EveryMan Rating: 1 Brewskis
Rating Scale (based on the amount of beer needed after race)
• 4 Brewskis So excruciatingly painful and lame you’ll need a full year of recovery just to forget this race
• 3 Brewskis The best thing said and remembered about race is; I finished
• 2 Brewskis Challenging race in a masochistic I’d could do it again sort-of-way given enough time and Ibuprofen.
• 1 Brewski Good solid race that exceeds your expectations
• No Brewski A must-do annual event for both friends and family
This race (over the past three years), unlike any other North American Ironman in recent history, has been defined by the weather.
2005 --- So hot that you could fry an egg on your disk wheel, and so humid that you could poach the egg simple by standing over it and wiping your brow.
2006 --- So cold that for the first and only time in Ironman history the Coke provided on the run was actually cold, and so rainy that the aid station volunteers did not need to fill up the water cups, but just let mother nature fill them from the great water hose in the sky.
2007 --- Pretty near perfect conditions except that the clouds did block out the gentle and warm sun in the mid afternoon for a few fleeting minutes.
2008 --- ?
You'll have to take this review with a grain of salt as I raced IMMOO it in 2007 and my experience was most certainly and all together different from those who raced in 2005 and/or 2006. In any Ironman race the weather is always the silent and often critical variable that either makes or breaks a race. For me in 2007 the weather Gods smiled and I swam in a dead calm lake, biked under a gentle sun, and ran with the aid of fluffy cloud cover. It just doesn't get much better and you can read my race report HERE and HERE.
Let's face facts. On the whole when it comes to IM race weekend we Ironman racers tend to be a nervous, selfish, self-absorbed, worried, tense, gitty, confused, slap-happy, eager, crabby, panicked, terrified, and about a hundred other emotions that can drive your average hotel concierge bonkers.
What makes IMMOO such a great race can be summed up in two words: the "Volunteers" and the "Locals". It is the volunteers and the locals that make this race so special. Unlike any other Ironman race that I've done, it is these folks that will bring the smile to your face when you arrive in Madison.
The fine people of Madison really treasure this race and it shows. It shows in the TDF like gauntlet of fans that line streets in Verona between the first and second bike loop.
It shows in the thousands of spectators that crowd the streets near the capital building as you exit the transition area.
It shows in the thousands of students that get drunk in the racers honor as you run through the University area of Madison.
But mainly it shows in the hundreds of volunteers and locals that never cease to smile from the moment that you register to the moment that you cross the finish line.
This is a race that's much loved by the locals and so by association are the racers. This is especially important when you are having a bad moment or two as you will certainly have before, during, or perhaps after the race.
Two-loop swim in Lake Monona in downtown Madison.
For me the Swim was by far the worst part of the race.
- The swim was cold: It wasn't, the water was near perfect for a wetsuit swim.
- The swim was rough: It wasn't, the water was glass-like calm and very easy to sight the big buoys.
- The swim was confusing: It wasn't, the course is two big and lazy loops that I could swim in my sleep.
No, the real problem with the swim is that it is perhaps too easy.
Here's a fun fact that you may not know. The average IM swim is about 1:20 to 1:25 in duration. So if you happen to swim the 2.4 miles in about an hour and twenty minutes you are right in the heart of the biggest IM bell swim curve. This means that you have the most athletes around you trying to get to the exit of the swim. In fact you, and several hundred others, are one big rat moving down the stomach of the snake toward the end of the swim.
For me this meant that I was was unable to get one clean swim stroke during the entire swim.
Some of you may think that I'm exaggerating a wee bit here, but I'm not. Everywhere I tried to swim I hit somebody or somebody hit me. I could never get into a comfortable swim rhythm, and I paid the price by having my slowest IM swim of my career.
But that's not what cost this race a perfect No-Brewski rating. What cost the race the perfect score were the hundreds of "athletes" who cut the corners and the fact that the race officials did nothing about it.
I know that it may seem reasonable to cut the inside of buoy when you are with hundreds of other athletes heading for the same corner, but when you do this seven times at seven buoys (the first time by a few feet until you are cutting buoy corners by yards) you shorten the swim from 2.4 miles to 2.0 miles. And that's cheating plain and simple and a DNF no matter if, how, or when you cross the finish line.
More importantly, in my book, when the race organizers look the other way when hundreds of athletes cheat, the cost is a perfect Everyman No-Brewski rating for the race.
Unlike any other race I know of IMMOO is held in and around the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison. This means that transition (the changing area at least) is inside a carpeted and air-conditioned building while the bikes are waiting for you in the outdoor parking garage.
Monona Terrace was designed by Frank Loyd and it is pretty spectacular (at least as convention centers go).
Because of the unique design of the convention center you get to run up and bike down these large spiral parking ramps coming and going in and out of transition.
You also get to change in the cooled and carpeted rooms of the convention center with comfy chairs and plenty of transitions volunteers, snacks, and drinks. I saw more than my fair share of athletes who were having a hard time leaving the cool confines of T2 for a late afternoon marathon.
Image for a second a giant lollipop. There is of course the stick and the round sugary part that you lick. That's pretty much what the IMMOO bike course looks like. You fly down the spiral parking ramp out of transition and head out to the town and hills of Verona. Once you get to Verona you bike around two big and hilly loops(the sugary part of the lollipop) and head straight (the stick) back into downtown Madison.
Out of all of the long triathlons I've done this is probably the one that is most suited for a regular road bike. The only part where you really get the benefit of the areo bars are on the straights heading to and from Verona. The loops around Verona are wildly hilly and you are rarely ever in the areo bars as you are either climbing, or turning, or descending too fast around corners to be in the classic areo position.
What makes the hills around Verona challenging is that they are these small choppy little pain-in-the-ass bumps with an attitude that never really allow you to get into climbing mode or descending mode. You are just constantly, climbing, cresting and descending, and that's a hard way to spend 112 miles.
On the positive side the countryside is spectacular with diary farms, forest, fields and best rural scenery that Midwest America has to offer. Plus, the crowds in Verona are massive and they almost make taking on the piss ant hills worth the effort.
As I get to be an old hand at these races I'm really starting to hate the typical Ironman marathon course. Unlike a big city marathon like Chicago, Boston, or New York, the IM marathon is always bit too loopy for me. I like to run through a city and start and end in two different locations.
But for obvious reason an IM marathon always starts and ends in the same place, and has you making multiple loops around, through and in town. The IMMOO course is two big loops through Madison.
You get to run on almost every running surface know to mankind and that includes, cement, concrete, dirt, railroad tracks, streets, paths, sidewalks, and even AstroTurf as you run through the University of Wisconsin stadium.
There's one big steep hill (that everybody walks) one big lake (that everybody loves) and one big capitol building(that signifies that you are at either the beginning, middle, or end or you run).
Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
I'll start with the good news. The run is truly interesting with plenty of points of interest to look at, and massive crowds that gather at both ends of the two loops.
The bad news has to do with those little mileage signs. Perhaps this is only me, but I hate seeing that I'm either on mile 3 or 13. This is hugely demotivating for me on the first loop when I'm just on mile two and signs starkly reminds me that I have 11 more miles to go before I'm even at the halfway point of the marathon.
The Race Expo:
The Race Expo is right in front of the imposing capital building between the Capital and the Convention Center as well as inside the Convention center. It features the same old Schwag that you can also buy inside convention center at the IM store. If I were you I would skip the expo and head to the farmer's market around the Capitol building on Saturday afternoon.
Unless you are really a hardcore triathlete and you really need to discuss the subtle virtues of carbon wheels with the Zipp rep., your time might be better spent tasting the subtle virtues of the local homemade Amish chocolate chip cookies at the farmer's market.
- Get to the start of the race early and into the water ASAP. The timing mats are set-up under a big black arch that you must cross before you get into the water. The area for doing this is about 4 feet wide and when I raced there were still several hundred athletes trying to squeeze through the arch and get into the water the as the gun sounded. Perhaps that's why so many of them felt the need to cut swim corners.
- This is one race that you don't need a tri bike. A road bike with clip on areo bars may be a better bet in the long run as you'll spend less energy climbing the short but steep hills of Verona. The gearing on a tri bike is just too tall (think too hard to pedal up steep hills in your smallest gear) for all but the most talented and hardcore triathletes/cyclist.
- Be sure to get your finisher's photo...especially if you finish at night. The finish of the race is right in front of the blazing Capital building, and this makes for an incredible photo of you crossing the line with the Capital ablaze in light in the background.
- Don't kill yourself on the bike. This is one of the harder bike courses and it is certainly all too easy to leave it all out on the bike course. The smart race strategy with the race is to build into it and leave plenty of power and energy for marathon.
- Don't dilly dally in T2. I know that it may seems cruel and unusual punishment to leave the cool/warm confines of the convention center but get out on the run ASAP because transition count.
- Finally, check and recheck the weather for your race day. Even if you think it may be a perfect day bring all of your cold and hot weather stuff with you to Madison. I'd be willing to bet that I got lucky and the weather will always be the silent and often critical variable that will either make or break your IMMOO race.