If you're going to do an Ironman-distance triathlon and you live in Chicago, Ironman Wisconsin is the closest. Held in Madison, Wis., in early September, it's close enough to the city to train on the course at least once before race day (perfect since Chicago triathletes don't exactly train on hills when we're riding the lakefront), and it draws plenty of fan support from the Midwest metropolis.
The race, which was held on Sunday, September 8, this year, offers a 140.6-mile course that highlights some of Madison's finest sites. It starts with a 1.2-mile swim in Lake Monona, one of the two lakes that creates the Madison isthmus. Triathletes exit the water and run up a helix that takes them inside Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center to prepare for the bike in the first transition. The bike course stretches across Madison's surrounding countryside with plenty of climbing, corn fields and communities. And the run course follows a two-loop circuit past the Wisconsin State Capitol and around the University of Wisconsin campus. With a backdrop of the Capitol's dome, triathletes hear announcer Mike Reilly shout, "You are an Ironman!"
Sometimes seeing is believing, especially when it comes to understanding how Madison hosts this world-class event every year since 2002. While watching the race in person might be the best option for seeing it all, pictures work too. Here are 10 highlights of the 2013 Ironman Wisconsin course from start to finish.
IMWI 2013 waiting to swim
While some Ironman races have adopted a staggered swim start, it's all about the mass start at Ironman Wisconsin. Before the gun goes off at 7 a.m., triathletes bob in Lake Monona awaiting their start. They're treading water, they're holding onto the waterski ramp, they're jockeying for a spot close to the front.
IMWI 2013 swim start
When the gun goes off at 7 a.m., triathletes start swimming (and pushing and shoving depending on who you happen to be near or swim into). There are more than 2,000 athletes trying to find their 'happy place' in the water. From Monona Terrace, it looks like a wave rolling through the lake.
IMWI 2013 swim exit
Hillary Biscay is no stranger to Ironman Wisconsin--she won in 2008 and has competed in multiple years. She's also a fast swimmer, taking the lead early in the race. Here she is once again leading the female professionals out of the swim.
IMWI 2013 bike transition
With more than 2,000 triathletes participating in Ironman Wisconsin, there are more than 2,000 bikes sitting in transition waiting to be used for 112 miles. Where are all those bikes racked? The top level of the Monona Terrace parking lot becomes the site of bike transition with athletes racking their bikes on Saturday and then picking them up after their race is complete on Sunday night.
IMWI 2013 pros on bike
Ironman Wisconsin's bike course has been labeled one of the most challenging. You'll find plenty of corn and farmland, but you'll also find yourself climbing...a lot. Not a steady climb that's rewarded with a steep descent, but plenty of gear changing ups and downs. Here the professional men are climbing one such hill in farm country.
IMWI 2013 pros and spectators
Ironman Wisconsin's bike course might be hilly, but there's great crowd support waiting on some of the steepest hills. They're loud, entertaining, sporting signs, and often dressed in costume. Some also like to come out from the sidelines and cheer the cyclists, even the pros, up the hill.
IMWI 2013 running on State
Triathletes leave their bikes with volunteers at Monona Terrace and get ready for the third, and final, leg of the race: the run. The run course tours Madison, starting and finishing near the State Capitol, and traversing portions of the University of Wisconsin and State Street. Spectators standing on State Street watch triathletes pass four times.
IMWI 2013 run special needs
Need more fuel? Need to change your socks? Need another layer or reflective gear? Triathletes don't have to carry it with them the entire 26.2 miles. They can grab it at the special needs station that they pass after the halfway mark. Volunteers hand out special needs bags packed with any and everything triathletes think they need for the race's final miles.
IMWI 2013 the capitol building
The Wisconsin State Capitol serves as the Ironman's finish line backdrop. It's a sight to see after swimming, biking and running 140.6 miles, and it's lit until the final finisher crosses the line at midnight.
IMWI 2013 finish line
Who doesn't want to sprint to the finish line after 140.6 miles? The pros start crossing the finish line when it's still light out, but the final Ironman-ers have until midnight to hear Mike Reilly shout, "You are an Ironman!" In 2013, Maik Twelsiek was the first finisher, winning the race in 8:40:15. Madison local Jackie Arendt won for the women with a time of 9:47:07.