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‘A Home Run for Happy Valley.’ 1,600 Compete in Centre County’s Second Ironman 70.3

The Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley returned for its second year on a humid Sunday as 1,600 competitors supported by nearly 1,000 volunteers swam, biked and ran through Centre County.

Athletes from 12 countries and 41 states participated in what is dubbed a “Half Ironman” (at 70.3, miles it is half the distance of a full Ironman). Starting at 7 a.m., competitors swam a 1.2-mile, single loop in Sayers Lake at Bald Eagle State Park. From there they embarked on a 56-mile bike ride that swung into Clinton County before traveling through Nittany and Penns valleys and into the State College area. The final leg was a 13.1-mile run through the Penn State campus, concluding at the 50-yard line inside Beaver Stadium.

Crossing the finish line first was Kiel Bur, of Savannah, Georgia, who completed the race in a time of 4:25:10.

Kiel Bur crosses the finish line to claim first place at the 2024 Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley as HVSEA Board Chair Bill Oldsey and dean of Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture B. Stephen Carpenter look on. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

For the second consecutive year, Caroline Moyer, of Malvern, was the top women’s finisher at 5:02:11.

Matthew Martino, a 2015 Penn State graduate, was the first Pennsylvania resident across the finish, coming in sixth overall with a time of 4:34:30. Martino resides in Hanover, where he is a middle school assistant principal.

State College natives Garrison Famiglio (4:45:10) and Will Benner (4:53:57) finished 10th and 13th overall, respectively.

Penn State alum Matthew Martino cools down after finishing sixth at the 2024 Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

After years of effort to bring an Ironman event to central Pennsylvania, the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Happy Valley was largely viewed as a success by competitors and local officials, including the Happy Valley Sports and Entertainment Alliance (HVSEA) and Happy Valley Adventure Bureau (HVAB), which played key roles in landing and coordinating the triathlon.

Participants in 2023 rated the Ironman 70.3 Happy Valley among the top five in the United States.

“Considering it was the first year, that was amazing,” HVSEA Executive Director Eric Engelbarts said as he waited for the first athletes to cross the finish in Beaver Stadium on Sunday. “So there wasn’t a whole lot to do for year two, just make a couple of tweaks.”

One of those tweaks was addressing the traffic jam that occurred for spectators trying to leave Bald Eagle State Park.

“We hired a parking company to come in to help ease the congestion and get the spectators out on time so they could go trace their athletes down,” Engelbarts said. “That seems to have gone very, very well.”

Competitors bicycle through Hubler Ridge during the Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley. Photo by Greg Guise

Sunday’s event marked the second year of a three-year contract, but before HVSEA could begin discussions with Ironman organizer World Triathlon Corporation about extending the agreement, it first had to work out the date for the 2025 Ironman 70.3 Happy Valley.

If it were to be held on the same weekend next year, it would coincide with move-in for about 4,000 Penn State freshmen attending summer session. So instead the Ironman event will be moved up two weeks to Father’s Day, June 15.

“That’s really been the topic of conversation up to this point,” Engelbarts said. “Now that that is figured out and the registration is open for next year, we’ll start talking about extending the contract. Along with that will come, we’ll want to reach out to the community, reach out to law enforcement, reach out to the volunteers, make sure everyone is comfortable with the race.”

Lemont residents cheer on competitors as they bike onto Branch Road during the 2024 Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley. Photo by Greg Guise

For local tourism and business leaders, the event has been a success that they hope to see continue beyond 2025. Last year’s Ironman generated $4.4 million for the local economy, according to a report from HVSEA, including $3.09 million in direct visitor spending and about $1.35 million was in indirect/induced benefits, or business to business spending,

“From our standpoint the economic impact, the money that comes in the community, the type of athlete that comes in here, it’s a home run for Happy Valley,” Engelbarts said.

The end of June and early July are typically slow times for visitations in Centre County, but the 2023 Ironman resulted in 7,170 room nights booked over the course of three to four nights, the report found.

A triathlete runs past the Nittany Lion Shrine at Penn State during the 2024 Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

That was welcome business for local hotels and restaurants, said HVAB President and CEO Fritz Smith.

“It had historically been a slow time, so the fact that we’ve got all these people coming in, and they tend to bring a lot of family members with them, it’s been a terrific piece of business for the restaurants and hotels,” Smith said.