Q&A with IRONMAN 70.3 Ohio's race directorCasey Gilvin discusses what makes the Sandusky-based event special

In the next few days, athletes and fans from across the globe will fill downtown Sandusky for IRONMAN 70.3 Ohio, a test of mental and physical strength as the participants traverse a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run.  

While the competitors have been training for months for the monumental challenge, the people behind the scenes have been working on the event since the day after last year’s IRONMAN 70.3 Ohio. This group of dedicated individuals ensure the event’s success in order to create a memorable experience for participants and spectators alike.

The Helm had the chance to connect with Race Director Casey Gilvin to find out more about this year’s event.

TH: What makes IRONMAN Ohio a unique and special event compared to other IRONMAN races?
CG: I think the biggest item that makes IRONMAN 70.3 Ohio unique compared to other races is the swim start. The ability to start the swim off a ferry boat is so cool!  To top it off, the race is in Sandusky, which has a nice lake town vibe. Did I mention it was voted "America's Best Coastal Small Town" by USA Today? Also, where else can you ride roller coasters all day and then go hop into a race to set a blistering Personal Best in a flat and fast bike/run course? 

TH: How does the local community in Sandusky support and engage with IRONMAN Ohio? 
CG: There will be thousands of athletes along with their families who will descend on Sandusky. As Sandusky is no stranger to large events, we were blown away with the welcome that Sandusky and the region showed last year. The local community can support the race by helping to volunteer to support the race or come out and cheer on competitors as they take part in their 70.3 mile journey! We need individuals and groups to help with the race! Last year we saw groups set up celebration stations along one of the legs of the race or simply place sprinklers out on the run course to help cool off the athletes. Volunteering for the event is a HUGE way to help! These athletes need support, not just in action, but also in motivation. Volunteers assist with race operations like working at an aid station or by keeping athletes going on in their journey by yelling words or motivation (or even setting up an impromptu DJ session with music playing!)  Also, non-profit groups that volunteer to work a function of the race are eligible to receive a grant from our IRONMAN Foundation.  

TH: Are there any notable changes or additions to this year’s race compared to last year? 
CG: We will officially start the race at 6:30 a.m. this year (30 minutes later than last year's original start time, as we ended up starting at 6:30 last year due to a weather delay). We adjusted the aid station locations on the bike course to be roughly at mile 15, 30, and 45 miles to heighten the cyclist's experience. For this year's run course, we removed a number of turns, as construction last year prevented the course from going further eastward through the city, which should make the course event faster!  

TH: Can you share any inspiring stories or experiences from last year’s IRONMAN Ohio event?
CG: What motivates me to do all that I can to ensure that the race operations are firing on all cylinders is the finish line. Every athlete makes a choice in their goal is to cross that line.  They are racing for a thousand different reasons, where it may be a bucket list check-off of some kind, to celebrate overcoming some type of adversity, racing in honor of someone or simply racing to prove that they can do it. There is nothing more empowering than hanging out at the finish line. Seeing all walks of life celebrate their accomplishment in that hard work, perseverance, and getting through adversity pays off. Everyone has a story to tell, and I love seeing everyone cross the line! In reflecting back on last year's race, one of the coolest experiences that we saw (and I must say wasn't intended or expected at all) was the start line. I remember sitting out on the ferry, a few minutes before the start of the race. The music was rocking, athletes were excited, and I looked down the pier towards the water. There were spectators everywhere along both sides forming this very large spectator tunnel. It was awesome. To feel that energy was so cool. What a way to start a race!

TH: What advice would you give to first-time participants to help make the most of their IRONMAN Ohio experience?
CG: Enjoy the area. Take a few days to tour the region, go visit an island, maybe ride a roller coaster or two. Go eat at some of the cool local restaurants around the region, or experience some of the unique history of the region.

TH: Are there any initiatives or partnerships associated with IRONMAN Ohio that contribute to charitable causes or community development?
CG: Yes, through our charitable arm of IRONMAN, the The IRONMAN Foundation's mission is to create positive, tangible changes in race communities through grant funding and volunteerism. For 20 years, the foundation has provided more than $55 million in charitable giveback to more than 10,000 organizations in 75 race communities across the world. We do this through supporting groups that help with our event. This can be scout groups, church groups, local sports teams, or booster clubs. The impact of the race extends further then just on race day. We want to make the community that we race in a better place! 
TH: How do you manage the logistics of coordinating such a large-scale event, including participant registration, race-day logistics, and volunteer coordination?
CG: A really big checklist and good communication! Race directors lay the groundwork for the staff to come in and have all the resources needed to produce a top-tier event. That comes through working with local agencies in planning, sourcing race needs, and being proactive in identifying challenges that may arise during the event. For the staff who come across the world to facilitate the race: IRONMAN has assembled a really good team and are some of the world's best staff in producing triathlons. In putting on so many races across the world, the staff have gotten really good at their jobs! For each race, a small army of IRONMAN Staff come to town to ensure that everything is perfect for athletes on their special day. Between the volunteers and IRONMAN staff, they are heroes of the event. The day starts early for the IRONMAN staff and ends long after the last finisher crosses the line.   

TH: Are there any future plans or development in store for IRONMAN Ohio that you can share with us? 
CG: Our goal each year is to make the race better than the previous year. We learned a lot in year one in Sandusky. We made a few changes to improve the race day experience!  Year two will bring more innovation to the event and who knows what the future may hold. We want athletes to come to Sandusky, have a great time not just with racing, but to really experience all the cool things that make Sandusky and the region unique to other venues. We want everyone to walk away from the race and say, "Holy Schnikes! That was a great event!" 

TH: As the race director, what personally excites you the most about IRONMAN Ohio and the impact it has on participants and the local community?
CG: It's more than just a one-day race. For some, it's the culmination of months of hard work. For another, it's a celebration of overcoming adversity. For others it's racing in tribute for another. Playing a small role in an important day of someone's life experience is so rewarding. Seeing the community embrace the event to take ownership of it and take pride in it being such an important event for the region is so cool! It's a team game! Everyone can play a role in this event, and I am so excited and thankful to play a small role in the impact this race can have.