Ironman Wisconsin vs. Ironman Switzerland

The FightA reader from New York, Pooyan Aslani, posed a great question on my “Ironman Switzerland Journey Concludes” post. He asked which Ironman race, Wisconsin or Switzerland, I would recommend. Because I’m not sure which aspects of the race might be most important to Pooyan, I decided to break out the main features of an Ironman race and compare Wisconsin with Switzerland. The analysis got to be lengthy, so I decided to make it an entirely new post.

Pre-race information
I found the website of Ironman Wisconsin to be more user friendly and complete, though most of the concerns about the Ironman Switzerland site were likely due to the fact that it wasn’t created in English.
Winner – Wisconsin

It goes without saying that it was much easier (and less costly) to get to Madison than it was to travel to Switzerland. In order to adjust to the time change, it is wise to travel to Zurich sooner than you’d need to travel to Madison. I arrived in Madison on Thursday night, but took an overnight flight to get to Zurich on Wednesday morning prior to the race (both are on Sunday). While Madison is a great town, Zurich is beautiful and historic. You have to do some searching in Zurich to find a spacious (and affordable) hotel room. The rooms in Zurich are generally pretty small and pricey. While Madison is convenient and friendly, the experience of going to Switzerland and seeing a new country was incredible.
Winner – Switzerland

Race Check-In and Expo
Both were very well-organized, thorough and helpful. There was more merchandise for sale in Madison. The Zurich expo was outside, while Wisconsin’s was in the convention center.

Transition Area
The transition area in Madison was located in the convention center and was comprised of multiple rooms (T1 bag room, T2 bag room, separate areas for M/F changing). The Madison area also required running and biking up a circular ramp at the end of the swim and bike. The transition is quite a distance from the swim area, as well. In Zurich, the transition area is all in one space outside. There is no grabbing of a bag at the transition. All of your things stay next to your bike. In the event of inclement weather, Madison would be marginally better. However, if it isn’t raining, the Zurich transition area is far superior for it’s simplicity. My transitions were much faster at Ironman Switzerland.
Winner – Switzerland

Both swims employ a water start (rather than a beach start). The water in Lake Zurich was amazingly clear, making it very easy to see how the swarm of swimmers are moving along. Lake Monona in Madison isn’t murky, but the Lake Zurich water might as well come from a bottle of Evian. Water temperatures were quite similar with both in the very comfortable mid-60s. The course in Wisconsin is better, however. It is two counter-clockwise laps around a rectangle. The Zurich course was different and involved a short run over an island – see the course here. While the water clarity in Zurich was great, the course layout made the swim a bit more chaotic. The buoys in Wisconsin were larger, which made sighting easier (particularly when coupled with the easy right angles).
Winner – Wisconsin

The rolling hills of Wisconsin were great. The speedy course along Lake Zurich and the climb to overlook the Swiss city were both fantastic. Both rides were comprised largely of two loops. Both were quite similar in that you had the opportunity to go through some small towns and see numerous farms. Swiss dairy cows were a bit different than their Wisconsin counterparts, but both made for nice scenery. The crowd support during the bike in both Wisconsin and Switzerland was outstanding. Both races had a short climb where spectators lined both sides of the street and cheered loudly with signs, much like you’d see on the climbs of the Tour de France. The crowds in the small towns of Wisconsin were a bit larger and had a little more variety in their chants, though maybe I just didn’t understand the cheers in multiple languages in Zurich. The roads were quite smooth in and around Zurich, slightly better than the roads outside of Madison.
Winner – Switzerland

In Madison, the run was two loops in the city which had a number areas where you had to double back. In Zurich, there were four loops in the city and there were also areas where the course would double back on itself. I prefer two loops to four. The Zurich course was more flat than Madison, though neither was too hilly. The aid stations in Madison and Zurich were both well stocked with a variety of drinks (though I prefer the Gatorade of Wisconsin to the Powerade of Switzerland), foods and other goodies. Stations in Wisconsin and Switzerland were both manned by enthusiastic volunteers. The music in Madison was motivational – a sampling of rock and pop hits. The music in Zurich, well, left a bit to be desired – old, not so great pop tunes from the U.S. and some German pop (not pleasant).
Winner – Wisconsin

Odds and Ends
Similar temperature. Similar altitude. Both have great finish chutes. In Wisconsin, everyone runs through a tape. Nice touch. In Switzerland, they have a more developed post-race area of food, drinks and even hot tubs and showers. The competition in Switzerland is faster (elite athletes from all over Europe). The competitors in Wisconsin are more friendly and there is more camaraderie (the numerous languages in Switzerland probably inhibit that a bit).

For me, choosing a favorite between Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Switzerland is what I imagine it’d be like to choose a favorite child. Both have strengths in different areas and are equally outstanding. So, it’s a tie. You couldn’t go wrong competing in either. Good luck, Pooyan!

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 24th, 2009 at 12:07 AM and is filed under Triathlons. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Ironman Wisconsin vs. Ironman Switzerland”

  1. Brendan Cunningham Says:

    That’s interesting. I prefer the taste of Gatorade over Powerade too. Something about Powerade is un-refreshing on long runs.

  2. Pooyan Aslani Says:

    Dear Scott,

    Thank you very much for your detailed information. Finding your blog had an interesting story for me! I was thinking about choosing one of these two IMs and I googled them. Your blog was on the top of the list. After reading it carefully with joy, I realized that you were using “” which I used it last year as well. Indeed, Lienardi’s brothers are my coaches now, and they are amazing. I am sure you have interacted with them.

    I finished my first IM last year in Arizona and I did it in 12:30. I got a terrible cramp on the bike and my run was very painful and slow. I almost walked the entire run!

    After reading your blog I became more optimistic that I could do better this year which I am doing IMAZ again. So reading your blog is educational and fun for me. Thanks again.


  3. Scott Says:

    You are very welcome, Pooyan. Thanks for checking out I’m glad you found some of my posts useful. Best of luck with with your second Ironman!

  4. Glenn Gesell Says:

    Hi Scott, Thanks for the blog, I am doing Swiss this year and have done Wisconsin 5 times, comparing your times from Wisconsin(simular to mine), this Swiss course is almost 1 hour and 30 minutes faster, with the help of the transition area and faster bike-run courses. Bike course Swiss sounds like less hills but longer climbs. No Ironman is easy, but it will be fun to be on a fast course..HOP HOP HOP!!!

  5. Scott Says:

    Good luck, Glenn! You’ll love Ironman Switzerland!