Triathlon is a rapidly growing sport in the state of Wisconsin. Google will tell you that there are nearly 30 triathlon races in Wisconsin in the month of August alone. Every year new races pop and established ones fill quicker than you can change a flat bike tire.
Ironman Wisconsin is perhaps the most well-known triathlon in the state and also the longest with a 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. That’s a total of 140.6 miles as triathlete’s bumper stickers across the state will proudly remind you.
I’ve toed the line several times on hot September mornings (it’s the 13th this year) to measure up against the competition at Ironman Wisconsin. This year I won’t be as they have eliminated the professional race in this venue. The silver lining of course is I get to enjoy the race as a spectator. I’ve raced or attended this race every year for over a decade so sharpen your pencils and get ready to take some tips from a pro.
Here are my top 5 ways to win the day as a spectator at Ironman Wisconsin.
- Trek Bicycle (Waterloo)
On your way into town stop by Waterloo, Wisconsin and visit the Trek Bicycle Company. Weekly tours are led by enthusiastic employees Wednesdays at 10:00am. Guests can drool over championship bikes in the lobby and atrium and feast their eyes on those of the future in the race shop and the custom paint booth. Many triathletes will race Ironman Wisconsin on bikes hand built in the Trek Factory in Waterloo, WI.
- Colectivo Coffee at Sunrise (Madison)
Write these times down:
Colectivo Coffee on Pinckney St. opens at 6:30am on Sundays.
Sunrise on race day is 6:35am.
The race begins at 7:00am.
Here’s your plan: Get yourself a fresh brew from Colectivo Coffee, a trendy little café located in an historic building in downtown Madison and loved by local cyclists. Then follow the pedestrian traffic to the rooftop of the Monona Terrace where you can watch the sunrise dance across Lake Monona in front of a crowd of excited racers and spectators. The nearly 3,000 Ironman Wisconsin athletes start en masse as the gun goes off and it’s a beautiful sight to see.
- Old Sauk Pass and Timber Lane (Cross Plains and Madison)
So 112 mile is a long way to bike. If you look at a map you’ll see athletes leave the Monona Terrace and weave their way out of the city towards the fair town of Verona, do a loop, then do it again before heading back to transition. I’m often asked about where the best place to watch the bike portion of the race is and my answer is always Old Sauk Pass and Timber Lane. This stretch of road is the longest hill on the course and athletes get to do it twice. Watching from this location is nice for spectators because you’ll see your athlete two times and they will be going a bit slower than average so they’ll likely see (and hear) you. Having fans in this location is great for athletes because you’re likely in the pain cave and a familiar face might be all you need to get through it.
- State Street (Madison)
One of the best places to watch the run is on State Street. Athletes do a half marathon loop twice and go up and down State Street both times so if you stand still, you’ll see your athlete run past 4 times. The street is closed off to vehicle traffic and lined with spectators sipping frosty beverages and snacking on unique Wisconsin treats such as cheese curds and popcorn. The race finishes between the State Capitol and the Monona Terrace so from the top of State Street it’s a short walk to the finish line.
- Memorial Union (Madison)
On the other end of State Street you’ll find the Memorial Union. This gem of a hangout is another local favorite. On any given summer evening you’ll be hard pressed to find a seat but the scavenger hunt that ensues to find one is worth the pay off. On race day athletes will run right past the Memorial Union as they exit State Street and trudge up the only real hill on the run course. After you’ve cheered your athlete on grab a pitcher of tap beer and enjoy people watching and a glorious view of Lake Mendota. If you stick around past sunset you’ll likely hear some live music. Make sure you don’t leave without a scoop of the Orange Custard Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Sounds weird. Tastes amazing.
Ironman Wisconsin is an amazingly well-run race and is known in the triathlon community as one of the best when it comes to rowdy and supportive fans. As your friends and neighbors get ready to toe the line Sunday, September 13 make sure you’re putting in the recon work to make this your best day of spectating. See you out there!
Everything you need to know about the race can be found here.
Patrick Brady is about as Wisconsin as they come. He grew up in Eagle River and has lived in Milwaukee and Madison. In 2006 he worked for a cheese shop on State Street in Madison and was inspired to become a professional triathlete as he watched IMWI competitors race by. In August of 2014 he realized this dream and became a pro himself. He is a rising star in the sport with great potential to be a top ranked pro.