Training for IRONMAN: Bob Furmanek & Maure Irwin-Furmanek

– by Cara Aungst

Competitive athletes Maure Irwin-Furmanek and Bob Furmanek have raced across the country. Here’s why training for a triathlon in their own backyard — and finishing on the 50-yard line of Beaver Stadium — is especially meaningful to them.

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This July, more than 2500 athletes will battle the IRONMAN 70.3 PENNSYLVANIA HAPPY VALLEY. They will start off by swimming for 1.2 miles at Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir at Bald Eagle State Park at the crack of dawn, then head off for a scenic 56-mile bike ride through the rolling hills of Centre and Clinton Counties, and then they’ll run for 13.1-miles, ending on the 50-yard line of Beaver Stadium.

It’s a landmark event for competitive athletes, especially Penn State fans. Athletes from five countries have already registered. And for racers who make their home in Happy Valley, the race will be especially significant.

Maure Irwin-Furmanek and Bob Furmanek have lived — and run — in Happy Valley for the better part of three decades. But their story together goes back further than that.

“We met in an elevator in Ocean City, Maryland,” Maure said in the Zoom interview, sitting on the front porch of their College Borough house.

“She winked at me,” Bob added.

"It’s a landmark event for competitive athletes, especially Penn State fans. Athletes from five countries have already registered. And for racers who make their home in Happy Valley, the race will be especially significant"

- Cara Aungst

“That didn’t happen!” Maure insists with a laugh. The truth is, she says, that she was with friends staying at the Rainbow Hotel, and Bob was there on an impromptu visit with family friends, staying in the same hotel. After the elevator meetup (where Maure may or may not have winked at Bob), they hung out during the remainder of their visit. Shortly afterward, Bob transferred to Penn State, they pair got married, and the rest is history.

After graduating from Penn State, both Bob and Maure invested deeply in Happy Valley. The pair have both taught in the State College Area School District for about 25 years — Maure in art and Bob in social studies. Their children competed in the school district: Bayla, who is now a sophomore at Babson College in Boston, played field hockey, Senior Finn was the quarterback for State High and recently committed to Penn State as a preferred walk-on, and Eighth-grader Keen plays football, basketball, and baseball.

Throughout the busyness of their lives and sports schedules, Maure and Bob have done a lot of running.

“There is a group in town that does grassroots racing,” Bob said. “We’ve been doing it for 20 years. There will be 30-50 people randomly doing a race series — anywhere from a two-mile race to trail running to mountain biking. There are such great trails to access locally. It’s just a bunch of 20-50-year-olds who love getting outdoors.”

Maure Irwin-Furmanek

The grassroots racing has led to a lot of formal races, he said. “We did the Megatransect in Lock Haven, the Hyner Challenge, the Stone Harbor Triathlon. A lot of local races.”

“Most of our races have been in Maryland, New York and New Jersey,” he said. “The farthest one so far has been the Chicago Marathon.”

So what’s it like to train for a triathlon in your own backyard? “We certainly know the course,” he said.

“It’s advantageous because we are used to these rolling hills. Anyone from this area knows that nothing is flat here.”

The second advantage, they said, is the local running and biking community. “In the next few weeks, we’ll be organizing training groups that will get out 2-3 days a week.”

They said that training for Happy Valley’s unique terrain is key to success. “Biking on these rolling hills, you need to use downhill speed to accelerate on the next hill. You need to really use that momentum well.”

As the weeks count down to the July 2 event, both Bob and Maure are focusing on their why — the motivation that fuels their training.

“It’s a challenge for me,” Maure said. “I want to see if I can do it.”

Bob’s reason is simple. “I want to beat all my friends,” he said. “It’s bragging rights. I want to win all the beer and whiskey side bets.”

“Seriously, though,” he said. “It keeps you in shape, and interacting with friends in a fun way. Plus ending inside Beaver Stadium is awesome. Our son, Finn, just committed to Penn State, so it’s even more exciting to cross the finish line there.”

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