Ironman Wisconsin Bike Course – First time!

April 20, 2014

Yesterday, Friday, I rode the Ironman Wisconsin bike course for my first time!

My fellow rider:

I did not go alone – My awesome Fox Cities Triathlon Club Mentor Amy Henning was kind enough to take me and show me the way. Amy is a 2x finisher of Ironman Wisconsin, so she knew the course very well.

Thanks again Amy!

Amy and IBtw – the above pic was taken by two other triathletes getting ready to go out on the course too! They asked us to take their pic and I said I would only if they returned the favor ;)

The Route:

It’s always a good idea to ride the course with an experienced rider, but particularly IMWI. Why? Look at these turn-by-turn instructions:

Ironman Wisconsin Turn by Turn

Good luck memorizing those! Granted, you don’t need to remember them all to do what we did. IMWI is a stick-loop-loop-stick course. You ride about 16 miles out from Monona Terrace, do a 40 mile loop, repeat the loop, and repeat the 16 mile route back into town.

Still, even without the 16 mile stick, it’s a lot of turns. I knew I would do better if I could at least see it first. Also, riding the course beforehand has been the single most common piece of advice given to me whenever I have asked IMWI finishers for advice. Actually, it’s possible everyone gave me that advice, no joke. So I couldn’t wait to get out there and see it for myself.

Here’s the official map (left) and the map from my Lie Detector (Garmin 910) (right):

Ironman Wisconsin Course MapFirst time Ironman Wisconsin

So you can see we did the loop! Just once. We averaged 14 mph, which was slower than my usual, but totally fine because the purpose was just to see the course. I felt good most of the way and at the end, but I have some work to do before I could say with confidence I could do it a whole lot faster, and even more before I could say I feel I can do TWO loops a whole lot faster. But I wasn’t tapered at all, and my goal is around 17 mph, so I feel it is doable if I do that work. This is why I spend so much time spinning during the winter – I know I need to work still, but can you imagine trying to get ready for 112 hilly miles in just a couple months without a good base by spring? It would be terrible beyond words.


Aside from all the turns, there is another reason to pre-bike the course…the elevation changes just a wee bit:

Ironman Wisconsin Elevation Profile

The best way to get a feel for what those hills are really like is to just get out there and ride them.

And If you’re REALLY nerdy like me, you can figure out from the maps the location of the hills:

Ironman Wisconsin Elevation Profile Text

Hill awards:

And the winner for the worst climb: Old Sauk! The only – *only* – redeeming quality about it is that it takes you through Cross Plains State Park, which is kinda sorta maybe a little pretty, if you can get over the “I really may die right here” feeling. Amy says it’s a common spectator spot and I can see why it is nice for spectators;)

And the winner for the worst descent: Garfoot Rd! I can’t remember the last time I’ve been that freaking scared on a bike. It’s not just steep, dear reader, – and it is – but there are some *serious* turns, including one 90-degree turn fairly early on. I was very, very grateful for Amy staying RIGHT next to me for this portion, talking me through it all. Really, really grateful.

Discovering my biggest weakness:

I’m not a confident descender. To be fair, I sort of already knew this. I never have been and I never will be, but man did this course bring it out! I’m an anxious person, and going really, really fast downhill on a bike doesn’t sit well with me. I often cannot get myself to remove my hands from the brakes and go into full aero, which is a problem because doing so makes you faster and gives you access to your gears.

See, on a tri bike, the gears are on the aerobars for use in the aero position, and the brakes are on the the handlebars. On a road bike, they’re in the same spot on the handlebars. This is because triathletes typically spend more time in aero than upright, which is different than a typical road cyclist who spends much more time in a more upright position. For a typical cyclist in a group like you see in the Tour de France, aerodynamics are not a big deal because you’ve got a bunch of riders in front of you breaking the wind resistance for you. And being that tight in a group, you need your brakes handy to avoid causing crashes. But triathletes have no one near them (unless they’re breaking the rules and drafting, tisk tisk) so they need to care about aerodynamics and don’t need to worry about stopping so quickly. You can see this typical set up on my tri bike Delores:

Delores Handlebars right left

You can see where this is fun for hill climbing and descending. Going into hills, you want a “low” gear, but going downhill you want a “high” gear (I’ll post about gears later). So if you’re looking to pick up speed going into a hill, you’re in a totally different gear than you want to be in when you start descending and so on.

This is not really a problem for Amy, who can descend like a maniac – she zoomed past me like I was standing still! She was able to accomplish this because she got tucked into aero and had access to her shifters so could shift whenever it was advantageous to do so. However, I have serious, serious anxiety going downhill and on many of those descents, particularly Garfoot, there was no way my brain was going to let me let go of the brakes, which were then used more than I would like to admit. (Thankfully Amy said that part still scares her too, which I appreciated hearing). I have to be at a low enough speed that I feel comfortable reaching for the shifters, and being slow with shifting really slowed me down overall. I really, really need to practice this. Or get a prescription for Xanax, which probably wouldn’t be a good idea for the race, so I’ll stick with practice. ;)

Other random thoughts:

1) I’ve head this, and it’s true: It’s not a “hard” course because of the hills…it’s a hard course because you’re always needing to do something. Shifting being the biggest, of course. This is not a flat course where you can find a good gear and just pedal like that for hours and hours.

2) All the hills and turns and such make the timing of your eating and drinking important. You may want to take gels and simple carbs before a hill, but you do not want something in your hand just before a hill when you’re going to need your hands to grip the handlebars while you climb. So you need to know when they’re coming and plan to be done and ready by the time the hill starts.

3) Stagecoach Rd is “hard” because it’s so darn bumpy. But it’s funny…I swear – it’s like an optical illusion. You’re riding along looking at it in disbelief because it *looks* smooth, but it’s like riding on a rumble strip the entire way. It’s terrible. Get good water bottle holders if you don’t already have them or your bottles will launch right off your bike.

4). We started at Hometown Junction in Verona, which is near the loop, but not directly on it. It was small, but it had drinking fountains, flush toilets, and a vending machine. Sweet! Military Ridge State Trail, which is a gravel rail-to-trail, is pretty much directly connected to the parking lot and would be perfect for a brik run after a ride. There are also dining options nearby.Tuvalu Coffeehouse, which Amy says has really good smoothies.

5). On the course, one of the best places to stop, if you need to, is the Kwik Trip in Cross Plains, which is right off the course. Very convenient, and I’m sure they get tons of cyclists in there so you probably won’t get too many funny looks in your spandex.


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