Endurance athlete coming out of the water
Endurance athlete coming out of the water

Annual Muncie IRONMAN Event Represents 45 Years of Athletic Excellence

The first Muncie Endurathon was a small gathering of 50 athletes and a crew of volunteers, gathered at Prairie Creek Reservoir to attempt a 70.3-mile triathlon – one of the first privately organized efforts of the kind.

Triathlon was a brand-new sport, with the very first swim-bike-run event organized in San Diego in 1974. The sport gained tremendous popularity for its challenging multi-sport format, and the first IRONMAN event was born in 1978, soon to become one of the most iconic races in history.

Muncie’s Endurathon was organized in 1980, and by 2009 it was the second-oldest triathlon event in the world, second only to the first IRONMAN. In 2012 the event was purchased by IRONMAN, and has remained a favorite race among triathletes.

Today the race continues to bring back returning athletes, and inspire new participants with dreams of becoming an IRONMAN. Eric Small, a police officer for the City of Muncie, has worked security for the event for years, and gained an appreciation for how physically demanding the event is. After several attempts to put together a relay team, he finally decided to train in all three disciplines and compete in July’s historic 45th anniversary race.

“The hardest part is finding time to train,” Small said regarding the difficulty of balancing work and family with training for three different sports at once. “My wife, Suzanne, has been my rock.” His goal for this year is to successfully finish the race, and then train for a full 140.6-mile IRONMAN in the future.

Muncie Triathalon medal
Muncie Triathalon medal

Training for the 70.3-mile race can be a grueling process, with many athletes training more than once per day. The 1.2-mile swim is especially challenging. In addition to building the stamina to swim more than a mile without stopping, athletes must navigate an open-water course with hundreds of other swimmers. Frequently, athletes will zigzag off course and add extra distance, or be accidentally kicked by other swimmers.

Following the swim, participants run up a steep slope off the beach and strap on their helmets for a 56-mile bike race through Delaware and Randolph counties. Volunteers are waiting at aid stations every five to 10 miles to hand off Gatorade, bananas and other fuel to keep the athletes going. The average athlete can burn 4,000 to 5,000 calories during the race, so they must keep taking on carbs and fluids to keep their muscles functioning. Many endurance athletes have horror stories of running out of glycogen, or “bonking,” during a race or a long training session.

Muncie Endurathon race bib
Muncie Endurathon race bib

The final leg of the race is a half marathon. Many riders feel relieved to get to stretch their legs after up to four hours on a bike, but the run course is a challenging one. There is very little shade to protect from the July sun, and there are many rolling hills through the 13.1-mile course. Spectators cheer on the exhausted athletes, and volunteers hand out ice and water every mile.

Athletes are given eight and a half hours from the time they enter the water to complete the race. Crossing the finish line is often an emotional experience, especially for first-time racers who have envisioned the moment throughout months of training. The announcer reads each athlete’s name as they cross the line, followed by “You are an IRONMAN!” – a title that less than 1% of the world can claim.

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