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Carola Ross, chief sales officer for Ironman, left, and Mike McKee, president and CEO of McKee Foods, announce that McKee Foods will be the title sponsor for the inaugural Little Debbie Chattanooga Ironman event taking place on Sept 28.

Taking a bite of a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll and crossing the finish line at the Ironman triathlon have this much in common: Both are sweet.

Ironman chief sales officer Carola Ross says there's a better fit between Little Debbie Snack Cakes and elite triathletes than one might imagine at first.

"[An Ironman triathlon] is 140.6 miles," she said Thursday morning at Coolidge Park as Little Debbie's parent company, McKee Foods, was named title sponsor for the Chattanooga Ironman competition. "It's going to take some people more than 16 hours to get across the finish line. They train more than 20 hours per week.

"Don't they deserve a great-tasting snack?"

McKee Foods and Little Debbie will be the title sponsor for the Chattanooga Ironman for the first three years of the five-year commitment Ironman has made in Chattanooga. The inaugural Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga triathlon benefiting the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation will be held Sept. 28.

McKee Foods president and CEO Mike McKee said his company has made an investment in the Chattanooga Ironman as part of the company's commitment to the Chattanooga area.

"We are very excited to play a part in bringing our event to Chattanooga," he said. "Our family bakery has been a part of the Chattanooga area for many decades, and we are proud of the economic and quality-of-life achievements that have been realized."

While officials with McKee Foods and Ironman declined to name an exact amount of money involved in McKee's sponsorship, the investment was called "significant" and beneficial to everyone involved.

"We're pleased with being a part of this and the level of investment compared to the exposure," said Chris McKee, the company's executive vice president of marketing and sales. "I see it as more of a corporate support of the local community. But yes, it's a significant investment."

Chattanooga Ironman competitors will battle over a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bicycle section followed by a 26.2-mile marathon run. The top finishers will be competing for 50 spots in the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The Chattanooga race also features a $25,000 prize purse.

Despite Little Debbie's reputation as a sugary snack, Mike McKee said that his family and many of his employees recognize the importance of healthy living and hope the partnership with Ironman will show the company's commitment to promoting active lifestyles.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke sees Ironman as the latest in a string of outdoor sporting events that are helping define the city both regionally and worldwide, and the investment of local companies such as McKee Foods is crucial to bringing big events to the city.

"Our brand is strong and only growing," he said. "If you think about Head of the Hooch, USA Pro Cycling and now Ironman, we are building a reputation as a premier outdoors city.

"These events tend to want to see local support before they locate here. And not just for this event but for future competitions, when we see the local support they are more likely to come here."

With the business of securing a title sponsor taken care of, focus now turns to final preparations for race day.

Ironman race director Brian Myrick said he's been happy with the help he's gotten from local organizers.

"We have incredible community support here," he said. "I'd say everything is looking good for an incredible race on September 28."

And here's some more sweet news.

An Ironman competitor can expect to burn between 8,000 and 10,000 calories on race day, according to the book "Endurance Sports Nutrition."

A Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll contains just 135.

Contact Jim Tanner at or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at