Culture

Top Tri Towns of 2020: Madison, Wisconsin

We asked for your recommendations, had a panel of expert judges pore over the nominations, and came up with the best triathlon towns in the U.S.

What makes a good triathlon town? It’s a little bit the training, a little bit the community, and a whole lot of je ne sais quoi.

We started our search for the best tri towns by asking you—and you delivered. We received nearly 200 nominations, with a couple of tri clubs running coordinated campaigns. (Yes, Clermont, we see you.) And then we narrowed it down based on a few criteria: the local triathlon community, training and facilities, climate, events and access to races, and the other fun things—bike shops, coffee, good restaurants.

Then we had our panel of expert judges (meet them below) make their picks. The battle was fierce and worthy towns were eliminated, until we finalized our list of the top five tri towns and five honorable mentions. First up, the cover star of our September/October issue: Madison, Wisconsin.

Related: The Complete List of Tri Town Winners

Triathlon Town: Madison, Wisconsin

With one of the oldest and most beloved Ironman races in North America, Madison is a popular destination for triathletes across the Midwest—but that’s not the only thing the lake city has going for it. “Madison is definitely the ultimate USA triathlon town,” said two-time Ironman Wisconsin winner Linsey Corbin. “A lot of it boils down to the community. I have yet to attend an event in Madison that the town doesn’t go all-in for.”

Home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison has a diehard tri community that comes out in full force (and in costume) for local races—no matter the weather. Yes, winter is a thing in Wisconsin and you have to deal with snow, but it makes you hardier. As local Elisavet Paplomata said, “It offers an opportunity for cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, both of which are great off-season activities.” And if you’re a real Wisconsinite, you just bundle up and train in the snow anyway. Then, in the summer, when the triathlon community is on-season, the city is sports crazy—it’s even home to the Crossfit Games!

You’ll find athletes every day of the week running around Lake Monona or along the Mendota lakeshore path. Or try the very popular UW Arboretum. One of the biggest tri attractions are all of the lakes that surround the town, with group swims in the summer from a number of beaches. Head just out of town to Devil’s Lake for a picturesque Wisconsin training day. But beyond the community vibe, the training appeal of Madison is in the biking options. With miles of empty rolling farm roads, the area is a hub for cyclists from around the region. Head out to Verona and make a stop at the Wisconsin Brewing Company—no training in Wisconsin would be complete without beer and cheese. Hit New Glarus (also home to a brewery) or Mount Horeb or take the free Merrimac Ferry with your bike for a complete farmland adventure.

Trek’s headquarters are just outside of town, in Waterloo, and one the largest triathlon shops, Endurance House, has a spot right in Madison, meaning there’s no end to the resources available for group rides, runs, swims, or mechanical help. If the facilities (and beer and restaurants, like popular spot Ian’s Pizza or farm- to-table locale Graze) aren’t enough, Milwaukee is nearby and Chicago is a little over a two-hour drive away for bigger events, like the Chicago Triathlon.

Spectators line the parking garage looking onto the swim course. Photo: Jamie Squire/ Getty Images for Ironman

Why Madison Is One Of The Top Triathlon Towns

Really it’s the community that makes this triathlon destination one of the best. Midwestern hospitality combines with triathlete dedication, great summer training, and a storied history.

Population

259,000

Median Household Income

$62,906

Average Temperature

63 degrees F from May to October; 29 degrees F from November to April

Local Tri Clubs

Capital City Multisport, University of Wisconsin Tri Team, TriWisconsin

Notable Local Races

Ironman Wisconsin (Sept.) and 70.3 (TBD); USAT Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee; Wisconsin Triathlon Series (throughout the summer)