The climb into Mt. Horeb(le). Thee three wicked sisters. Garfoot Road. Observatory Drive. Verona. The Helix. These are all just names on a sheet of paper. They have no meaning to me. But they are all iconic locations on the Ironman Wisconsin course. I have not seen them, but everyone tells me that it would be wise to experience them before race day. The drive home from Muncie will bring me thru Madison, and I had made arrangements to stay a few days. The plan was simple…stay a few days and punish myself as much as i can. The bike course is a basic “stick and loop”. The “stick” is the road that connects Madison to Verona (and the main bike course). It is about 15 miles long. The second half of this road (Whalen Road) is all hills and is quite brutal. The main part of the bike course is a 42 mile “loop” which is extremely technical and hilly. On race day, I will ride the stick to Verona, complete 2 loops and ride back to Madison for the run. On this trip, I want to ride the hilly part of the stick at least once (out and back), and the loop as often as possible. The run is a 2 loop affair in downtown Madison and on the University of Wisconsin campus. Completing one loop (13.1 miles) would give me a good feel for the layout and challenges of this course. I had a few days, and this promised to be the most intense week of my training.
This day should not even count. I had just finished my Ironman 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana. I debated whether to drive that evening to Verona WI or stay put and drive in the morning. It was fairly early and I figured that I might as well get going. I had a reservation at the Super 8, 1/2 block off the IM bike course. I packed my gear and hit the road. The weather and traffic were fine. I could not eat right after the event (my stomach could handle fluids and a couple of bites of food), but I was suddenly starving for some junk food. I stopped at a “Steak & Shake” (we don’t have this chain back home). Tasty burgers and fries (haven’t had fries in ages) and a big chocolate milkshake with whipped cream. Even found room for a cookie. After that, I was on my way again. I was making great time, and reached the Chicago Skyway by 7pm. I got through downtown fairly easily, and hit the tollway towards Rochester. That’s when it all fell apart. There was massive construction for about 60 miles. The lanes were limited, narrow with no shoulders. As always, everyone in Chicago drove like maniacs and I was white knuckling it at the posted 45 mph speed limit. That’s when the torrential thunderstorms hit. It was dark, the rain obscured the lane markings and I could barely see the hood of my car at times. I finally reached an Oasis and pulled over (after an 18 mile stretch with no shoulders or off ramps!) I had to wait about 3 hours for the storm to blow over. At that point, despite endless coffee, I was exhausted. Rockford was a few miles away and that city has a ton of hotels. I would make the rest of the journey in the morning. Except, none of the hotels had vacancies. They also informed me that the next 2 towns were also booked solid. My next hope for vacancies would be Madison (where I already had a reservation). Reluctantly, I got more coffee and kept going. The rest of the way wasn’t too bad. The construction was done, and so were the storms. I reached Madison, but got lost about half a dozen times trying to find Verona, and then my hotel. I finally rolled in at 3 am, by this point, I had been up 26 hours (and had completed a Half-Ironman in that time). I checked in an collapsed into bed…
Workout Total: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.
I slept in late and got a real late start. I got going around 11 am. It took me awhile to get my bearings, but the loop was literally next door. I had a map in my back pocket and started on my way. After a couple of turns, I made the wrong turn onto Whalen Road. This road was very hilly and I could not find the next turn. Finally, I figured out I was going the wrong way. I was hoping to be riding “the loop”, but by a happy coincidence, I was riding “the stick” (which I was hoping to ride at some point anyways). I rode about 8 miles out and back getting the feel of the worst the stick had to offer. Once I got back, I started out on my first look at the 42 mile loop. At every intersection, I had to stop and look at my map. I had heard that there were green arrows giving directions along the loop. They were usually there. Unfortunately, this was not 100% accurate, so I kept referring back to my map. As soon as I left Verona, the hills started. I was in granny gear and pushing as hard as I could…and these were the “rollers”, not the big hills! As I was rolling along, I found that I was having a harder and harder time. The gears were not cooperating. It eventually became clear that my bike would not hold the lower gears and that I could not go on. I turned around and limped back into town feeling defeated and overwhelmed. I found a bike shop that was open on Sunday and made my way down. They found a broken part on the gear shifter and were able to get me rolling again. At this point, I was tired so I made no attempt to ride again. But I did drive the loop to get a feel for the course layout. I would be back tomorrow.
Workout total: 33.6 mile bike.
Well, this trip has been humbling so far. But, my bike was again in good working order, I have had a good night’s sleep and I set off. This time, I didn’t make a wrong turn on Whalen Road and I stay on the course. I do the little tour of Verona and head onto County Highway G, where I started having issues yesterday. The course seems flatter and easier then the last time (or course, my lower gears are functional now). I make the turn onto Messerschmidt Road (where I called it quits yesterday) and then onto a long stretch of Hwy 92 (beautiful, scenic, great condition, but fairly hilly). The end of that hwy is the infamous climb into Mt. Horeb. I think of it as the worst hill on the course. It may not be the steepest, but I was in granny gear early, and it just keeps going and going and going. Finally, I hit the plateau, and the ride thru town is quite flat. Leaving town, I hit Witte Road. When I turned onto this road, I felt like I did as a kid at the top of the big hill of a roller coaster. My stomach sank as I went barreling down the hill, then up and down a few rollers, eventually having to slam it into granny gear to climb the next hill. This pattern went on for the whole road. It has to be the funniest piece of cycling asphalt that I have ever seen. What a blast! Top speed was almost 40 mph! I then head on down Garfoot, which is similar-not as hilly but has a lot of curves. There is also some loose gravel making the ride treacherous (at two intersections, there are stretches of pure gravel and these are downright dangerous…even at low speed!) From there, I entered Cross Plaines and another ride thru a quaint little town. There are a couple of dangerous and rough railroad crossings, but otherwise, an easy ride. From there, I passed onto Stagecoach Road. I had a couple of loose filling when I started down this road, but they fell out on Stagecoach road. Easily the worst road conditions on the loop. Shortly after that came the Three Evil Sisters (Old Salk Pass, Timber Lane, and Midtown Road). None are as bad as the climb into Mt Horeb, but the combo is arguably worse. Old Sauk isn’t too steep, but it is long and winding. You cannot see the top which makes it worse. Timber is short and steep, but the easiest of the three. Midtown is also short, but seems to be the steepest of the three. In granny gear, it is a struggle to keep up enough speed to keep the bike upright. After that, there is a long and pleasant downhill stretch heading back into Verona.
I wanted to keep on going and do a second loop, but my bike was still having minor issues and I headed back to the bike shop for a little bit of fine tuning. An hour later, I was back on my bike and did the loop again. It seemed a little easier and less intimidating the second time around…even though my legs were mush. Once complete, I racked my bike and went out for some carbs before bed.
Workout Total: 93.8 mile bike (I got lost a few times…)
The weather didn’t cooperate today. It was very windy, making the downhills quite dangerous. They were predicting rain late morning and early afternoon, so I sneaked in a morning ride of the loop and decided that was enough cycling for the day. I did have a scare on Midtown Road. As I was making the climb, I was frantically gearing down. I suddenly realized that I was actually gearing up. I figured this out just as I was forced to stop pedaling and almost fell. I was lucky enough to get one foot unclipped in time, but I had to walk the rest of the way up that hill. After that scare, it seemed like a good time to check out the run course. I headed into Madison and Monona Terrace (home of the Ironman transition). Once parked, it took me a while to get a feel for the layout. After 30 minutes, I figured out that “run out” was less then 50 feet from where I parked. Map in hand, I set out for a run. The course, took me on a lap around the Wisconsin Legislature before leaving downtown via a pedestrian commuter path (took me awhile to find this) and onto the UW campus. The course is 13.1 miles long and will be repeated twice on race day. I figured that one time around the loop would be plenty. The route snaked it’s way thru campus and fraternity row. It includes a long stretch along a lakefront walking path and a few blocks on State Street (where all the trendy shops and restaurants are found). The only really hilly part is “Observatory Drive” which is just crazy hilly. After that, I made my way back towards the legislature and my car. Storms were threatening for most of the run, but held off until after I was done.
Workout Total: 41.4 mile bike, 14.0 mile run.
I was leaving town this morning and had to be checked out of my room by 11am. I could get one last ride of the loop if I started early enough. It was a cool morning, with no wind and it was beautifully sunny. I rode the whole loop without looking at the map one. I could anticipate every turn and every climb. Still a brutal course, but familiarity does make it easier. My legs were jell-o and I was glad this was my last ride. I successfully climbed Midtown Road, so I go a little bit of redemption. After a very nice final ride, I got back to the hotel in time to shower and load up the car before checkout. I then headed home feeling that I had accomplished my goals.
Workout Total: 41.6 mile bike.
Five Day Total: 1.8 mile swim, 266.4 mile bike, 27.1 mile run. (22:51 hours)
*I know, Madison is a city, not a county. Madison hosts IM Wisconsin and is home of the swim and run legs, but not the bike. The whole event takes place in Dane County. But I am using some artistic latitude here so deal with it…