Unofficial Ironman® Wisconsin 411

Welcome to the Endurance Nation Race Strategy page for Ironman® Wisconsin!

Endurance Nation is five-time Division One Global Ironman® TriClub Champions — no team on the planet has raced more often or as fast as Endurance Nation. Explore this page for some of our guidance, head over to the EN Blog or consider signing up to train & race with us. Plans start at just $47!  Click here to pick the right option for you 

Our goal here is to get you 100% up to speed and ready to have your best race possible. Every single race is unique, and Ironman® Wisconsin is no exception. From the mass start lake swim to the most challenging — and best spectator-supported — bike course on the US calendar, to high energy run through Madison, you are sure to never forget this race! It’s Coach Rich’s favorite event, having raced IMWI 4 times and qualified for Kona here twice!

Three Bullets Video | Detailed Race Info | Equipment | The Swim | The Bike | The Run | Free Trial

Three Bullets on Ironman® Wisconsin

Don’t have time to dive into a full review of the course? Then cover the most important highlights in this short video with Coach Rich from Endurance Nation.

Detailed Race Information

Equipment Recommendations [top]

In spite of a couple of outlier years (very hot in 2005, and cold and wet in 2006), Ironman Wisconsin has had consistently good weather for racing. However, our general guidance, for nearly every race, is to bring everything you think may need, even if you’re pretty sure you may not need it! In short, be prepared for any and all weather conditions. 

The Swim: Bring everything you need. While the swim has always been wetsuit legal, it’s always best to bring a skinsuit, just in case. And as the last remaining mass start Ironman swim on the US calendar, be sure to bring your suitcase of courage and a good, patient attitude to begin a long day. Tinted goggles also recommended. 

The Bike:  the bike course is extremely decision-heavy, throwing at you a constant series of hills, turns and more, making it, in our opinion, the most challenging bike course on the US calendar. That said, it’s still a triathlon so we recommend a triathlon bike with all of your aero wizardry applied: front race wheel, rear disk (or wheel cover), aero helmet, race tires, smart bottle and equipment placement, etc. 

For gearing, we nearly always recommend a compact crank (50/34) or “super compact” (52/36) if you’re a bit of a stronger rider on an 11-speed bike. Everyone should have at least a 26t cog on their cassette (for example, a 26-11 for stronger riders), with less strong riders always benefiting from a 28t or higher (for example, a 28-12 cassette).

The Run:  You will want to choose the gear that will give you the flexibility to handle the heat if a hot day is in the cards. It will need to have pockets for carrying nutrition, and plenty of zippers so you can reduce any accumulated heat. A hat is recommended, of visor at a minimum. 

If you aren’t carrying your own fluids with you, then plan on transporting salt at a minimum so you can keep your gut happy. Plan on a race number belt with pockets to carry salt/fuel. You can access your Run Special Needs bag only at the beginning of the second loop.

Swim Course Breakdown  [top]

The Ironman® Wisconsin swim is a single loop with a mass start, the only remaining mass start swim on the US calendar. On race day you’ll be required exit transition, generally by 6:30a, and begin making your way down to the swim start. We recommend you get in the line, and in the water, early so you can be sufficiently warmed up before go time. The hallmark of the Ironman® Wisconsin swim is a very long third leg…and the requirement that you moo at the first turn buoy! 

>> View the online swim map here

Key Points:

  • One loop swim…
  • Mass start, be prepared…
  • Be prepared for a very, very long third leg of the swim course, and a swim back to the finish that seems longer than it should

Bike Course Breakdown [top]

The Ironman® Wisconsin bike course incorporated a few significant changes in 2016 (link) compared to the original course (link), due to some construction on the original course. Be sure to check the interwebs for updates to the course for 2017, but we expect it to go back to the original course.

Regardless, Ironman® Wisconsin bike course is tough. Sure, Lake Placid may have more gain, and Arizona is guaranteed to be windy, but no other course forces you to make so many decisions all. day. long. In fact, on race day you’ll find you’re never doing any one thing for longer than a couple of minutes, with the course constantly throwing new terrain and decision requirements at you.

The course is generally up hill 16 miles on The Stick to the start of The Loop, which you’ll do twice at 40 miles each loop, before heading  back to town. You’ll ride very easy, ignoring everyone else around you, until the top of Valley Road at about mile 18. From there…don’t think so much about where you are on the course and how to ride this or that mile marker. Rather, practice terrain centric execution, riding the terrain you see in front of you in a manner that sets up the run.

That said, be prepared for the Three Bitches — Old Sauk, Timberlane, and Midtown — but don’t underestimate the climb into Mount Horeb that no one seems to talk about. Also, make the most of the fast section from the top of Shady Oak into Verona. Finally…hills, hills, and more hills. Learn to love the hills by learning how to execute them well and ride smart! After all, Ironman® Wisconsin is where the undisciplined cyclists enjoys a very long walk through the University of Wisconsin campus!

>> View the official bike map here.

Key Points:

  • Ignore everyone, ride very easy, and settle in until the top of Valley Road.
  • From there, just execute the terrain in front of you in a manner that sets up the run.
  • Enjoy the crowds (crazy!!) on the Three Bitches but don’t put on a show
  • Pro-tip: consider skipping in the Verona aid station at the end of your second loop (very high speed and a little nuts) and hitting the final aid station at mile 99-100 on the Stick back to Madison.

Run Course Breakdown [top]

The Ironman® Wisconsin is two loops. After a high energy run around the capitol and down State Street you’ll then continue you way through town before entering the college campus and running around the football field in Camp Randal. From there you’ll enjoy some beefy rollers on Observatory, another high energy run in the out and back on State Street, a shaded running path next to the lake, before hitting the paved bike path and then running back through campus, town, and up State Street and round the capitol to finish your first loop. Repeat for loop two. 

We recommend you give yourself 6 miles of easy running to settle in, getting a head start on your nutrition and hydration. From there, run comfortably, getting what you need at the aid stations and preparing yourself mentally to dig deep after mile 18. The key terrain on the Wisconsin run course is the series of short but steep rollers on Observatory. Set yourself up to run these on both laps! Finally, be sure to tap into the energy of the run course, as nearly the entire course is full of spectators, volunteers, and aid stations.

>> View the Run Map here.

Key Points:

  • Run stupid easy the first 6 miles, do not put on a show down State Street!
  • Be prepared for the rollers on Observatory on both the first and second loops.
  • Enjoy the energy on your your second, third, and fourth stretches on State.
  • It can get crowded on the asphalt bike path, packed with runners and aid stations.
  • Be prepared to step on the gas at about mile 21 or 22, finishing strong!


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