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Local competitors in the 2019 Ironman Traverse City 70.3 triathlon gather at West Grand Traverse Bay, site of Sunday’s triathlon start. Competitors will swim a 1.2-mile loop in the bay, bike 56 miles through Leelanau and Benzie counties, and run 13.1 miles along Boardman Lake to the downtown Traverse City finish line.

TRAVERSE CITY — The countdown is on for the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Traverse City triathlon. Elite athletes from nearly every state in the country will join local athletes Sunday in the race through multiple communities and townships across three counties.

“It’s been a triathlon to get this triathlon,” said Trevor Tkach, Traverse City Tourism President/CEO.

The organization provided funds to bring the prestigious global platform to the area.

Years in the making, the sold-out event will draw 2,500 athletes to the starting line at the Open Space Park in Traverse City.

About 150 local athletes trained for the opportunity to test their endurance and skills against the fittest in the nation. Owner of Tri Again Fitness and certified Ironman coach Rebecca Venticinque trained 25 area athletes for the event.

From the 7 a.m. rolling start, athletes swim a 1.2-mile loop in West Grand Traverse Bay. Then they bike 56 miles through Leelanau and Benzie counties before finally running 13.1 miles along Boardman Lake to the downtown finish line.

“Most of the athletes have trained all year,” Venticinque said. “Training time, depending on their lifestyle and jobs, ranged from 13 to 28 hours a week.”

She said the hilly bike route is the most challenging course segment, but not the most difficult element athletes face. “Their bodies are ready. They’ve done all the work,” said Venticinque, an Ironman race veteran. “On race day, your mind can play tricks on you and you are your own worst enemy, but it’s the only thing you can control.”

Jen Casey, sales executive for Vortex Studios in Traverse City, trained with Venticinque for the past nine months.

“I did a half Ironman seven years ago. A lot of life has happened since,” she said. “When they announced the Traverse Ironman, I had to be a part of it.”

Casey said emotions run high as the race approaches.

“There’s always a little anxiety,” she said. “But the fact that I’ve trained so long with an expert gives me the confidence to do it.”

One of more than 30 event sponsor organizations, Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center aids those athletes working through injuries to restore performance levels.

“I think it is a great partnership between Munson and Mary Free Bed to come together to support an event which focuses on wellness in our community,” said its director Julie Ladwig, P.T., MHA. Ladwig is also tackling Sunday’s Ironman.

Kids get an introduction to the sport at the Ironman Kids Fun Run. Spots remain open for the youth event which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. Kids 6 months to 17 years are eligible. Races include a 1-mile, .5-mile, Toddler Dot Trot (30 feet) and a Diaper Dot Dash (15 feet). Registration costs $20 and is on site at the Open Space.

The Traverse City Ironman also offers spectator excitement. Spectators can cheer on athletes along the course and visit Ironman Village, the official event hub, for opportunities to interact with athletes and vendors.

“It’s not just for competitors,” Tkach said. “It’s like a parade.”

Hundreds of volunteers help make the inaugural Ironman happen. Volunteers will be found behind the scene, at aid stations, working as airport greeters, in boat support and other in roles to keep the event safe and enjoyable.

Sponsor McLain Cycle and Fitness is among partners pledging staff volunteer service. McLain’s will operate a mini store and repair shop at the Village. Owner Bob McLain backed the event when it was still a vision and hope.

“We have the Bay and it’s such a bike-oriented culture,” he said. “It also brings in the running club for a perfect storm.”

That perfection translates into new dollars for the community. Tkach said the event is projected to generate as much as $10 million dollars to the benefit of businesses and nonprofits. Intangible benefits resulting from the Ironman include a boost to the area’s reputation as a healthy, outdoor destination.

“We’re aligning our brand with the world-class Ironman brand,” Tkach said. “It exposes Traverse City to an audience who will appreciate Traverse City and who will want to come back for more.”

Sunday’s main race concludes 8 hours 30 minutes after the last athlete hits the Bay. Award ceremonies take place at 4 p.m. at the Open Space. Among the awards are qualifying slots for the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupo, New Zealand.

The public should note that road and street closures, as well as the closing of the Boardman Lake Trail, takes place during the event. Full details are available at www.traversecitymi.gov/downloads/ironman_traffic_impact_sheet.pdf.

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