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The coaches just returned from our second annual Ironman Chattanooga camp.  We were joined by 14 eager athletes from 5 different states all in search of additional wisdom for their race day experience.  By default, this meant I spent an extra three days on the course over the weekend and a few extra before camp

Last year I blogged quite extensively about the course, so I wanted to update the blog roll with a few additional thoughts for the current year.  Not much has changed so I will likely not go into too much detail on the bike.


Chattanooga is still one of my favorite cities to visit.  The vibe, the people, the scenery all come together to host this event.  For those not familiar with Chattanooga, it is not a ‘big’ city.  In fact, it is really small.  If you are staying in the downtown area, then the entire city is walkable.  If you are staying out near the Choo-Choo, then you have access to the free electric shuttle to take you downtown.  And quite honestly, unless you want to drive to the outlying areas, there is no reason to leave the downtown area.

The Swim

If you are in town, check out the swim venue to ease your mind.  You can get there two different ways.  First, it is an easy run from Ross’ Landing.  It is 2.5 miles down the greenway.  If you want to drive, take the highway east out of town to the Curtain Pole Rd park area.  Then walk west on the greenway about 300 meters where you will find a clearing to enter the river.  On race day, management will insert a long floating dock for the rolling start.  It goes quickly and all 2500 athletes should be in the water in about 25 minutes.

What to expect from the swim?  Fast.  In year two, it may not be as fast as the first year.  At camp the water flow was 45,000 cfs. That was on par with the 2014 race.  Under these circumstances, all of our camp athletes swam under and hour with no one pushing the pace at all.  Now, I wouldn’t rest on this as being the case on race day, but I would plan on their being a current.  In the end, this is a river with a dam only a few miles away.  It will flow in the general direction of the race.

When you enter the water, the sun will be rising over your back right shoulder.  It shouldn’t be a major hindrance but it could slightly affect your sighting.  On your left, you will have a terrain of cliffs, greenways and buildings.  You will pass under three different bridges before making your way to Ross’ Landing.  The water is murky, mildly visible but calm and rather easy to navigate.

The Bike

The bike offers a two loop, 116 mile course into northwest Georgia and alongside two beautiful mountain ridges.  I describe the course as fast rolling.  I don’t find that the course has any long, sustained climbs.  I feel that it has 3-4 hills each lap that will make you work.  Stronger riders will glide over the top of the hills.  Weaker riders will need to anticipate the hill and select the right gears.

I have now ridden the course close to a dozen times.  And I have been in varying degrees of shape when doing so (Ironman shape to out of shape).  I find that it rides the same.  The only exception is that in the spring there is a much more noticeable wind.  I haven’t noticed the wind as much as summer has gone on.  Given that the course rides much the same, I find that my advice hasn’t changed at all.

  • The first hour will be fast.  But this also means the last hour will be slower and more challenging than you remember.  When you turn back onto highway 193 this will seem like the longest 5 miles every.  It just is.  The St. Elmo’s community was all downhill last time you came through, this time it is slightly uphill.  Add in your fatigue and this can been a challening last stretch.  
  • Knowing how to climb hills is vital to having a good race.  Miles 12-18 have several, small, sharp rollers.  They aren’t hard but that last 10% is challenging if you find yourself in the wrong gear.  If you think the hills are hard on the first lap, they are twice as big on the second.  
  • Hog Jowl is a fun and scenic road.   You should take a moment to enjoy the scenary
  • Riding into Chickamauga is fast.  Riding out is a bit slow.  Then it gets really fast as you approach 193 (after the hill)
  • Then you get to do it all over!

As you can see, the course rides fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow.  The key is to not let this discourage you.  Anticipate this and ride accordingly. 

The Run

I like the IM Chattanooga offers a challenging run.  I feel the it matches the terrain of Chattanooga and you get to see most of the town.  I would be really disappointed if it simply went downtown to the zoo and back.

I feel that your run will be determined in the first five minutes.  When you exit T2 you will be full of energy.  Mainly because you don’t have to ride anymore.  But also because of the crowd.  Well you have two strong hills in the fist .75 of a mile.  I don’t encourage athletes to attack these hills.  Instead, soak it all in and get to the top of the hill to begin your race.  If you come storming out, then you will be expending a lot of energy in the first few minutes.  You want that energy on the back half.  Once you summit the hill, you pretty much have a long downhill to the greenway.  Enjoy it.

Here are my key takeaways for the run:

  • In my opinion, the hardest hill on the course is Battery Place.  When you come off the greenway there is a sharp hill that you climb before being dumped onto the Veterans Bridge.  Last year the course came down the hill and up the long gradual one on the highway.  I have run this hill dozens of times, it gets me everytime.  
  • Barton Ave isn’t as intimidating as you think.  It is long and gradual.  Coming back up it is a bit more challenging.  But in both instances, you are rewarded with a long downhill 
  • The Riverview area rolls.  It seems intimidating in training but on race day, few people complain.  Plus it is shaded and has tons of beautiful homes. 
  • The Pedestrian Bridge is all up hill and it sucks.  The positive is that you have tons of crowd support.  However, expect to slow through this area.  When I ran in Chattanooga a few weeks back I crossed from the North Shore.  This was a good reminder of why I typically run that route in reverse.  

Much like the bike, the run course has fast sections and slower ones.  You will feel great.  You will feel defeated.  It is all about monitoring your energy levels and putting out equal effort across the course.  

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