When I signed up for Ironman Chattanooga in August, I immediately thought ahead to the next time I’d be home visiting family so that I could go on a course recon mission. I flew home for Thanksgiving, and two days after I got there had planned a drive of the bike course. The following day I had setup a long run with a friend from high school on part of the run course. I wanted to know what I was in for, and I wanted to experience as much of it for myself as I could. I’m a member of the Ironman Chattanooga Facebook page, and it is really helpful in so many ways. The pictures, information, and opinions that people share on training, the course, and race day is helpful, but I knew that seeing the course for myself is what I ultimately needed for my own peace of mind.
So on Friday morning after Thanksgiving my mom and I jumped in the car and set off on our drive. I meant to take my Garmin with me to record the elevation profile, but I left it at home and didn’t realize it until we were halfway down the mountain that we live on. I decided to take pictures, and I ended up with over 250 of them. It’s hard to pick the best ones to represent the course, so I’m just going to share as many as necessary to best exemplify my thoughts. Underneath the photos I’ve shared my opinions, if you’re interested. I feel the need to note here, again, that this will be my first go at 140.6, so I have no course to compare it to. If you know this course or other courses, I’d love your comments comparing them below.
The course starts at transition on the Tennessee River.
Then it heads through Downtown Chattanooga and past one of the roads that would take you up Lookout Mountain. The downtown part is flat for the most part, but people have been mentioning railroad tracks. There are definitely a lot of them, but I didn’t really know to be worried about them until I started hearing other people talking about them.
After this point you go through some residential areas for a short period of time before hitting a flat, beautiful, and scenic road that takes you out to the 40-something mile loop that is completed twice before returning up this same way back to transition. I loved this road, and I spent the whole time amazed with how beautiful it was. I also spent the time repeating to my mom, “it’s not even hilly!”
Then we entered the loop, and everything started changing. There were few flat sections that connecting rolling hills. The hills weren’t crazy, but there were a lot of them. I wasn’t getting nervous yet, but I was realizing how much I’m going to need to train hills in the coming months.
There is a turn at the bottom of the loop onto a road called Hog Jowl Road. There’s a long hill with a moderate grade going up, then there’s a turn and a downhill. The turn onto hog jowl is on the downward part of this hill, and it’s before you reach the bottom. It’s also a 300* or so left turn. It’s the part on the course I’ll be the most nervous for. The race director has said there will be people at the top of the hill warning about the turn on the way down.
I have a video of the turn, but for some reason it just isn’t uploading. If you’re interested I can email it to you. Just leave a comment with your email address or email me using the contact tab on the left.
After that comes the back part of the loop. It was during this part of the ride that I started getting a little car sick. Between the hills and the winding roads, I was ready to be out of the car. I continued taking pictures, because that’s what I went on the ride for, but all I could think at that time was, “This is hilly and winding.” It probably wasn’t as bad as I was thinking, but when you start feeling less than ideal, it makes anything less than pleasant.
And then we go through Downtown Chickamauga and head back up the same path we came and into transition.
Here are my Ironman Chattanooga bike course thoughts:
- I was in a car and not on a bike, so I don’t know how steep the grades are on the hills. There are several hills where the car really had to work, but for a lot of them the momentum from a previous downhill helped with the next uphill.
- It’s hilly. That’s a definite fact, but there are several places where the race director could have had us make some turns that would have taken us up some SERIOUS hills. The hills we see are small to moderate, but they just keep coming.
- There is only ONE place on the course where you have to turn at the bottom of a hill. This is going to be fun in the sense that if the training and bike handling skills are there at descending hills, then the next ones aren’t going to be so bad.
- The further it gets in the past, the less severe I think of it.
I’m planning to go ride the course on a bike sometime this spring. I’ll update with added or changed thoughts when I do that.
Onto the Ironman Chattanooga Run Course! I did not run the whole run course for safety reasons. There are sections of the course that go through the less safe areas of town, and though not terrible, to have been running early on a Saturday when few people were up, my friend and I decided not to risk it.
The first half of the loop (it’s a two loop course) goes through downtown again, and is fairly flat. At mile 6 we’ll make a turn to head towards the north shore of the river, and that’s where the hills will start. The hill we climb headed toward that bridge is steep, and I didn’t get a picture of it.
Then, we cross over this bridge (and this is actually the water that the Ironman Chattanooga Swim will be in. We’ll swim straight toward that bridge and stay to the left of the island you see in the distance):
And then we’ll head for the hills. We’ll ascend one large hill at Barton Avenue (that we’ll have to cross back over towards the end of the loop) before running through some hilly neighborhoods and up and around the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.
It’s beautiful, but did I mention hills? I didn’t take nearly as many picture of the run course as the bike course, because I was actually running this time instead of driving. I turned around before getting into the part that takes us onto Minnekhada Place, but I’ve driven that 100 times. Hills.
My Run Course thoughts:
- I’m going to continue running the Clearwater Bridges for hill training. I live in Florida, land of the sidewalk ramp sized hills, so perhaps my perspective is skewed.
- To people that train hills a lot and live in Atlanta, I guess this is pretty standard. I’ll be honest, the front half of the loop doesn’t scare me. The back half does a little bit. Though I didn’t walk or anything like that, my pace slowed a bit up some of the longer hills, and I had to stop talking for long enough to catch my breath in those sections.
And that’s it! I don’t have any secret tips or hints. I’m excited for the challenge, and I’m ready to train hard. Knowing what’s in front of me helps me, but it also makes me nervous.
I’m thrilled that so many people that I know will be there. I cannot wait to see people on the run course. I know that’s what will get me through. I don’t know what or how spectators will be on the bike course. It’s a small two lane road with very little traffic.
Those are my thoughts. Have you been in some of this area? Are you doing Ironman Chattanooga? What are your thoughts? How will you train? How would you compare it to other Ironmans?