Thirty-nine years and counting: the Wausau Triathlon
BY PETE PRONOLD
The first modern day triathlon was held at Mission Bay in San Diego, California, in 1974. Over the next 4 to 6 years, the sport grew locally with several events being held in Wisconsin starting around 1980. One of the pioneer races in our state was the Wausau Triathlon, which began then and is continuing into 2018.
The Wausau Triathlon is the last of the original Wisconsin triathlons with a continuous run during this time period. The race is held the first Saturday of August each year at Sunnyvale Park on the west side of town. Sunnyvale Park is probably one of the best venues to host a race. It has easy access from Highway 29 and the city of Wausau and has ample parking available for all participants. Race organizers have been lucky, as there has never been bad weather on race day. Every year has had nearly perfect racing conditions.
The original race was called the Wausau-Miller Lite Triathlon. The race distance consisted of a 1,000-yard swim, 28-mile bike and 6.2-mile run. In the early years there were about 175 to 200 finishers each year. In 1994 a sprint distance was added to promote the first-time triathlete. The sprint course is a 400-yard swim, 17-mile bike and 5K run. In 2011, the mini-course distance was added, which consists of a 200-yard swim, 9.2-mile bike and 2-mile run. With the additions of the shorter distances, participation has about doubled.
The race is not limited to local participants only. In 2017, over 12 states were represented, as well as Australia.
The swim begins in the warm, clear waters of Sunnyvale Lake. Athletes are grouped into waves of approximately 30 each. After lining up on the shore and checking in, long-course participants are the first to start, with each successive wave approximately three minutes apart. When all long course waves have gone off, there is a short break before the sprint-distance race starts. The mini-distance is the last to go. The swim course is circular, following a series of buoys counterclockwise about 50 to 75 feet off shore.
Each buoy has a volunteer lifeguard positioned to keep swimmers on track and provide assistance in the event it is needed. Sunnyvale Lake has clear water, so if you are a good swimmer, it is possible to swim draft because of the water clarity. At the swim exit, triathletes have to run up a hill to the transition area to change for the bike section of the race.
The bike course is a very hilly 28 miles which has very little flat road after the first 2 miles. Exiting Sunnyvale Park, bikers proceed north on Stewart Avenue, Highway U west and Highway O north. The first 5 miles are generally uphill. Both the long and short courses cover the same roads. The bike course is generally uphill or downhill the whole way, so be prepared gear-wise for some steep climbs. Bicycle gearing straight blocks are not recommended. In several sections speed can be reduced to less than 10 mph due to the grades present. Of course, after a hill, there are steep downhills where speeds can exceed 30 to 40 mph. The most dangerous part of the bike course is where the long and short courses meet at the intersection of Woodland and 52nd Avenue. Athletes need to pay attention to merging bicycle traffic. It is important to manage the bike course in terms of effort in order to have energy left for the run portion.
The run course is out and back. It exits Sunnyvale Park and proceeds out to the frontage road along Highway 29. The long course is basically 3 miles uphill and 3 miles downhill. The road is very lightly travelled, so traffic is not a concern. There are aid stations at the 1.5, 3, 4.5 and 5.5-mile marks – all manned by enthusiastic volunteers. The finish line at Sunnyvale Park is constructed so it can be seen once you enter the park, even though there is still about a quarter-mile to go.
Awards and pre-race packet
Each finisher gets a finisher medal. Awards are top men’s overall, women’s overall and team overall. In addition, the top three individuals in each age group receive either a plaque, or a sweatshirt with the Wausau Logo. Awards indicate age group and placing.
Every five years, the race recognizes individuals with the longest consecutive participation string. Although no one has done all 38 races, myself, Mike Mueli, and Greg Heindel have done the race 36 consecutive years. One unique thing the race has is a very good pre-race packet. Packets have many items which demonstrate the local support the race has from the community. Giveaways over the years include wrist runners, extra tee shirts, water bottles and gym bags. So if you sign up for this race, look forward to something special in the packet. Premium awards are given for fastest male and female swim, run and bike time for each long, short and sprint courses. In addition, there is a complimentary lunch provided to the athletes following the race. Professional sport massage is available for participants 16 and older.
The Wausau YMCA Triathlon is an annual fundraiser for World Service and for area youth scholarships. World Services is the YMCA global charity which donates money to allow other YMCAs around the world to reach out and help disadvantaged people in other parts of the world. The YMCA strives to provide safe places for children to gather and discover who they are and what they could achieve. The YMCA is partnered with a Y in India and they work together to accomplish this goal.
You might be wondering how this race has persevered. Many races have come and gone in Wisconsin over the years, but the Wausau Triathlon continues on. The race has had a lot of community support and local athletes who are triathlon-minded. They come back year after year and are continuously bringing new athletes into the sport. They run a well-organized event that is fun, scenic and challenging, but not impossible. Local sponsors such as Cellcomm, Gatorade, Trek Bicycle, All-Star Nutrition and Kwik Trip, along with many others have been very supportive to the YMCA. This has allowed the race to continue. The YMCA rotates through sponsors and continuously looks for new ones. There are also a large number of volunteers who work tirelessly to provide a good experience to all the participants.
In my opinion, the Wausau Triathlon is one of the best races in Wisconsin. The format allows for challenges to all participants. For further information and race details, contact woodsonymca.com or call Melissa Hoffman (715-841-1830) to volunteer on race day. Please mark this race on your calendar as a must do.