I was looking at the “search terms” people used to find my blog and one was “Ironman Wisconsin Run Course Tips,” so I thought I’d weigh in with a few “non scientific” thoughts. I’m gonna do it by “feel” and a sketchy memory, so don’t take it too seriously.
It’s a 13.1 mile loop that starts with a short and slow climb from the top floor of the awesome Helix transition. You go straight at, then around the majestic capitol, before tearing down State Street where “I Run for the Party” has real meaning.
My advice here is watch your speed. There are TONS of people cheering, and it’s mostly downhill, so it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Thankfully my legs didn’t bend the first two miles so I didn’t have a choice.
When you leave State Street it flattens out for a while and you head toward one of the coolest college football stadiums in the country. I feel like it’s a little over 2 miles before you meet Camp Randall, home of the Badgers, and a short little staircase climb that caught the attention of my calves. Then you descend onto the football field, and while I am arguably the number one fan Badger fan living in SEC country, I didn’t really feel much like looking around. What I liked most was the soft turf surface that gives your knees temporary reprieve.
After you emerge from the stadium, you hit a small downhill then flat section that eventually takes you under a bridge for a short “out and back” which I hated. I loathe out and backs for some reason, and even though this was only a few hundred yards it got in my head a little.
Then it’s back into “somewhere” before you are dumped onto a trail that rolls between a bunch of University buildings along the lake. It’s kinda cool because there are students milling about and most of them look at you like you’ve been working out for over 8 hours.
Then it’s time for first of two substantial (by Ironman standards) hills. There’s and aid station at the bottom and I highly suggest you regroup before the climb. A ton of people walk these hills and I did for a short spell on the second loop, but they are not awful unless you are from Florida, and in that case, I recommend quitting.
After that, you wind to the right and close in on your second taste of State Street where people are five deep and scream some of the happiest sounds you’ll ever hear. In retrospect, this is probably where I felt the best on the entire run. It’s right around mile 6 and I suggest soaking it in. You’re about halfway into the loop and it’s loaded with electricity, which is good because the worst part of the run awaits.
When you hit the trail again you have a 10k left in your loop. It’s nice and shaded for a while, but when you leave the dirt path it turns into blacktop and the bikeway takes you out a mile before you turn around to come back. It’s desolate and I really started hallucinating on this section. It’s a two mile trek that seems like it will never end and the one section I wanted to walk most.
After that, you have about 3.5 miles before paydirt (or the painful turn around). Slowly but surely spectators come back into your life and you will need their support. The support, by the way, is excellent. Aid stations are loaded like a buffet and on my second loop I hit the chicken broth hard on that turnaround.
You wind back past the stadium (and go down the little flight of stairs, which is painful in a different way) then back through the neighborhoods before hitting your last little climb up State Street. The party is rockin’ now and the hill is not an issue. At the top you stare at the massive capitol, turn left for a block, right for another, then right for a half block before turning left to finish.
The finishing part is great, but if this is the end of your first loop be prepared for a major mind f&ck. They lead you well into the Finisher’s Chute before sending you back out to battle. All you can really do is laugh.
Ironman Wisconsin was my only marathon to date, and I am pretty sure it will always be one of my favorite courses. It’s challenging but not unfair. It’s urban with a great taste of wilderness. And you get to see some of the finer sections of one of the greatest cities there is, Madison, Wisconsin.