Traveling to dozens of Ironman events annually isn’t always as glamorous as most athletes would believe. However, there are some fun times and every once in a while, you find some hidden gems such as Crack Fries. Sometimes it is a bike ride with views you never expected or an open water swim exceeding the experience of any Caribbean vacation. A lot of times the hidden gems are the little things such as a race day morning boat ride to the start or a 1 a.m. devouring of a “meat plate” in the Platz in Frankfurt. The beauty of Ironman is there are so many locations and they all offer unique experiences.
For many, Ironman and “Heartland of USA” are not two ideas commonly placed together, but at Ironman Wisconsin you get just that combination. For nearly 20 years, athletes have been trekking (no pun intended, Trek Bicycles is located in nearby Waterloo, WI) to what some call the “Berkeley of the Midwest” to test themselves for 140.6 miles and hopefully they have been able to take in some of the local flavor. If you are planning a trip to Ironman Wisconsin here are three things you should consider experiencing while you are in town.
Any reader of previous Good Enough, Isn’t! postings might start to see a trend. I am often motivated by my gut. Not intuition, my literal gut. My Belly. My stomach. While gorging yourself in the days leading up to an Ironman may not be the wisest pre-race strategy, eating your face off in the 48 hours after is a rite of passage. Therefore, my three recommendations are centered on local cuisine.
DANE COUNTY FARMER’S MARKET
Saturday, the day before the race is the Dane County Farmer’s Market and it is AWESOME! Apparently, it is the largest “producer only” farmer’s market in the country. It is a great way for you to walk off those pre-race nerves as it opens at 6:15 a.m. and closes at 1:45 p.m. each Saturday between April and November. The market rings the square around the state capital which is right on the edge of Ironman Village and the finishing chute. Every year I would come home with a cooler packed full of goodies I picked up from various local growers and makers. It is a cornucopia of America’s Dairyland with multiple vendors selling cheeses of all varieties including those famous squeaky cheese curds.
You can buy fruits and vegetables of all variety, local honey, flowers…even popcorn for popping when you get home. Of course there are several makers of Bratwurst on hand as well as some great homemade jerky artisans.
Last but not least, there are several bakers on hand serving up warm yummieness. One year, I got a muffin the size of my head and it was so dang good I wanted to crawl inside the thing.
THE OLD FASHIONED
I never make a trip to Madison without at least one meal at The Old Fashioned. This is a Madison landmark and on a Badger football weekend, the place is packed. Get there early or muscle up to the bar. Of course, you have to order one of the restaurants namesakes and get a classic Old Fashioned.
You can also choose from a bevy of beers on tap or out of the bottle. The dinner menu offers everything from build-your-own hot dogs to rainbow trout. However, the one thing you MUST get at The Old Fashioned is the number 13.
House-made fresh Wisconsin beer battered cheese curds…FRIED! Cheese curds, despite their name are really tasty. Fried cheese curds are next level and the best you will ever eat…at The Old Fashioned!
HOPCAT’S CRACK FRIES
All done racing, or maybe you are a Sherpa for someone racing and you just need to refuel yourself with some good old bar food. There are lots of places in Madison for that. Just head down to State Street, where the runners are headed anyway. My pick is just off the drag and it is a place called Hopcat.
With 130 beer taps you will be able to take the edge of those tired legs. But if you are on Sherpa duty…make sure you don’t forget to go check on your athlete. While it is a regional chain they do serve good bar food and The Food Network ranks their “Crack Fries” (the new PC term for them is “Cosmic Fries”) as being one of America’s 10 Best French Fries.
There are plenty of other places to go like the Tipsy Cow and the Great Dane which are icons as well, these are just three places I have really enjoyed which might add to your time in Madison. Feel free to let us know your favorite watering holes and places to eat at Ironman Wisconsin or any other Ironman locations as well.
Lance Watson, triathlon hall of fame coach, takes on, perhaps, the most asked question in Ironman, 70.3, Olympic and Sprint triathletes minds. How do you warm up for a swim start where you are not allowed in the water prior to the race start?