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Home » Endurance » Triathlons » Ironman » Wisconsin 2006 » Swim & Bike

The Swim

We woke up early Sunday to grab breakfast at the hotel (side note: best continental breakfast ever — fresh cooked waffles and breakfast burritos along with the normal stuff) and watch the start. Unfortunately, Madison’s labyrinth once again foiled me, and I had difficulty locating the volunteer parking. When I belatedly scampered to the top of Monona Terrace (the epicenter of Ironman Wisconsin), the cannon had already blasted, and thousands of limbs were attacking the water.

The start of a 2.4 mile swim

Not the best pictures, but all those splashes are people swimming

Gazing at the swimmers though, something seemed different from all the pictures and videos of past Wisconsin starts — the sun was missing. During prior engagements a gorgeous sunrise greeted the swimmers and spectators for the early portion of the swim. Instead, an overcast and breezy day obscured the sun from view that morning. A bleak, grey sky ushered in the start of a long day. This weather was only a precursor to that which would plague the athletes for the remainder of the adventure.

After briefly watching the swimmers, I headed to the volunteer tent to report as a bike handler. I waded through the sea of bikes atop Monona Terrace and determined my job requirements from the other volunteers. Bike handlers were responsible for retrieving competitors’ bikes from the rack and providing them to their riders as quickly and easily as possible when they pass through T1. I was in charge of two racks with twenty bikes each.

The frenzied swim was blocked from my view as I eagerly waited to dispense bikes, but I could gauge its progress by the gradually increasing cheers as the leaders approached the shore. Triathletes eventually started to surmount the parking structure and arrive at their two-wheeled transport. A slow trickle of elite racers quickly transformed into a torrent of swimmers turned bikers. I tried to read numbers from peoples’ helmets as they rushed by and pick out ones in my range. Volunteers upstream of the flowing mass of humanity were also shouting athletes’ numbers to alert other bike handlers to ready a bike for its rider’s impending arrival. It was difficult to keep pace with the barrage of people, but I tired to prepare as many bikes as I could. Sorry to any racers on my rack that I missed, but my legs only move so fast.

The peak flow of athletes lasted almost an hour, with wall-to-wall competitors engulfing the top level on Monona Terrace. Eventually the tide began to thin and the last bike on my rack departed. I regrouped with my Cedar Rapids entourage to drive to the bike course and cheer on the riders.

The Bike

Bikes atop Monona Terrace waiting for the Ironman

Only half of the bikes sitting atop Monona Terrace

While driving into the middle of farm country, the overcast sky began to drop a steady stream of rain. It was not a very warm morning anyway, so the added precipitation would have made for an incredible chilly and miserable ride. We situated ourselves at the corner of Timber Lane and Mineral Point Road, around 35 or 40 miles into the ride and a little past the second big hill. A stream of riders was already cranking through as we approached, and we tried to encourage everyone on this wet day. It never poured (although I am sure some of the riders would disagree on that point), but the constant rain eventually soaked all the riders to the bone. The additional headwind from the bike on an already cold day would have made the riders feel as if they were on a polar expedition rather than in a triathlon. Surprisingly though, many of the riders were in high spirits and reciprocated to the cheering crowds. They were only on their first loop though, so they still had at least seventy miles to battle the elements.

I pulled out my Scooby-Doo suit in an attempt to briefly distract the riders from their undertaking. Some of them were pretty amused and yelled back to the screaming dog. Hopefully I made a couple people smile for at least a few seconds on an otherwise wretched day. After standing in the rain cheering and dancing in a dog costume for an enjoyably long time, the leaders came flying by already on their second loop, lapping all the age groupers still on their first. We stood watch as couple more elite riders passed before departing to what would shortly become the run course.