Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake Triathlon has a rich heritage with six athletes having participated in each of the 20 years since it’s inception, according to race director Jeff Grady. This triathlon also boasts a connection to the Ironman bike split world record holder, Andrew Starykowicz, who at one time was the bike course coordinator. With that much tradition, I knew this was a race I had to attempt!
Nearly 500 athletes competing across the Sprint, Olympic, Relay and Aquabike distances arrived Friday at the Osthoff Resort for packet pickup and a pre-race talk. The later was helpful as a first-time participant since Google Street view has not yet mapped much of the course. After hearing about the Olympic distance route, I figured I better take a drive to scout what awaited me. What I found were lots of challenging rolling hills for someone used to Illinois’ flats!
After a bit of a sleepless night, I arrived when transition opened at 5:30 am. After checking my tire pressure at bike support, I went to rack and setup my gear before heading down to the water for a little pre-race swim. Elkhart Lake was smooth as glass and a comfortable 66 degrees. I was concerned that only seven buoys marked the 1500 meter course and was informed the lake was so deep it is difficult to get any more anchored properly. The Sprint athletes went out first in time trial fashion and then the course was cleared for the Elite Olympic Distance athletes, followed by the approximately 150 Olympic age groupers. The swim was surprisingly fast and well supported.
After transition, it was out onto the bike course and those dreaded hills! Luckily forecasted rain never materialized; but, there were some significant winds making the 28 mile course that much tougher! The hardest accents were rewarded with fast descents on the other side. While I approached the toughest climb on the course at almost 30 mph, I still had to dismount and walk the last 100 yards or so. It seemed like as soon as you picked up speed there was an immediate turn forcing you to slow down. Two rectangular loops and one sharp hairpin turn provided just enough of a challenge to keep you honest.
Although the legs were burning, it always feels good to return to transition, re-rack the bike and get out onto the run. This portion of the course was hilly, but manageable. It took competitors back through the surrounding community. Somewhere in the middle of the course I met a fellow Chicagoan who agreed we have nothing like this terrain locally. The volunteers at the four aid stations were incredibly supportive. The second half of the 10k follows the sprint course through a local golf course with one final 100 ft climb and then it’s back downhill to the finish where volunteers were waiting to pass out medals featuring a sunglass wearing cow, recovery food and some final encouragement.
The post race celebration included a fantastic selection of lunch options and an awards ceremony. Perhaps, the most poignant moment of the entire experience was packing up with those who had finished with me near the tail end of the race, sharing our stories and congratulating each others efforts. There is something special about the triathlon community and the way we support each other whether we land on the podium or finish in last place.
The Elkhart Lake Triathlon is a big time event with a small town feel. After 20 years, Jeff Grady and his team have things dialed in and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The sprint or a relay is likely the better option if you choose to make this your first triathlon. If you have a few races under your belt and are looking for a unique challenge, I highly recommend the Olympic Distance. Now that I know the course, I may just have to put the 21st Elkhart Lake Triathlon on my race schedule next year! I believe I have some redemption waiting for me on the hill at the intersection of Fur Farm and Irish Road.
Olympic Elite Male Top 3 Results
- Blake Becker 2:06:58.0
- Matt Hutchinson 2:08:06.4
- Chris Wichert2:12:52.1
Olympic Elite Female Top 3 Results
- Jackie Hering 2:19:46.7
- Robin Pomeroy 2:23:29.9
- Lisa Campbell2:40:24.8