Julia Ehmke cried before her first Ironman competition, but the Sunbury resident said that was a small price to pay for the success she has experienced the past two years.

Ehmke, 37, has lost 85 pounds since that day at Cedar Point in 2015, and she hopes the journey continues Sunday, July 30, during Ironman 70.3 Ohio in Delaware.

"I had hit over 300 pounds and my husband (Jeremy) and I decided to do something about our weight," said Ehmke, an ultrasound technologist. "I took a leap doing it the first time. I cried before I got in the water. You just go until you cross the finish line.

"It's not fun and games. You find yourself."

Ehmke and her sister, Kathleen Staten, will be among an estimated 2,000 athletes heading to Delaware for the triathlon.

Ironman 70.3 consists of a 1.2-mile swim in Delaware Lake, a 56-mile bike ride through Delaware and Marion counties and a 13.1-mile run that begins and concludes at Ohio Wesleyan University. Competition begins at 7 a.m.

The event is considered a "half ironman" because it is exactly half the distance of an ironman competition.

Last year, 1,908 people -- 1,131 men and 777 women -- competed in Ironman 70.3, the first such competition to be held in Ohio.

Dublin native Mike Vulanich won last year's event, finishing in 4 hours, 12 minutes, 53 seconds. Vulanich, a 2004 Watterson High School graduate, now lives in San Francisco.

Winners in each of 10 age groups automatically qualify for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, which will be held Sept. 1 and 2, 2018, in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa. Thirty slots will be available from Ironman 70.3 Ohio.

The youngest age group competition will be for those 18-24, followed by a 25-29 category and then for every five years through age 79. The oldest age category will be for those 80 and older.

The bike course has been redesigned to be flatter. According to Ironman 70.3's website, it offers only 450 feet of elevation gain through farmland -- down from 700 last year -- before finishing on a bike path to avoid city traffic. Last year, the course extended into Morrow County and included slightly hillier terrain.

That is music to Staten's ears. She lives in Cypress, Texas, a suburb of Houston where land is predominantly flat.

Staten and Ehmke have raced together regularly the past two years, and both find themselves as arguably the other's biggest cheerleader.

"I think it's helped (Ehmke) find her place," said Staten, 42, a longtime classical musician who now teaches at British International School in Houston. "It's something at which she's been a big success. That's a core tenet of feeling good about yourself."

Rick Rano, 52, of Westerville, thought he "was in something of a mid-life crisis" when he took up Ironman events more than a decade ago. Long a golfer, Rano was looking to sample another sport.

"Some guys buy sports cars. Others go out and get girlfriends. I just sensed it was time to try something different," Rano said. "Going from biking to running is tough. Swimming is my strength, but unfortunately that's the shortest event. In biking and running, you can make up time. It's extremely hard to do that swimming.

"At 52, I'll probably never win a race and I'm OK with that. It's a sport where you have to check your ego at the start."

Rano said he hopes to complete the course in less than six hours.

Ehmke and Staten did not set particular goal times, although they expect the end of the race to be poignant no matter how the rest of the day goes. Their mother, Nancy Felber, will present them their medals.

Felber, who splits her time between central Ohio and Naples, Florida, walked most of the course during Ehmke's first Ironman despite having had both knees replaced not long before.

Staten said that in one sense, the Ironman is not so different from the concerts in which she used to play.

"You practice, practice, practice," Staten said. "It's a big performance."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave