Wausau Pilot & Review

Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing christina@wausaupilotandreview.com.

This week’s featured Wausau business is IRONBULL, a nonprofit organization that promotes outdoor adventure sports in Central Wisconsin. The ambitious team at IRONBULL has a clearly defined mission: to drive economic development, benefit community organizations, and attract and retain a talented workforce through the production of high quality races and events that promote healthy living in our community. Founded in 2018, IRONBULL, which initially formed under the Wausau & Marathon County Parks & Recreation umbrella, received early funding from six community foundations that banded together to support and share the strong belief in the group’s vision. IRONBULL has held Wausau’s first ultramarathon, first gravel bike race, and Wisconsin’s only winter adventure race. The team comprises several key members: Founder and Board Vice President Bill Bertram, Executive Director Andrea Larson, Assistant Executive Director Alex Shinners and Board President Tim Buchholz. 

Photo courtesy of IRONBULL

Shinners calls Andrea Larson the group’s “fearless leader and super athlete,” who has completed all the national levels of ultra running, Nordic skiing and adventure racing. Before joining IRONBULL she was a professional certified chemical engineer, quite a switch from her current role with the organization, and she manages to pursue a healthy lifestyle daily, raising three children to love the outdoors as much as she does along the way. 

The visionary and driving force behind IRONBULL is Bill Bertram, Shinners said.

“As someone who was not just a Wausau business leader but also a hiker, paddler, and devoted outdoorsman, Bill understands that by highlighting all of our area’s outdoor resources we can promote prosperity for the entire community.” 

Buchholz, a college professor, also acts as race director for the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge with his wife, Anna. That event sold out at 500 competitors last year and is on track to do so again this year, making it the largest and most successful in the entire country.

“With over 100 adventure races under their belt each, Tim and Anna know what it takes to create and execute a truly excellent event and podiumed the last two years at national adventure racing championship,” Shinners said.

As a young and growing community organization, IRONBULL is looking to build relationships with businesses, people, and other organizations along with the many volunteers who are at the core of IRONBULL. Read on to learn more about their future plans, their lasting impact on the community and the reasons that Wausau presents the perfect backdrop for adventure racing at a wide range of skill levels, from beginner to expert.

What do you want people to experience when they participate in one of your events? What do you want them to leave with?

We encourage racers to “Find their tough,” which looks different for everyone.  We’ve had 5-year-old participants bike 12 miles, first-timers at each event and after three years, we finally had our first female finishers (three) in the 144-mile gravel bike race. We ask each racer if they would like to share their story and want them leaving with a desire to return.

Why is Wausau the perfect place for IRONBULL?

Wausau is perfectly situated along highways to become a gateway to outdoor adventure sports. With the highest vertical drop at Rib Mountain State Park in the Midwest, over 60 miles (and growing) maintained mountain biking trails, and world-class whitewater course on the Wisconsin River, Wausau can become a place people choose to live not just for economic reasons but for recreational reasons.

What has IRONBULL’s financial impact been on Wausau’s economy and the tourism industry here?

Since forming, IRONBULL has donated $26,000 including local organizations and student scholarships.

The 2021 Red Granite Grinder welcomed riders from 11 states, with 82% of racers visiting from outside of Marathon County, both up from previous years.  Last year, the event had an estimated $58,000 local economic impact. 

The 2021 Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge racers represented 14 states, and 88% visited from outside Marathon County.  Not only did they visit, but they indicated they planned to return.  Eighty percent of racers responding to the anonymous post-event survey said the race took them to a new area that they would like to visit again.  Racers also left the community in a better state, picking up over 700 pieces of trash along the race course.

Tell us about your events. What do you have planned?

This year we are up to 10 events with two races already held. The next event, the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge, now has a spinoff winter event since the summer event sells out. Both events are beginner-friendly with short courses. The longer summer races drew racers from 14 states. The race requires teams to work together trekking and biking, with paddling added in the summer event. Since racers use a map and compass, the course is unique every year highlighting many different venues.

The IRONBULL Ultra Trail run, along with the Red Granite Grinder gravel bike race, both take place in October and feature sections on Rib Mountain State Park, highlighting fall colors in Wisconsin and some of the most impressive terrain in the state. The Ultra Trail offers 15k, 25k, and 50k running distances.  The Red Granite Grinder starts and ends in the heart of downtown Wausau with a police escort with 50, 85, and 144 mile distances along with a 12 mile family friendly recreational ride free to children. The shorter distances still showcase Wisconsin in autumn in all its natural beauty while the 50k and 144 mile routes are every bit as spectacular while being much more demanding on competitors.

We are also hosting the Ironring river float in downtown Wausau this summer along with the Underdown Trail Races in Gleason in August. Two events are free gravel bike rides.  We also hold numerous challenges, free guided snowshoe hikes, free marked trail runs, and monthly trail runs.  We are still looking to grow and add new and diverse events in the coming seasons.