*photo credits: Greg Larson Photography
There are certain moments that athletes carry around with them for days, months, even years after completing a race. I can still feel the chills that crawled up my body as I climbed up the last hill of my first marathon. And the tears that ran down my face as I was just a mile away from completing my first half Ironman last year.
The first moments that I recall a week after competing last week’s Milkman Triathlon has nothing to do with the usual overwhelming feeling of success. That’s probably because the race had everything to do with survival.
The combination of temperatures (in the 90s), monstrous hills on the bike course and very little shade meant snagging a finisher medal was by no means an easy feat.
Milkman Triathlon Pros
Plenty of bathrooms. Most races are notorious for never having enough bathrooms for its athletes. But this race had plenty of bathrooms to go around for both the athletes and spectators. Most importantly, the long row of bathrooms was in close proximity to the swim-start. I’d call any race a success if it’s set up so I don’t have to contemplate peeing in my wetsuit. In addition, there were bathrooms at most aide stations along the bike and run courses.
Easy swim start. Some triathlons start on different ends of the water, making it difficult to get from the transition area in the morning to the start. But because this course was in the shape of a triangle, it turned out to not only be ideal for the athletes, but fantastic for spectators. Family and friends didn’t have to choose between watching the start or finish–they could watch both.
Location. From the ability to train on the challenging bike course to not worrying about extra travel expenses on top of a race registration fee, there are numerous benefits of competing in a local race. The race start was just a five-minute car ride away from my house. I ate a home-cooked meal and slept in my own bed the night before the race. And family and friends could spectate without having to dedicate their entire weekend to my race. And for folks who live outside of Madison, it’s a fairly quick drive from Milwaukee and/or the Chicago area.
Cycle repair. Fortunately, I didn’t need to take advantage of the numerous cycle repair cars that drove around the bike course. But if I did, it definitely wouldn’t have been long before a cycle repair car found me. Even though I know how to change a tire or make other small fixes on my bike, it was comforting to know that someone was always nearby if I needed an extra hand.
Top-notch volunteers and police officers. In the intersections where there were police and volunteers directing traffic (I’ll go into more detail on that subject in the “con” list), they did an excellent just clearing intersections for us. The cops never cut it close with allowing cars through and I felt like they always had my back.
The volunteers were also quite remarkable during this race. They not only withstood scorching temperatures so the athletes could have access to food and water, but they did so with a smile and enthusiasm.
During the run, my loopy self (from the heat) just grabbed a water cup at the first station thinking that would be enough. But then one volunteer went out of his way to intensely tell me that I needed to be taking down at least two energy gels. “Get them down now,” he sternly yelled at me. As it turned out, his demands were exactly what I needed in the moment. I hadn’t been thinking clearly and was teetering on the edge of dehydration and heat illness. I immediately took down the energy gels and did so throughout the rest of the run. I attribute my ability to finish the run without leg cramps or having to stop to walk to this volunteer.
Milkman Triathlon Cons
The bike course finish. The last four miles of the bike course varied between a deserted parking lot to being forced on a sidewalk for a brief moment only to make a tight left turn onto a bumpy, narrow bike path. This is the last thing any biker wants to deal with the last few miles of a challenging 56-mile ride. If this race does return to Madison, I hope the course map will at the very least make it clear to athletes that’s what they should expect. The bike course implied that this particular left turn was going to be made from the road, which would have given us a bit more room to make the tight left turn.
Traffic on the bike course. Not closing the traffic on the bike course and failing to assign police officers and volunteers to certain intersections was a major flaw and reflects poorly on the organization of this race.
There was one intersection in particular where I came around a tight corner followed by an immediate left, and there was no cop or volunteer directing traffic. If I hadn’t been fully attentive and waving my warm at the car headed for me (who thankfully did slow down) to let them know I was turning left, I’m not sure what would have happened.
During any race, I have the expectation that with a race registration fee, I shouldn’t have to have any anxiety about traffic. I understand that it’s difficult to shut down 56 miles of road, but the race could just shut down one side of the road with cones and leave the other side open just for cyclists. Isn’t it enough that as a cyclist, we have to fight our way for a place on the roads during training rides? I think so.
Dodging cyclists on the run. Just like closing down car traffic, I understand that closing down a bike path in the middle of a Sunday afternoon is no easy task. That said, why should any athlete during an endurance event like a 70.3 have to work through a sea of people who aren’t competing in the race? I hardly had enough energy to get to the finish line, let alone fight my way through walkers, runners and cyclists on the bike path.
Not enough aid stations. Unlike the last 70.3 I did last year, this run course had aid stations only every 1.5 miles. In most official Ironman races, there are aid stations at every mile along the run course. In addition, this race only had food and energy gels at every-other stop. The combination of this type of distance and hot temperatures definitely called for more aid stations.
Doubling the Distance
In exactly three months, I’ll be doubling the distance of this last weekend’s 70.3 and taking on the Ironman Wisconsin (140.6). If this weekend was any indication of how September’s race will be, I’ve got quite the work ahead of me.
I’ll need to take advantage of training in the hot summer temperatures with the hopes of cooler weather on race day in September, but being prepared just in case. I need to continue trying to take in as much food as possible on long bike rides to ensure I’m taking in as much as my body’s taking out. And the hills on the Milkman course was just a taste of what I’m in for during Ironman Wisconsin.
One factor Ironman Wisconsin and the Milkman Triathlon will definitely have in common: snagging a finisher medal will be no easy feat.