Despite flooding across Madison and sandbags lining bike paths downtown, the 2018 Ironman Wisconsin triathlon is set to go on Sunday with minor adjustments to the course.
The annual race draws thousands of athletes who swim, bike and run through Madison and across Dane County, along with spectators who cheer along the race route. However, this year the swollen lakes are spilling onto parts of the race route due to record-setting rainfall over the past two weeks.
Ironman competitor Ilana Friedman, 27, arrived in Madison Thursday after hearing about the soggy weather. However, she said she is not too worried about the course conditions and will be checking out the routes before Sunday.
“(The organizers) are super intent on making sure the race conditions and course conditions are in tip-top shape,” Friedman said.
Plus, she said the rainfall brought an added benefit for the swim portion of the race.
“The good news is that the water was getting super hot, but the rain cooled it off,” Friedman said.
Race and public officials have warned athletes that higher lake levels can obscure debris and bacteria levels could be higher than normal. Part of the course in downtown Madison has also been altered due to flooding.
“Due to the severe rain and flooding that the greater Madison area and Dane County have experienced over the past several weeks, it has become necessary to make some modifications to the first and last three miles of the bike course due to the flooding on the trails,” Ironman officials said in a statement Wednesday.
The race route starts with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Monona near Monona Terrace and Law Park, most of which is underwater. Lake Monona set a new record high Thursday of 848.53 inches, two inches higher than Wednesday and 10 inches higher than the 100-year flood level.
Following the swim, athletes bike 112 miles through rural Dane County and run 26.2 miles through downtown and the UW-Madison campus area.
While the swimming and biking portion of the course remain unchanged, Ironman officials said removing debris and monitoring water quality is a top priority.
Public Health Madison & Dane County has been testing the water for E. coli bacteria, a good predictor of other bacteria and parasites, but results have not shown concerning levels, public health program director Kirsti Sorsa said.
Sorsa said the water will be tested today with results expected Friday and again following the swim portion of the race on Sunday with results expected Monday. If bacteria is found, Sorsa said the public health department will communicate with race organizers.
Debris in the lakes remains a potential hazard, Sorsa said.
“We have been kind of giving the message that you swim at your own risk and take caution because you don’t know the unknowns,” Sorsa said.
However, she noted that Ironman athletes are not likely to be easily dissuaded.
“The Ironman folks are pretty hardy folks,” Sorsa said. “Whatever they go through, I can’t imagine they would stop.”