Mayor Ezra Nanes on IRONMAN: I love racing, the sense of community and adventure

– by Cara Aungst

When Ezra Nanes and his wife Mieke moved from New York City to State College so he could pursue his MBA at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State, he never imagined what would come next. Thirteen years later, Mieke has a thriving physical therapy practice, they’ve added another child to their family, and they’ve fallen in love with Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. In 2022, Nanes took office as mayor of State College, a role that he says enables him to serve the community around him. Today, he’s training for IRONMAN, and he sat down with The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau to talk about why he runs, tips for other athletes, and what visitors need to experience when they fly in for the big race. Read on!

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Ezra Nanes with his strength and conditioning coach, Kara Hundley, fellow Ironman Competitor and owner of Optimal Movement Training. "Strength and Conditioning Training is a critical element of successful endurance training and performance. Training with Kara has been a game-changer as I prepared for Ironman Happy Valley."

What’s your favorite part about being mayor? Anything that’s surprised you?

I love serving our community in the role of mayor. I get to be involved in so many different facets of life here and support our growth and evolution. One of the things that surprised me was how much it means to people when I am present for events or acknowledge people's experiences, ideas, challenges, and achievements. In this job, showing up really matters.

What other races have you competed in?

I've raced a handful of triathlons, a few sprints locally here in Centre County (The Happy Valley Sprint Triathlon), and two Olympic distance races at the Keystone State Triathlon. However, most of my racing experience has been in mountain and gravel biking races and trail running races in Rothrock State Forest and Black Moshannon State Forest. I’ve participated in The Rothrock Trail mix, Seasons of Rothrock, The Rothrock Trail Challenge, The CVIM Central Cycling Classic (technically more of a benefit ride) and other amazing local events that are truly homegrown here in Happy Valley.

"I love racing, I love training, I love the sense of community, the sense of adventure. I find racing so motivational. It gives me a focus. It's a reason to push harder, to reach deeper, to go faster and longer"

- Ezra Nanes, mayor of State College

What's the farthest you've ever traveled for a race?

We're so lucky to live in a place where there are a lot of great races, so I haven't traveled a lot to race. But I wanted to do an Olympic distance triathlon, and so several years ago, Mieke and I went camping with our daughters Mila and Raffa for a couple of nights at Gifford Pinchot State Park so I could do the Keystone State Triathlon. It's only about 2 hours away.

What's your WHY: why do you compete, and why the IRONMAN?

I love racing, I love training, I love the sense of community, the sense of adventure. I find racing so motivational. It gives me a focus. It's a reason to push harder, to reach deeper, to go faster and longer. It lends a structure to workouts and supports ambitious personal and performance goals. Racing makes me feel healthy and alive! I love the human connections of races. Just being there at the starting line with so many amazing people, feeling that energy!! There is a real human bond in that. Something primal.

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I have always dreamed of competing in an IRONMAN Triathlon, and now it's coming to Happy Valley, and I'm the mayor of State College. The instant I knew it was coming here, I knew that I would do it.

What's it like to train for the IRONMAN in your own backyard?

AMAZING. Not only do we have beautiful roads, trails, and lakes for training (and such a terrific YMCA), but we have access to the actual race course for training. That makes a big difference on race day. Knowing the course can vastly improve your confidence, your gear choice, your preparation and training, and your ability to control your effort and output appropriately for what is ahead of you on race day. Also, I have to come back to the sense of community.

Seeing friends in the pool at the YMCA or out on the road running or riding - having the chance to share the experience with so many people, and not just those who are racing - is uplifting. The community is buzzing with the excitement of this race.

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Any advice for athletes who are flying in for the race -- what's something they should know about training for this terrain, climate, etc?

Prepare for it to be HOT and HUMID. Be ready for blazing, unrelenting sun. Make sure you have a hydration plan, and a plan to keep your body's electrolytes resupplied. Have goggles that are good for bright sun and a pair for an overcast day. Have sunscreen, and maybe a hat you can use on the run if needed. Also, be mentally ready for rain and wind. Ride in the rain a couple of times. You never know!

Incorporate hills into your ride training whenever possible. The ride is gorgeous. There will be sections of cruising on the flats when you can use the aero bars, but this area is hilly, and the ride has 3,000 feet of vertical in it. You'll be going up and over a few ridgelines. Bottom line, you will love it. The lake is gorgeous. The ride flows through beautiful pastoral lands and classic towns, and the run is iconic. That ending in Beaver Stadium is going to be epic.

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Ezra Nanes training at the gym of his strength and conditioning coach, Kara Hundley.

What’s something every visiting athlete should see (or eat or experience) while they are here?

After the race (or before, depending on your dietary needs), get some ice cream at the Berkey Creamery. Also, definitely come downtown and check out our amazing bike shops, outdoor outfitters, running shop, restaurants, and our arts scene. We also have some top-flight craft breweries in the area, like the newly opened Boal City Brewing in Boalsburg, or Antifragile Brewing in Downtown State College, or classics like Happy Valley Brewing, Voodoo Brewery, Otto's, Axemann, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks out in Millheim. The views from Tussey Mountain are amazing, especially around sunset, and you can enjoy the atmosphere at their beer garden or restaurant.

What's your favorite thing about living in Happy Valley?

My family is happy here.

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Anything else you'd like to add?

Races take so much vision and leadership to successfully pull off. Races rely on the efforts of volunteers - in the case of the IRONMAN, literally thousands of volunteers. They really are a labor of love, and they are a gift to the community on so many levels. They drive economic activity and tourism, they make our region a destination and a more desirable place to live for people who value these types of community events. They bring people together, they highlight our amazing natural resources and landscape.

Race Director Josh Cone is an active member of our community and someone whose participation in races and events has always inspired me. I feel a great sense of pride seeing Josh bring this together. And The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau has done a wonderful job of nurturing and supporting the energy around this event and collaborating with Penn State, the Downtown Improvement District and local and regional governments and businesses. Sincere thanks to everyone involved!

The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau publishes up-to-date event information at