only need
to know three things about the bike course: “Climb,
descend, turn left- repeat.” That basically describes
the two lap topography of the rural course through Wisconsin
farm land. There are over 80- turns on the bike course.
That is a turn every 1.4 miles on average. At 20 m.p.h
that means you are turning ever four minutes and twelve
seconds on average. That is a lot of turning. And then
there are the hills. The first year they did Ironman
Wisconsin we sold a lot of 11-23 cogsets to people going
there. The second year, a lot of 12-25 cogsets. Now
people have surrendered to common sense and just take
a 12-27 or use compact cranks. The hills are relentless
and steep. Throw in some heat and wind and you are on
your way to having legs that feel like grated mozzarella.
of the technical nature of the bike course in Wisconsin
bikes take a beating. Your shifting has to be spot-on
because you will use every gear over and over, shifting
literally hundreds of times. The course favors fresh
tires and brake pads since you are cornering hard and
braking hard. The bikes we send to Wisconsin come back
looking like they’ve done three Ironmans. If your
equipment isn’t in perfect condition going to
Wisconsin the chances of something going wrong with
it are high. The course has a way of exposing little
problems and making them big.
run is unique among Ironman runs. It is entirely urban.
There are fans the entire way. While this is certainly
appealing to those who draw on the energy of the crowd
it can be maddening when you are having a bad day. It
is like being in the coliseum on the wrong end of the
gladiator’s sword. Everyone is watching and it
just keeps getting harder. If the course, the weather
and your preparation give you the thumbs down there
are thousands there to watch you bleed. At least at
Lanzarote, Hawaii and New Zealand you share your humiliation
with the earth, the sky and wind instead of your Aunt
Bessy from Dubuque wearing a giant cheese hat and waving
a sign with your name.
that is the ominous bad news about Wisconsin. It’s
tough, it’s crowded, its hot.
the other side of the coin is that when you finish the
race, and finish you will, you have a huge feather in
your cap. It is the working man’s Ironman. A grating,
difficult and metaphorical day that is like a few long
shifts on the assembly line, a tough day in the farm
fields under a hot sun and long overtime at the steel
mill all rolled into one. If you make it, you’re
tough. You’re an Ironman from one of the toughest
of the 19 world wide Ironman events. There may be races
in more exotic locales, there may even been one or two
tougher races, but none more uniquely challenging and
Midwestern than Wisconsin.
never done Wisconsin. I’m too scared. If I went
there and had a bad day I’d look like an ass.
So I’ve hidden under the bed and stuck to other
Ironman races in sunny places with. I’ve never
had the courage to hit “submit” for Wisconsin
the day after the race.
love the Ironman Triathlon. To me it is the big show.
I’ve done four Ironmans around the world, five
if you count the slightly shorter Isostar Nice Triathlon
in France now used as Ironman France. I’ve never
done great, but I’ve done OK. My best race was
Canada 1997 in 10:43:20. I did Hawaii before aerobars,
modern sports nutrition and training techniques back
in 1986. I’m not fast, but I’ve been around
a little. But I’ve never had what it takes to
cross the line in Madison. I know one day I will have
to walk the walk and get in Lake Monona for Ironman
Wisconsin. But this year, I’ll hide under the
bed again and watch you guys on the Internet. Best of
luck and have a great race.