Race Report/Course Review: Ironman Chattanooga in Tennessee
Updated: Apr 11
How does the Ironman Chattanooga course compare to other courses I have completed along with expectations of the geography.
My goal is to give you a reasonable expectation about what to expect with the Ironman Chattanooga Triathlon race course. In what areas you should be be expect to have some troubles and what areas can you make up time. In addition, I feel its important to convey the overall experience of the ironman race and how well it was supported.
The Scenic City of Chattanooga:
The scenic city of Chattanooga boast a variety of reasons to visit. The Chattanooga Riverwalk, historic Chickamauga, live music, a pleasing air temp, the Tennessee Aquarium, and your choice of a family bakery, are all reasons to enjoy the benefits of downtown Chattanooga. Whether you are here to enjoy the ironman 70.3 or the full IM-Chattanooga, whether you are a pro or an age group classification, whether you are a single ironman triathlete or part of a triclub, this scenic downtown has something to offer.
The River Swim:
For most new triathletes, specifically for age group athletes, the ironman swim is perceived as the most daunting task of the day. However, in my experience with proper training, is the easiest part of the race. Not only is it the shortest, it is the least likely event to make a significant impact on your time. That being said, Chattanooga is an open water river swim that has its own unique difficulties.
Will it be wetsuit legal? What is the Water Temp?
How much has it rained and how will that affect the current?
Will the wind cause the water to be choppy?
How murky will the water be?
Will there be floating roots, etc. in the water?
All of these questions can raise unnecessary nerves before and during the race causing anxiety and an inflated heart rate. The best way to combat these problems is to get in open water to do weekly swim training sessions before race day. It will also benefit you to have proper coaching around how to sight your direction when you are blind in the water. At that point, if you have done the work, surviving the swim will be the best part of your race day and a relaxing part of your training in the future. (**ALWAYS SWIM WITH PARTNERS**). In addition, at the Chattanooga Ironman and most river swims, if the conditions are right, the current can provide you a significant race advantage adding an additional 1 to 2 miles per hour to your swim speed. So you start the bike, in most instances, ahead of you training plan if you had not taken the river current into account. For me, someone who for the Ironman Chattanooga under prepared for the swim, I had a great swim leg and would look forward to doing it again.
The Unexpected Bike Course:
Having grown up in Nashville and visited Chattanooga several times as a child, I knew that the city was tucked in beside lookout mountain and was fully prepared for the bike ride / race course to be a beast. I will say I was pleasantly surprised at the moderate climbing on the bike, at least against my expectation. I finished my bike in less than 6 hours, and for me, that was pretty respectable. The course consisted of 4,442 ft of elevation gain over 116.4 miles. Which is still some climbing, but nothing outside of what I would consider a normal race over average terrain. It was an enjoyable experience save one problem. The year I did the race, there was one section where an individual spread out oil and roofing nails. It thankfully did not cause any injuries that I am aware, but did cause a slew of flat tires and disappointment for athletes. So out of an abundance of caution, keep an eye on the roads and maybe pack an extra tube. Other than that, it was a great experience.
The Heaven & Hell of the Run Course:
I loved the run! But I have to admit, I am a bit of a sadist when it comes to ironman events and the difficulties that come with each unique race. Ironman Chattanooga draws you in with an extremely easy first six miles along the riverfront parkway, but them you have x2 periods of extremely hilly and difficult running. The steep changes go from mile 6 to mile 14 and from mile 20 to the finish line. So from my opinion, the x2 hardest periods of the race. A few things to watch out for...
Be prepared for crowds on the bike path as you run back towards transition on the middle of the 1st and 2nd loops.
Be mentally prepared for the gut punch that is these hills, on both loops!
Be prepared for the heat. Depending on the weather and how fast you race, it can make a significant impact on your experience and how you finish.
Would I do this Race Again: The Final Score
First, let me say I have completed several ironman races as well as other endurance races, and I feel confident in saying Ironman Chattanooga, is a great race with an epic finish line. In addition, the ironman.com brand sets up a fabulous EXPO and athlete check-in at Ross's Landing to pick up all your swag to show your stripes while working your way to KONA for the BIG day! You will likely not break your speed record come race day, but it is well supported and a great challenge for an athlete looking to test their limits past the normal flat first time course. My take aways are the following:
Practice some river swimming before the race
Take some additional tubes for the bike
Be prepared for the heat
Plan your run training with having to overcome some hills when you are exhausted
Show up with a great attitude ready to have some fun