For almost 10 years, Muncie, Indiana has been home to one of the Midwest’s most popular 70.3 Half Ironman Triathlons. You can typically find this race in the middle of July on a hot summer’s day. Athletes are usually greeted with non-wetsuit swim, a flat and fast bike course, and a blistering hot run offering no shade and just what the doctor ordered: rolling hills.
But 2021 was a little different, much like the rest of life these days. When Ironman races started to fill up faster than anticipated after most athletes deferred 2020 races to 2021, Ironman listened to their athletes loud and clear. They wanted more options and they wanted it NOW. Ironman was able to offer an extra Ironman distance race in Muncie, Indiana. Due to COVID, the 70.3 race that would normally take place in July was pushed back to October. Along side it would be the first ever Ironman Indiana.
The small town of Muncie, Indiana doesn’t look like a place you would host a triathlon of such distance. But just to the east of Muncie, The Prairie Creek Reservoir awaits athletes, surrounded by country roads and lingering with hopes and dreams of a finish line.
Race morning rolled around and the air temperature hung around in the mid 50’s. Setting up your transition area required an extra layer of clothes to stay warm, something that typically is unheard of for this race in July. The water temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. Some might consider that a tad brisk, while most would agree it felt just right. The light breeze in the air created minimal chop on the backstretch of the swim, but nothing that couldn’t be managed. After the first loop, athletes exited the water and ran along the shoreline before entering the water again for a 2nd loop. The shoreline was littered with fans. Cowbell and cheers filled the air. Electricity ran through athletes’ vein as they got a taste of dryland before finishing the 2nd half of the swim.
Exiting the water, wetsuit strippers were no longer offered due to COVID. Once you found your bike, your gear bags awaited you and the next thing you know you entered the bike course.
The bike course exited on what was also the run course. Hilly, curvy, and a few beat up roads meant athletes took this section a bit slower. It didn’t take long before the bike course took you along Route 35, which was totally closed to traffic (a true treat for triathletes!) but offered an added obstacle: wind. Headwind and crosswind, it never let you relax. Athletes completed 2 loops on Route 35. During the 2nd loop is when the rain began to fall. At first it was light and almost pleasant. Within minutes it picked up significantly and athletes were forced to slow their pace to stay safe. Take note triathletes, this is where bike safety knowledge comes into play! For almost 50 miles, athlete’s road through wind and rain, all in hopes of finding their running shoes.
Upon entry of transition, athletes racked their own bikes and found their sea legs before starting out on the final 26.2 mile journey to the finish line.
Immediately stepping foot on the run course, you are greeted with a beautiful downhill, followed by an immediate uphill. And then another downhill and uphill. And that cycle is repeated over and over again until you reach the first turn around at mile 6.5. Aid stations were stocked with everything you could hope for 115+ miles into your day. Water, Gatorade, Coke, ice, grapes, bananas, chips, pretzels, Gu, chicken broth, Tylenol, Vaseline, high fives and encouragement. The volunteers in Muncie, Indiana deserved the highest of praise. We all know that races wouldn’t be possible without them. But this small town might have some of the best. High school kids worked alongside someone that could be their grandparent, doing everything they could to encourage athletes like me to find that finish line. High fives and heartening praise were given to anyone and everyone. Life after 2020 might never be the same, but running 26.2 miles on the Ironman Indiana run course was all you needed to be reminded that there’s hope that we can return to that time, if we work hard enough together.
After the first run loop (13.1 miles) athletes turned around only feet from the finish line to run the final 13.1 miles to call themselves an Ironman. The sun began to set and athletes were doing everything they could to keep spirits high and encourage each other. When it was that time, athletes veered off course towards the light and entered the finisher’s shoot. One by one, each was presented to the crowd as the newest Ironman in Muncie, Indiana. Leaves scattered the red carpet, giving the finish line a true fall vibe. And you know what? It was about as picturesque as you can imagine for an October day in the middle of the Midwest.