Course Overview: Happy Valley Ironman 70.3 – From a Coach/Athlete’s Perspective

By Coach Lindsay Zemba Leigh 

As a seasoned triathlete and coach who has raced the inaugural Happy Valley Ironman 70.3 course (and is heading back this year), I can attest to the unique challenges and exciting experiences that await athletes in this iconic event. Let’s delve into the swim, bike, and run courses from my perspective:


For Happy Valley Ironman 70.3, preparation is key with the unique two transition setup requiring athletes to use both bike and run gear bags provided at check-in for the point-to-point bike course. I find it helpful to have my gear pre-organized in T1 and T2 bags even before arriving at the race. This way, I’m not overthinking what goes into each one (and what I may have forgotten) the day before the race. For my T1 bag I include my bike helmet, bike glasses or visor, and bike shoes (you may also want socks if you wear them on the bike). For my T2 bag, I include my run shoes and socks, visor,  race belt with number, and my run nutrition. You will put your bottles and nutrition on your bike race morning. 

After checking in at Beaver Stadium on Saturday and handing in your T2 gear bag there, you will need to rack your bike and T1 gear bag in T1 at Bald Eagle State Park, which is ~30 min northeast of State College, and pick up your timing chip there (which I almost forgot!) 

Arriving early and catching a shuttle from Beaver Stadium on race morning is advisable. The later shuttles risk getting stuck in traffic and parking congestion entering the park. The race organizers ended up delaying the start for athletes caught in traffic, but I would not want to stress over being late to set up transition and getting to the start. The weather on race day was favorable, with clouds initially offering respite from the usual summer heat, but it later became warm and very humid, and it rained while I was in the later miles of the bike which made the roads slick and required some caution around the sharp turns. 


The swim leg at Foster Joseph Sayers Lake at Bald Eagle State Park sets the tone for the entire race. The calm waters and stunning backdrop of Happy Valley’s mountains create a serene yet energizing atmosphere. The self-seeded swim start was organized by estimated swim paces. Athletes entered the water in groups of five every five seconds for a smooth and controlled start. The clockwise, triangular swim course, aided by cloud cover, presented minimal challenges with sighting, and only two turns makes it a pretty straightforward swim leg. Transitioning from swim to bike (T1) involved a short run on sand and grass before gearing up for the bike leg.


The bike course at Happy Valley proved its “hilly” reputation. It boasts about 3500ft of elevation gain across 56 miles through Happy Valley’s picturesque countryside. The initial park loop requires attention and safe passing due to narrow roads. The route first heads northeast passing Mill Hall, then turns south, meandering through beautiful farmland. We later ascend over Hublers Ridge and Pleasant Gap before descending to Centre Hall. The hills are mostly rolling with exception to a few punchy ones with steeper grades, and a longer 3 mile hill starting at mile 38. There are multiple 90-degree turns on the course. A few which come after descent and require caution if the roads are wet like they were for us last year. None of the descents were too technical, including the one with the speed limit. The final stretch back to T2 proved to be surprisingly hilly, adding a last-minute challenge before dismounting.


Following T2 which is outside of Beaver Stadium, the run course showcased Penn State’s campus. The run course offers scenic views and landmarks such as the Nittany Lion Shrine and Old Main. Spectators lined the course, providing much-needed encouragement to athletes on the two-loop hilly run. This was a challenging run course, with lots of zig zags and hills. My watch had 570 ft of gain but it felt pretty challenging and was tough to settle into a rhythm. The high humidity also added an extra challenge. Approaching the finish at Beaver Stadium, the energy was palpable as athletes made their way onto the field for a triumphant finish. 

Athletes are handed ice cream from the famous Berkey Creamery after finishing, a well deserved treat. Overall, the Happy Valley 70.3 experience offered a challenging and iconic course, excitement, and a sense of accomplishment. As a coach, I am honored to guide and support athletes every step of the way, from training through race day. Let me know if I can help you for your training for Happy Valley 70.3! 

Want the experience of a coach to help you prepare for Happy Valley Ironman 70.3? We offer free consults

Course Overview: Happy Valley Ironman 70.3 – From a Coach/Athlete’s Perspective
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