Now that my husband and I have recovered fully from our weekend in Madison at Ironman Wisconsin we have reflected and made notes of how we will do things differently if I ever decide to do the event again. As a spectator at Ironman Wisconsin you need to mentally (and physically) prepare yourself for the weekend. Yes, your athlete is going to put themselves through one of the most physically challenging races on the face of the earth, but it’s not a cake walk for the spectator either. Especially if you really want to see your athletes a number of times throughout the day.
I used the MyAthleteLive tracker on race day, and my husband said it was fairly accurate. There were times where the GPS tracker was on the fritz and it looked as if I was at the police department, but for the most part it gave people a sense of where I was on the course.
Using the MyAthleteLive app on your phone to track your athlete does soak up a lot of battery life from your phone. So make sure to take your phone charger with you, as the Madison street lamps have power outlets on them!
If you ever plan on being a spectator at Ironman Wisconsin, then you will want to bookmark this Spectator Guide provided by Coach Joe and his wife. Coach Joe has done this race six times, and it’s pretty fair to say that his wife is a pro at spectating this huge event. Her Fit Bit tracked her at over 54,000 steps and covering over 25-1/2 miles (holy moly!). After reading the spectator guide, and witnessing the actual event here are our (my husband and I) additional recommendations to spectating Ironman Wisconsin.
1) Wear comfortable shoes – I’m just going to state the obvious here. There is A LOT of walking that will be happening all weekend and especially from when you wake up with your athlete at 4am on race day until they finish into the late afternoon/evening.
2) Wear layers of clothing – When you walk to Monona Terrace at the crack of dawn it can feel a little chilly outside, the day will likely warm up considerably and then depending again on when your athlete finishes it will return to those chilly temps. Be prepared for anything as September in the Midwest can vary greatly in weather.
3) If it’s a sunny day don’t forget to use sunscreen. By the time that I got out on the run course, I saw some spectators with some really nice sun burns on their arms, neck and face.
4) Your athlete will likely give you a ticket prior to race day that will allow you access from 6pm-midnight to grab their bike and gear bags. Do not open the gear bags, the combination of smells from urine, sweat, dirt and lake water can be overwhelming to the olfactory senses. I ended up washing my tri shorts in the shower after the race so that they didn’t stink up the hotel room and car on the drive home.
5) If you plan to spectate out to the bike course it’s well worth traveling to one of the three Sister Hills, but bring a lawn chair. Your athlete will need your support and cheers especially on these hills. They also will be traveling at a slower pace up the hill so you will see them for a few extra seconds. Be prepared to see less of them while spectating from a flat portion of the course where they will be going 16+ mph. There are lots of spectators on the hill, and they are hilarious with their different costumes and cheering styles. You’ll be there for quite awhile waiting for your athlete, so it’s worth hauling a light-weight lawn chair to sit in.
6) Bring along your own bike and/or moped – We had never really been to Madison before and had no idea how moped and bike friendly it was. There were mopeds and bikers everywhere! Since your athlete will also have a bike, the days leading up to the race you’ll be traveling to and from Monona Terrace multiple times and it’s nice to be able to bike back and forth (or use the moped). On race day, you will be able to get around on the run course way easier if you are on a bike allowing you to see your athlete much more. It will save you a lot of time. Not bringing a bike for my husband was likely our biggest regret of the weekend. Live and learn!
7) Find a way to strap a cooler to bike and/or moped. You need to keep yourself fueled and hydrated just as much as your athlete so that you can make it to the end of the day. Pack a cooler with sandwiches, snacks and beverages and strap it to your bike/moped.
8) Purchase yourself a unique noisemaker – My husband chose a vuvuzela horn (the soccer horn banned from the World Cup). This worked out well because when he blew the horn, I was able to recognize it (very few people had this style of horn) and know that my spectators were nearby and to begin scanning the crowd to see them. There are a lot of people with the classic cow bell, and a few air horns. A whistle or a viking horn can work too. It adds to the fun of spectating for the day when you can make loud obnoxious noises.
Feel free to share any other spectator tips and suggestions in the comments section. I hope that this can be helpful to your future Ironman Wisconsin event!