Ironman, known for its long-distance triathlon races, is coming to Happy Valley.
A 70.3-mile triathlon that consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run — also known as a Half Ironman — will kick off July 2, 2023. It will be the only such race in Pennsylvania, and Happy Valley will host it for the next three years, with the possibility of extending it even longer.
The announcement for the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley Triathlon was made at Beaver Stadium on Thursday morning, involving a mixture of government officials, Ironman officials and representatives from both Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and Penn State.
“When we try to identify a community that we want to host a race in, it’s very important that we find someone that has the passion, and the commitment, and that core value to us, which is anything is possible,” said Drew Wolff, regional director for The Ironman Group. “And it’s here in State College. It’s here in Happy Valley. And so we can’t be more excited to call this home now.”
The triathlon, which will allow for about 3,000 participants, will start with a 1.2-mile swim in the Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir at Bald Eagle State Park. From there, athletes will bike 56 miles through the rolling hills of Centre and Clinton counties — through more than a dozen municipalities, such as Boalsburg, Centre Hall and Mill Hall. The race will then culminate with a 13.1-mile run on the Penn State campus that will finish at the 50-yard line in Beaver Stadium.
“And if that doesn’t give you goosebumps — my goodness — it’s just incredible,” Wolff added, speaking from a podium inside the stadium. “You cannot have this experience anywhere else.”
The actual course will be outlined online Friday. And general registration will open Wednesday on the Ironman website.
Participants will have 8 hours, 30 minutes to finish the race. Elite-level athletes can finish the course in about 3 hours, 30 minutes, while most take about 6 hours. Typically, 1-2 winning athletes from each age group qualify for a slot in the 2023 World Championship in Finland.
Fritz Smith, CEO of local nonprofit Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, said his organization has been in talks with Ironman for nearly two years. He rattled off more than a dozen involved entities, from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to multiple county government offices to various departments in Penn State and the surrounding municipalities.
“It takes a village to get something like this done,” Smith said. “And I got to say that when we went around with the Ironman folks, talking to all these partners, we thought for sure we’d get some pushback. ... You know how much pushback we got? None. Zero. Everyone saw this was a great idea. Everyone saw the benefit.”
Smith anticipated a “substantial” economic impact to Happy Valley, pointing out that participants often bring family members and that athletes would be urged to stay for Central PA 4th Fest, State College’s annual fireworks display.
But, for others in attendance Thursday, there was less concern about the economy — and more excitement about the event itself.
Sury Yadav, a Penn State sophomore, is president of the university’s triathlon club. And he said he often fields questions on whether there’s a local triathlon. Until now, he’d shake his head no and explain how his friends usually drive five hours to get to a race in Massachusetts or elsewhere.
“This is a great event to have at State College,” he said, with his faculty advisor looking and smiling on.
Wolff and Smith both nodded when asked if the three-year agreement had the potential to be extended. Wolff said that Ironman aims to find communities to “grow deep roots in,” pointing to some communities they’ve been in for more than 20 years. And Smith said he hopes the original agreement turns into a “multi-decade” arrangement, where this race becomes a staple of the summer.
“We have the fortunate opportunity to race in a lot of beautiful destinations and communities,” Wolff added. “This sits there with every one of them. Really cool.”
For more information on the triathlon, or to register or volunteer, go to ironman.com/im703-pennsylvania.