IRONMAN Chattanooga - 2019 Course Preview

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From Purple Patch Founder and Head Coach, Matt Dixon.


There are few towns that get behind triathlon more than Chattanooga. The X-factor is the heat, which may be present throughout race day, let’s hope it behaves and is a cooler September day. The course is accessible, varied, and fun. In general, the location has plenty of restaurants, great walkability and logistically easy to navigate. Super for athletes and families. The race itself will be known for its fast, current-assisted swim, rolling bike course with some steep bumps, and a hot, rolling, and honest run course with plenty of support. Pack your sunscreen but be ready for a super event, this is one of the best events on the North American circuit.

From Purple Patch Pro, Sarah Piampiano


This is a great venue and city to host an IRONMAN and now that it is a few years old, it has become a feature for the locals. Downtown Chattanooga offers a wide variety of good restaurants and places to stay that are very convenient to race expo/transition. The people are very friendly and full of Southern hospitality! The weather can be a bit humid and warm, especially on the run, so be ready. It is a course that deserves a little respect and smart management, so don’t blow the run legs apart throughout the bike ride.



The average temperature on race day is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but it can be a lot warmer than this on the day itself. We would encourage you to be mentally ready for much warmer temperatures, so keep an eye on weather patterns and expectations in the lead up.

Course Cut-Off Times


  • The swim course will close 2 hours and 20 minutes after the last age group athlete enters the water. 

  • Each athlete will get the full 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 2.4 mile swim regardless of what time they enter the water. 

  • Athletes who take longer than 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the swim will receive a DNF. IRONMAN officials reserve the right to pull athletes off the course who exceed any established course time cut-offs.


  • Each athlete will have 10 hours to complete the swim, T1,  and bike course regardless of when they start the swim. Any athlete that takes longer than 10 hours to complete the swim, T1, and bike course will receive a DNF. 

  • Intermediate cut-off at approximately 2:25 PM at the start of the second loop (Mile 58). 

  • The bike course will close at approximately 6:10 PM. Any athlete arriving at the bike dismount line after 6:10 PM will not be permitted to continue. 

  • Athletes must be out of transition by 6:20 PM and starting the run course in order to continue on the run portion.


  • The run course will close 16 hours and 30 minutes after the last age group athlete starts the swim. 

  • Any athlete that finishes the race before the final run course cut-off but has a finishing time greater than 16 hours and 30 minutes will be considered a DNF and will not be eligible for age group awards or for IRONMAN World Championship slots or rolldown slots. 

  • Intermediate cut-offs at approximately 9:30 PM at the start of the second run loop (Mile 13.1) and at approximately 11:20 PM at Mile 20.6.

Finish Line Cut-Off

  • The race will officially end 16 hours and 30 minutes after the last age group athlete starts the swim.  

  • Each athlete, regardless of what time they enter the water, will have 16 hours and 30 minutes to complete the entire race course (swim, bike and run courses).

Athlete Check-in

  • Location:  Ross’s Landing

  • Thursday, September 26, 2019:  9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

  • Friday, September 27, 2019:  9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

  • Saturday, September 28, 2019:  9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Mandatory Athlete Briefing

  • Location:  Ross’s Landing

  • Thursday, September 26, 2019:  11:00 AM and 2:00 PM

  • Friday, September 27, 2019:  11:00 Am and 2:00 PM

  • Saturday, September 28, 2019:  10:00 AM and 1:00 PM

Mandatory Bike Check-in

  • Location:  Ross’s Landing

  • Saturday, September 28, 2019:  6:15 AM - 12:40 PM

Race Day:  Sunday, September 29, 2019

Body Marking

  • Location:  Ross’s Landing

  • 4:30 - 6:30 AM

Athlete and Spectator Shuttle Bus Service

  • Location:  Ross’s Landing

  • 4:30 - 7:00 AM:  Athlete and Spectator Shuttle from T1 to Swim Start at Curtain Pole Riverwalk Park.  NO swim parking.

Official Race Start

  • 7:20 AM:  Pro Start

  • 7:30 AM:  Age Group Start


Pre-Race Bike Tips

  • With the large temperature swings of the heat in the middle of the day to cooler nights, it is worth removing some of your air in your tires when you rack your bike the night before the race.

  • Race morning, pump your tires to your race pressure. This will reduce the risk of pressure-related blowouts when the bike is racked the day prior.


Pre-Race Tips from Purple Patch Pro, Sarah Piampiano

  • When you are racing in the South, even with fall approaching, it's always possible you might be dealing with serious heat and humidity.

  • If you have hot weather, it's certainly going to have an impact. If it's really hot and humid, your sweat rate is going to be higher, and you're going to sweat more than if it were drier and cooler.

  • Doing things like taking ice on the run and putting it down your shirt becomes important but remember that the body cools from the inside out so retain hydration status.


Pre-Race Tips from Matt Dixon

Don’t forget to warm up.  One of the biggest mistakes I see is the lack of a warm-up prior to the swim. At any distance, a lack of warm-up is a performance inhibitor for many athletes (pros and all the way down).

  1. Set up transition: arrive with lots of time to spare.  Remember you must manage the logistics of a down-river swim, so plan early and understand where to go.

  2. Running warm-up: 10-15 minutes of very easy jogging. When return have a little fuel and hydration.

  3. Check transition and put on the wetsuit: final preps, kiss your family, friends, dogs, and teammates. 

  4. Swim warm-up: check the course buoys one more time then go:

    • 3-5 min easy swimming then:

    • 30 sec moderate

    • 30 sec smooth

    • 20 sec strong

    • 30 sec smooth

    • 10 sec V strong

    • 30 sec smooth

    • 20 sec strong

    • 30 sec smooth

    • 30 sec moderate

    • Can go through twice if you wish! 

Ready to race.


Length: 2.4 miles


Water Temperature

The water temperature will be in the mid 70's degrees Fahrenheit.

Self-Seed Rolling Start

Athletes will enter the water in a self-seeded basis and it is expected to take 45 minutes to get everyone into the water.

Swim Overview

The point-to-point swim in the Tennessee River will start 2.4 miles upstream of transition. Athletes will enter the water in a rolling start. Athletes will exit the water at the beautiful Ross’s Landing Park. The water temperature will be in the mid 70's degrees Fahrenheit.

Swim to Bike Transition 

  • After the swim, athletes will be directed through the timing chutes to the swim to bike transition. Public nudity is not permitted. 

  • Athletes are required to be fully ready to race before getting on their bike. 

  • Personal nutrients are permitted if carried on you or your bike. Sunscreen is available in transition.


Pre-Race Tips

  • The current is stronger in the middle of the river. Remember to sight as the river meanders a bit.

  • At the start, athletes head easterly into the sun, but the course runs fairly close and parallel to the river bank.

  • Since this is a fast down-river swim with a speedy current, use your kick at the start.

  • Starting with a strong kick and fast turnover will give you some good momentum in the water.  Then settle into your pace.

  • At the end of the swim, rev your kick back up to get the blood flowing into your legs.

  • Again, not recommending a full kick throughout entire Chattanooga swim, but rather at the start and end.

  • Be mindful to swim stronger when you turn out of the current to make your way to the swim finish as you will drift.

  • In past years, there have been some boats lining the path to swim finish to buffer that current.

Swim Gear Tip

Tinted goggles typically for this race.


  • For most amateurs, drafting is overrated, as the person you are following is likely as poor as you at sighting. Focus on your output, swimming straight, then tuck into a nice draft IF there is an opportunity.

Swim Tips from Matt Dixon

  • You will be swimming downstream for nearly the entire swim, so it is well worth getting acquainted with the different sensations of your arm pulling backwards through the water while water is traveling “with you.”

  • Feel for the water is easier to gain, so timing and rhythm are everything.

  • You can enjoy a faster than usual swim and will want to remain more in the middle of the river to ensure faster currents.

  • Sighting is relatively easy, but there is a wiggle/turn in the river, so ensure you know the course.

  • Be highly aware of swim exit, you don't want to overshoot the finish of the swim.

  • With the rolling start, seed yourself appropriately to your swim performance, don't be over-enthusiastic in your placing.

  • It isn't typically over-crowded so be respectful and appropriate.

  • I would still encourage you not to start too fast, instead ramp effort to a very strong and sustained effort.

Swim Tips from Sarah Piampiano

  • Athletes will board a shuttle to the swim start for a point-to-point swim, which makes navigating the swim pretty simple.

  • It is a downstream swim, however, the two times that I have done the race there hasn't been much of a noticeable current.

  • This should be a wetsuit legal swim in late September, so if there is a current on race day it will make for a very fast one, but always be prepared for anything.  It could easily be non-wetsuit.

T1 Tips

  • Coming out of the swim, you will run west along the river and the sea wall.

  • Then there is a turn which feeds into a fairly steep ramp/hill that athletes have to run up to get to T1.

  • Be prepared.


Length: 116 miles


Bike Course Overview

  • The 116 mile bike course takes riders 11 miles south of town before beginning two 47-mile loops in north Georgia. Athletes can expect incredible views as they parallel Lookout Mountain on this rolling course with great road surfaces. As athletes near the end of the loop, they will get the opportunity to ride through historic Chickamauga. The bike course has approximately 4808 feet of climbing.

Bike Course Nutrition at Aid Stations

Gatorade Endurance Formula (Flavor: Orange), Water, Bananas, GU ROCTANE Energy Gels, BASE Performance Bars, Red Bull


  • Be aware that some of the poorer quality pavement on the Chattanooga bike is found during the urban riding portion at the start of the course. Be ready for a few 90 degree turns as well.

  • There is a rough set of railroad tracks about a mile out which you will encounter again at the end of the ride with about a mile left to go.

  • Please make note of the climb, descent, and blind turn outside of Chicakamauga prior to race day for strategic planning purposes.

Bike Tips from Matt Dixon

  • A wonderful course to vary the load, utilize the full range of gears and riding tools and avoid the mistake of retaining a single cadence or strict power zone. I would highlight the chance to always find opportunities to gain or regain momentum over crests, carry speed with less power output (grades and tailwinds) and avoid slowing down with some stronger and short efforts through the dips of rollers.

  • Ride this course at a single power, and you will either go very slow relative to potential or blow yourself to pieces. Instead, vary the load and ensure you bring out some slower strength-endurance low rpm work on hills, a little use of appropriate standing to relieve load, and short accelerations over the crests of hills to regain speed quickly - which you will want to carry down the next grade.

  • You can absolutely ride this bike course strong and there are not enough features or terrain to be risky to the run, so let the wheels fly and enjoy.

  • Just be mindful of not powering down the shallow hills and chasing power when speed is already high.

  • It is a thinking-athlete's course.

  • Unless consciously choosing to rest, every time the load decreases the speed should increase, with gearing, cadence, or a smooth standing interaction - other than for 6-10 standing pedal strokes if/when standing is used - as gradient/load declines power will also sink back towards you average output but speed should increase.

  • Plenty of rolling terrain both smaller and medium "rollers" that can be managed to carry speed into the next down.

  • As with all rolling courses, let the gradient bring the work to you.  Do not charge the bottom of the hills, power will rise as the gradient increases.  It is important to work off RPE and manage the HR and muscular load with gearing.


Bike Tips from Sarah Piampiano

  • The bike course is a two-loop rolling course and most of the road surfaces are great.

  • This course takes you out of Tennessee into Georgia with some great views of Lookout Mountain.

There aren't any steep climbs to worry about, but there is enough rolling terrain to make varying the load key to your success.


Length: 26.2 miles


Run Course Overview

  • Athletes will have a chance to see the Scenic City as they complete two loops through downtown Chattanooga, The Tennessee Riverwalk, Veterans Bridge, North Shore, Walnut Street Bridge and the beautiful Riverfront Parkway. The final stretch will bring athletes down Riverfront Parkway to finish at Ross's Landing along the Tennessee River.

Run Elevation

  • Start Elevation:  712 feet

  • Finish Elevation:  710 feet

  • Gain:  1,150 feet

Run Course Nutrition at Aid Stations

Gatorade Endurance Formula (Flavor: Lemon-Lime), Water,Cola, Chicken Broth (after dark), GU ROCTANE Energy Gels, BASE Performance Bars, Red Bull, Pretzels, Fruit


Run Tips from Matt Dixon

  • Dependent on your level, this course and expected heat may well necessitate you are smart about the run. Remember that the time-penalty for purposeful walking on hills is minimal for most people but, conversely, all must seek to use gravity and run down all hills.

  • If running is a weakness or you don't typically operate well in heat, then being stubborn and tough won't yield success.

  • You may benefit from running with great form as long as you can for as often as you can, and mix this with smartly placed walking.

  • On the hills - power walk and mix with running if you can.

  • Downhills you carry legs peed through fast arms and light feet, and the flats are a mix of run-walking. This will likely be the approach of many competitors.

  • If you are a very strong runner, translate this to your lens, with controlled form based hills and a pursuit of very fast leg speed downhills, without bashing your quads apart via slow turnover and heavy footsteps.

  • This is a course to think, maintain process and control with walking if needed, appropriate fueling and hydration and a pragmatic lens.

  • The good news is that fast running is possible, but likely not through just being tough!

  • You have to be smart too.


Run Tips from Sarah Piampiano

  • The run can be tough, but it is a very spectator friendly course.

  • There are a few gradual hills throughout the loop that you do twice, so it's a good idea to conserve some energy on them.

  • Slow the cadence a bit and focus on really pushing off the back foot and keeping the heart rate down on the uphills.

  • On the downhills, focus on foot speed and using the momentum to carry you forward.

  • The first hill is fairly soon out of transition, so you don't want to blow yourself to pieces right away!

  • All in all, the run is pretty scenic through downtown Chattanooga and along the Riverfront Parkway with lots of spectators along the course.

  • Again, it can be hot by the time you're on the run, so be prepared and remember to hydrate!


Matt Dixon’s Final Thoughts

Focus on the process not outcome.

  • Triathlons can elicit monkey brain. You may start asking yourself a lot of questions during the race, and lose focus on the immediate task at hand. Controlling that attention and focus is part of the challenge and the fun.

    Don't evaluate too early. Many athletes start evaluating their performances before they finish the race and leave some potential strewn across the course.  Triathlons require you to remain focused on execution and process, without a thought of the outcome during the race. Save your race evaluation for the recovery tent.

    Fueling: Check in with yourself throughout the race and continually assess your calories and hydration intake. It may be hot this year, so think about that when you are planning your hydration and remember calories every 10-15 minutes. If your mood starts to drop, it is likely calories.

    Pacing: Managing your effort, gearing, and pacing in each part of the race.

    Form: Staying supple on the bike, good tension on the chain, running tall on the run with good foot-speed. Basically, all the things we have talked about so far!

    Don’t let the support, terrain and spirit of this course deceive you. It is a wonderful race, so go have fun and embrace it.

    Best of luck, we will see you on the course.

Course photos:  IRONMAN

Kim Kisslo