Everything You Need to Know about the USA Triathlon Age-Group National Championship Course in Milwaukee
2021 USAT champion and Milwaukee resident Annamarie Strehlow shares her expert race recon on the USAT AG Nationals courses.
This August, age-group triathletes from all over the country will descend on Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the USA Triathlon Age-Group National Championship races. As last year’s champion and a resident of Milwaukee, I’m excited for my fellow triathletes to experience some of the best racing the country has to offer.
This race is perfect for a championship event: amazing crowd support, excellent volunteers, and a lakefront course that rivals any oceanside course out there. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the USAT Age-Group National Championship so you can have your best day.
2022 USA Triathlon Age-Group National Championship Races
Aug. 6: Olympic non-draft (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run)
Aug. 7: Sprint non-draft (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run)
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USAT AG Nationals Milwaukee: Weather
We may be in Wisconsin, home of the Frozen Tundra, but Milwaukee summers are typically quite warm, ranging between 65-90 degrees F. Whatever your weather app predicts for Milwaukee on race day, you can typically subtract 5-10 degrees F for the race venue, which is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. The breeze off the lakefront is wonderful, and often drops the temperatures to something much cooler than what you’d find even a mile or two inland.
However, Milwaukee can be pretty humid, and though the lake effect can help mitigate some of this humidity, it can still be sticky at times. Relief from this humidity can come from thunderstorms, which can build over the course of the day. Last year, we had some rain over race weekend, which made for a sloppy, muddy transition. Although it wrecked havoc on the expo, it didn’t affect the race overall.
If past USAT National Championships in Milwaukee are any indication, your race day weather will be 70-80 degrees F with some humidity. Plan accordingly: Select well-ventilated clothing and gear, and dial in your nutrition/hydration plan.Section divider
USAT AG Nationals Milwaukee: The Swim Course
Because Lake Michigan is a large body of water (22,300 square miles), the waves can sometimes behave like that of the ocean (you can even surf in Lake Michigan!). But on race day, swimmers will be protected from these waves, as the swim takes place in an inlet between Downtown Milwaukee and Lakeshore State Park.
Historically, the swim has been wetsuit-legal, and the chances of it staying that way are very likely, as Lake Michigan trends between 60-70 degrees F in August.
Prior to the race, each age group will have a chance to complete a short swim warm-up directly next to the start line at the Discovery World Pier. After each wave is sent off, athletes in the warm-up area proceed to the in-water start while the next age-group wave enters the warm-up area.
The start line is the pier itself, where in-water athletes hold onto the pier until they hear the starting horn (you will not dive in).
The protected inlet location allows for a smooth, fast swim. Both the sprint- and Olympic-distance courses head south, briefly west, and then north, and the land surrounding the inlet makes for easy sighting of the navigational buoys. After completing the swim course, athletes climb up stairs near the Summerfest (music festival) grounds and run into transition. It’s a good idea to take your time going up these stairs, especially if you have a tendency to experience brief dizziness or disorientation going from swimming to standing.
Lake Michigan is perfect for a wetsuit, but given the short length of the swim, athletes should choose what they have felt most comfortable in during their training. Light-tinted and polarized goggles would be a great choice for eyewear, as the sun will be rising during the swim.
On the Friday before Nationals, USAT usually hosts an open-water swim competition and a swim familiarization event. This year, the OWS competition will take place on Friday, Aug. 5 at 11 a.m. and the swim familiarization will run from 11:40 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. I highly recommend you go; these events allow athletes to get familiar with the pier start, water temp, and sighting. It’s a perfect opportunity to get more familiar with the course.
If your schedule does not allow you to attend the USAT events on Friday, or if you wish to get in the water before then, athletes can swim along the shore at local parks and beaches along Lake Michigan. I recommend McKinley Beach, Bradford Beach, or Klode Park. All of these parks have free beach access, and are just a few miles north of downtown Milwaukee.Section divider
USAT AG Nationals Milwaukee: Bike Course
The bike course is fast and flat! Between the speedy course, excellent crowd support, and the thrill of competing against the nation’s best triathletes, don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a new PR.
As athletes for the sprint and Olympic races exit transition, they will turn on to Lincoln Memorial Drive. The first mile is flat, capped by a quick 75-foot hill at the end of Lincoln Memorial Drive. After completing a hairpin turn at the crest, athletes will retrace their route along the lakefront, catching some speed. Catch all the free speed you can, but don’t burn your matches, because just after passing transition, you’ll approach the Hoan Bridge.
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The Hoan looks much more intimidating than it actually is. Though it rises up and above Milwaukee’s Third Ward neighborhood, the actual climb on the Hoan is less than 100 feet. The bigger concern for athletes should be a short but rough section of road as you approach the bridge and wide expansion joints on the bridge itself – hazards should be well-marked prior to the race, but it’s always a good idea to be extra-diligent in this section. Because this is located right on the lake, wind can pick up at any time. If you’re lucky, you’ll briefly smell the not-so-welcoming stench of the Milwaukee metropolitan sewage treatment plant. If you’re even luckier, you’ll smell brewing beer from the city’s many breweries instead.
After crossing the bridge, the sprint course takes a final downhill from the Hoan Bridge that leads right into a sharp, often sketchy, turn into transition. This turn comes up fast, so be on the lookout! Olympic-distance athletes will continue straight for a flat and fast tour through the villages of St. Francis and Cudahy, never venturing far from the lakefront. After this short out-and-back, you’ll return to transition the way you came.
If you are a proud owner of a disc wheel, use it! If the wind is gusty, you might feel it as you cross over the Hoan Bridge, but you will have an aerodynamic and speed advantage for the majority of your race, as this course is fast and flat. If you do not have a disc, choose a rim depth you have trained with and feel comfortable in squirrely winds, as this may be an obstacle you face as you cross the Hoan Bridge.
Though you can pre-ride some portions of the course, many sections —particularly, those over the Hoan Bridge—are closed to bikes prior to race day. If you have access to a smart trainer, some cycling apps, like VQVelocity, simulate the course profile to allow you to get a sense of how the bike course might feel on race day.Section divider
USAT AG Nationals Milwaukee: Run Course
If you like flat run courses, you’re going to love this one. After leaving transition, athletes will take the Oak Leaf Trail, a paved path that hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The sprint course will turn toward the lagoon in Veterans Park, meeting up with Lincoln Memorial Drive to run alongside the bike course they had just completed. From there, it’s a straight shot to the finish line.
Olympic-distance athletes will have an added out-and-back on Lincoln Memorial Drive, running past McKinley Marina and turning around at Bradford Beach before retracing their steps along Lincoln Memorial Drive to the finish line.
Along the way, athletes on both courses will get to see (and have their photos taken in front of) some of the most iconic landmarks in Milwaukee, including the famous Milwaukee Art Museum, a building which has a movable wingspan of 217 feet. (Fun fact: The “wings” open and close every morning and night, and sensors on the building close the wings automatically when daytime winds exceed 23 mph for more than three seconds).
The course is completely open, with very little shade. Though you might get a nice lake effect breeze to help cool things down, it’s a good idea to be prepared with a hat and handheld hydration, especially if you are sensitive to heat or sun. Applying a “sport” sunscreen is also an excellent idea due to the direct sun exposure.
Let the excitement of the crowds push you for the first mile. Between miles one and two, however, the crowds will likely thin out (after all, they’re all hurrying to the finish line to celebrate with you). In this short-but-quiet section, dig deep and stay strong. Settle into your race pace and execute your nutrition plan. Fuel and hydrate! In the final mile, you’ll be welcomed by an even louder crowd cheering you on to the finish.Section divider
USAT AG Nationals Milwaukee: Logistics
Getting to the lakefront is easy, and there is ample parking near transition, but there will likely be traffic delays as you exit the freeway onto Lincoln Memorial Drive. Allow for just a little extra time so you aren’t rushed on race day. You’ve already spent so much time preparing for your day, so what’s extra 10-15 minutes to avoid unnecessary anxiety?
Additionally, make sure you pay attention to your surroundings in transition. There will be many racks, bikes, and people to navigate while in transition. Make a few mental notes, both the day before when racking your bike and the morning of, so you can race right to your number and be as efficient as possible transitioning from the swim to the bike.
Be prepared to check in your bike the day before the race. In addition, you will be required to check in your transition bag, as no bags are allowed under your bike on race day. Bike check-in for the Olympic distance race is from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5, and for the sprint distance, 2:40 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6. If you are racing both events, you will be required to remove your bike from transition after the Olympic and re-check it later that afternoon for the sprint. You will not be able to leave your bike in transition.
Where to stay
Because the athlete village is located at Discovery World on the lakefront, I recommend staying right in downtown Milwaukee or the historic Third Ward. There are multiple hotels within walking distance from the lakefront, which will help you avoid race morning traffic. USA Triathlon has partnered with several of these hotels to offer special group rates for athletes visiting Milwaukee.
Local bike shops and running stores
There are several bike shops in the area. The shops closest to downtown and the athlete village are Wheel and Sprocket and Ben’s Cycle. Both shops are locally-owned by passionate people who believe bikes make life better.
Performance Running Outfitters is a locally-owned running store with two locations near the athlete village. One is downtown in the historic Third Ward, and the other is five miles north of the athlete village. They will be well-stocked with a wide selection of shoes, gear, and nutrition—anything to fulfill your running needs on race day.
One thing that makes this venue so popular for USAT Nationals is that it is incredibly spectator-friendly. It’s easy to see athletes from the start of the swim, through both transitions, twice (or even three times) on the bike, and all along the run.
The swim in the Lake Park inlet is easily accessible, and spectators are able to see athletes enter the water along the Discovery World Pier, and then again as they exit near Summerfest grounds. As athletes transition to the bike, spectators can watch them exit transition and speed along Lincoln Memorial Drive. Because it is an out-and-back loop, spectators can see athletes pass the park and then enter transition. As athletes exit transition for the run, spectators can watch them run in Veterans Park. Again, because the course loops around the park, athletes can be seen multiple times. The Milwaukee venue is one of the most well-spectated races, second only to Ironman Wisconsin. (It’s safe to say Wisconsin loves triathlon!)Section divider
USAT AG Nationals Milwaukee: Post-Race
Eat + Drink
My favorite place for a celebratory drink is Central Standard Crafthouse and Kitchen. It has the best old-fashioned in the state (the quintessential Wisconsin cocktail) and can be enjoyed on their rooftop to see views of the city and the lake. Located just a half-mile from the athlete village, it’s the perfect cooldown distance (and experience) after the race!
From legendary brewers Blatz, Pabst, Schlitz and Miller, to modern craft brew masters, Milwaukee’s beer heritage helped it earn its nickname “The Brew City.” Some of my favorites include Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Third Space Brewery, and Eagle Park Brewery.
There are many restaurants in downtown Milwaukee and the adjoining historic Third Ward. For a quick option, you can’t go wrong with the Milwaukee Public Market. It features over a dozen independent vendors with options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For dinner, Central Standard Crafthouse and Kitchen features a scratch kitchen with a seasonal menu. For American fare, Cafe Hollander and Cafe Benelux have delicious favorites.
If you are looking for a fancier way to celebrate your success, I recommend Lake Park Bistro. It is a locally-owned restaurant that features upscale French fare with beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Other delicious favorites include: Harbor House, Mason Street Grill, and Tre Rivali. Reservations are recommended.
Don’t rush home after your race, Milwaukee has a lot to offer! If you’re traveling with the family, check out Discovery World, a science and technology museum with hours of activities, or take in a Brewers game at Miller Park, where you can see the famous racing sausages (yes, that’s a real thing).
If you’re looking for more grown-up adventures, The Harley-Davidson Museum will rev your engine, and the Miller-Coors Brewery Tour is a fascinating trip through the Brew City’s origins (with delicious free samples at the end).
The Milwaukee Art Museum is the perfect place to spend a chill afternoon perusing more than the 30,000 works contained within, and the Mitchell Park Domes, a horticultural conservancy filled with plants from around the world, has plenty of places to sit, rest, and take in the scenery.
Annamarie Strehlow is the 2021 women’s overall Olympic-distance national champion, a title she earned after taking up aquajogging to rehabilitate a running injury. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she works as a physical therapist.