Chattanooga hosts Ironman race, bringing thousands of outdoors enthusiasts to the city

Chattanooga hosts Ironman race, bringing thousands of outdoors enthusiasts to the city

Thousands of runners gathered in Chattanooga to participate in the world-renowned Ironman triathlon.

Photo by Kenzie Holton

This weekend, Chattanooga’s robust outdoor scene was thrust into the spotlight as the city welcomed 4,000 athletes for the Ironman 70.3 triathlon.

Runners from 91 different countries came to Chattanooga for the event, according to the official Ironman website. Women raced on September 9th, and the men's event followed on the next day.

Amy Donahue, the Director of Marketing and Communication at River City Company in Chattanooga, said Chattanooga already has a reputation for hosting events like Ironman 70.3.

“Both regionally and nationally, Chattanooga has been known for a long time as an outdoor mecca," said Donahue. "Whether it's hiking, biking, paddling, climbing or even hang-gliding, Chattanooga has it. I think what the Ironman competitions have brought — specifically this past weekend's event has brought larger international attention on what Chattanooga has to offer.”

Athletes began the race in the Tennessee River, swimming a total of 2.4 miles, before biking a whopping 116 miles near 'Nooga's famous Lookout Mountain. The race concluded after a 26.2 mile run through downtown Chattanooga.

Alex Sybillain, a French triathlete, said his family and friends traveled all the way from China to compete in the event.

“I was a bit surprised. The water is quite warm and quite clean. I was expecting something — maybe not really clean. But we tried swimming and we felt the water and it was quite okay,” Sybillain said.

Sybillain and his friend are both competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. This is Sybillain’s second Ironman event — his first was in China.

“The trees everywhere here are so green," he said. "Especially, when we are coming from China, with all the pollution. It’s quite dark. But there are blue skies here, so that’s nice for us.”

Donahue agrees with Sybilliain that Chattanooga is suitable for the Ironman 70.3 event.

“The Ironman course has very specific needs; a city has to be able to provide a connected and challenging open water swim course, plus suitable biking and running areas. Chattanooga has been gifted a natural topography that really meets these needs and does so with a start and finish space in the heart of our downtown. This provides an exciting race course for participants that can be lined with family, friends and general spectators,” said Donahue.

Rodrigo Gonzalez, originally from Mexico but currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, said he came to the event to watch a friend compete.

“Besides watching my friend, we like to see the whole Ironman environment and these types of events. I’m preparing myself to compete in the Augusta Ironman event,” Rodrigo said. “I think it’s one of the best spots to practice the sport.”

John O’Brien, a resident of Chattanooga and a competitor in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, said he's already been a part of 80 triathlons. 

“Chattanooga is one of the best venues in the world,” O’Brien said. “It’s the people that actually make Chattanooga such a great city for the triathlon community. We’re known for our southern hospitality. People from all over the world compliment this venue as a result of volunteers and the community support.”

According to the Ironman website, over 2,000 volunteers signed on to help this year. They cheer on athletes, give them cold, wet towels and clean up after the runners.

Robin Lankford, a Chattanooga native and volunteer who started working the event at 4:00 a.m., said she enjoyed seeing the camaraderie that the Ironman race inspired in the those around her.

“You see people out on the streets cheering everybody on — and most of these are locals. But there are people representing 91 countries. There’s so many different accents around here, it’s hard to figure out what everyone is saying," Lankford said. "But everybody has been so positive and so nice. It’s amazing what these people do with their bodies. To see them push themselves is an awesome experience.”

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