Ironman Chattanooga Spectator Recap

This is about as timely of an entry as I get!

Remember back when my husband did an Ironman? And beforehand I was worried about entertaining the kids for 14+ hours so you guys gave me suggestions? Everything worked out great! And I’ve been meaning to tell you all about it, but, you know…life got busy. For 6 months.

But we’re here now! With our Spectator recap! It’s probably a good thing I waited so long to write this because if it had all been fresh in my mind? It might have been 50 pages long.

The Day Before

Donnie actually got checked in on Friday, but Saturday he had to do one last “run through” and then he had to check in all of his gear. This meant he needed to swim/bike/run with all of his gear/clothing one time before race. This is normal practice as it ensures you’ll notice things like, if you forgot half of your tri kit. Or if your bike got misaligned in transport.  And then he’d need to take all of that gear and check it into transition. We also had the IronKids race that morning so Saturday was chock full of activities. Donnie didn’t want to do too much walking, so our plan was to just have him be there for the IronKids event and then he do his thing while we did ours, and we’d try to meet up with him if we could.

The kids and I walked all over the downtown area after IronKids and explored and just had tons of relaxing fun that day. We met up with Donnie after his run through and he was craving Sweet Potato fries. I pulled up Siri and asked her to find me Sweet Potato fries nearby and guys? IT WORKED. About 5 blocks away I found a sports bar type place that had Sweet Potato fries. It was pretty awesome. That was one of my more proud #TeamDonnie moments.

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Bluff View Art District


One of the GIANT transition areas. I think these are the "RUN BAGS" but they could be "BIKE BAGS" - one was red, one was blue.
One of the GIANT transition areas. These were “BIKE BAGS” so you grab yours before you get on your bike.

After Donnie ate, the kids and I went to go see a movie (I can’t remember which one now, THIS IS WHY I SHOULD HAVE DONE THIS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE WEEKEND.) and I felt we had sufficiently stayed out of Donnie’s hair so he could prep in his own headspace and not get distracted by us. It all went beautifully and he felt rested and ready. Then we donned our ear plugs and eye masks and tried to get to sleep while Donnie watched movies/TV to wind down.

Good plan, but they didn't stay on.
Good plan, but they didn’t stay on.


Race Day

Donnie wanted to get to transition to check in by about 4:30am so that he could get on an early bus to the swim start. It was a “first come, first serve” type swim start so he wanted to get a decent position in the pack. If you’ll recall, our hotel was a mile from transition, but we walked so that we wouldn’t have to deal with parking. We grabbed his bike pump and a few items we’d need for the next hour or two, and headed to the start. Wesley was not a big fan of the early wakeup time so I ended up carrying him a bit and Nikki carried our gear. My goal was to keep Wesley happy all day, even if it meant carrying him, and I have no regrets from that decision.

Donnie got air in his tires, got his body marking, did one last mental check of all of his gear, and it was time for us to send him on his way. We gave him his kisses and headed back to our hotel to get breakfast and pack our gear up for the day.

Our last photo before sending him on his way!
Our last photo before sending him on his way!

We were guessing he’d get in the water by 7:40am, so we wanted to be back down to the swim exit by 7am so we could get in position. (We knew it would take him about an hour to do the swim.) We hit up Starbucks, everyone grabbed their own bags, and we headed back to the transition area. At this point, my bag was full of water/towels/rain gear and the kids had the lighter bags with their entertainment choices for the day. We were prepared for rain (slight chance) and also prepared to be gone all day, just in case we didn’t have time to make it back to the hotel. Since our hotel was a mile away from the main activity, it was a huge ordeal to get there and back, there was no guarantee we’d be able to do that.


We got set up by the swim exit and the kids got to playing with a little girl who was there to cheer on her Mom. They sat on the blanket and played games while I stood on a small hill with a friend to watch the swimmers exit. Our plan was to see Donnie get out of the water, and then find the shuttle buses taking everyone out to Chickamauga where the bike course would come through twice. As the spectator crowd got thicker, it got much harder to see the racers coming out of the water. THANK GOD my friend saw Donnie because I did not and the day would have gone MUCH LESS SMOOTH if I had missed him coming out of the water. I screamed bloody murder for him and packed the kids up to get in line for the shuttle.


Our view of the swim exit, it was really hard seeing the racers!
Our view of the swim exit, it was really hard seeing the racers!

Now, I had spent a good chunk of time the day before trying to find someone who knew FOR SURE where the shuttles would pick up. No one did. So I asked one more time that day and the person SEEMED confident, pointing us to one corner. We waited for awhile and I was able to track Donnie on his bike because he was using the MyAthleteLive GPS. It wasn’t reading real-time results like it was supposed to, but periodically it would update to tell me where he was. I knew where the shuttle was taking us so I knew we needed to be on the first one out so we’d see him pass the spectating area. The course was 2 loops so he would pass that point twice, but we wanted to see him the FIRST time through so we’d have time to catch the shuttle back and spectate his run.

SO…getting on the first shuttle out was a HUGE priority.


It turned out we were about 2 blocks away from the shuttle pickup (OF COURSE WE WERE) but we booked it over to the right place and got on the first batch of shuttles. There was a lot of confusion on the shuttle about where the bus was taking us. Well, let me re-phrase that, people were confused but I kept telling them where we were going and no one believed me.  I was NOT confused because I had fully researched and planned my day as a spectator. But one guy in particular was INSISTENT that the bus was taking us somewhere different.

Finally, I dug out my spectator’s guide I had printed up and showed everyone on the bus. They were all impressed and irritated with me for even having that with me. I was basically the student in class ruining the curve.

On the shuttle ready to roll!
On the shuttle ready to roll!

The bus driver made an announcement that they would NOT be taking people BACK from Chickamauga until well past when we expected Donnie to pass through the area. This was going to REALLY screw with my plans because I was hoping to give us enough time to run back to the hotel and dump some gear before Donnie started on the run. We had a LOT of walking to do to see him on the run course in 5 places, and I didn’t want to carry all of our stuff. The kids and I talked about, they decided they were okay about us not being able to go back to the hotel, so we opted to stay on the bus and get out to Chickamauga. We wouldn’t get to make it back to the hotel, but we’d also be forced to stay longer on the bike course, so we could cheer on more friends. We made this decision because we thought it was more important that Donnie see us somewhere on the bike course, than whether or not we made it back to the hotel.

Well, half of the bus cleared out because no one wanted to be stuck out in Chickamauga for that long. This worked out great for us because it turned out to be wrong information. They WERE going to be making round trips all day! WOO!

We stopped by a food truck in Chickamauga and got Nikki a BBQ Sandwich (Wes wasn’t hungry yet) and we set up our blankets along the bike course. The first cyclist hadn’t come through yet, so we made great time. I kept checking the MyAthlete Live tracker to see Donnie’s progress. This thing was SUCH a godsend. The Ironman tracker crashed and no one could track their cyclist but people who had the GPS we had. People all around us were asking me when Donnie got out of the water and how fast he went on the bike so they could gauge when to see THEIR cyclist based on ours. And those guys started flying by SO FAST you really needed to kinda know when to look for them.

Got set up before the first bike came through!
Got set up before the first bike came through!

We were able to cheer for several of Donnie’s cycling buddies (all appearing in the order we expected them, which really helped when keeping an eye out for Donnie) and then BAM! There he was! We screamed bloody murder because that’s how we roll. We checked on another friend who wasn’t far behind him but who also had the GPS tracker. We decided to wait for her before heading back. We saw her pass and then grabbed some more BBQ before jumping on the shuttle back to town.

Donnie on the right
Donnie on the right

We headed straight back to the hotel and decided the radar/forecast looked clear so we ditched all of our rain gear and a bunch of our heavier items. I let the kids rest a bit while we waited to hear from Donnie’s parents who were on their way into town. We had a few things we wanted to do before Donnie started the run, so we ended up heading back to Ironman village and just having them meet us there. We bought some Junk bands and some slushies and enjoyed a little bit of relaxation before the craziest part of our day was to start.

Junk Bands!
Junk Bands!



We met up with Donnie’s family and found a good spot on the run “EXIT” to watch for Donnie. I had people in transition who were going to text me when he brought his bike in. This worked out great because we had some good warning to go along with the GPS tracker. There were also several Huntsvillians volunteering on that section so they could see him coming as well. Finally…there he was…BAM! Starting the run! And now started the time of the day where Everyone Thinks Kim Is Insane. I think my plan to see him 5 times had us covering 4-6 miles on foot over the course of his 4 hour run.

Donnie starting his run, and our friends from Huntsville volunteering!
Donnie starting his run, and our friends from Huntsville volunteering!

I had mapped out my spectator plan for the run down to the second. I planned the points to find him so that we wouldn’t get stuck having to cross the course, and I planned it so we could see him as many times as possible. We got to spot #1 well ahead of schedule. The GPS tracker still wasn’t showing accurate speed, so I was confused as to how fast he was running, but it was at least showing me his location periodically. All of his friends who came by ahead of us on the bike came by ahead of us on the run too, another thing that really helped. Nikki really got into cheering at this point because it was way easier to cheer on the run. We could see the names on the race bibs and she loved cheering for people by name. She got a lot of nice smiles and thanks from the racers.

We also screamed like maniacs for everyone we knew. Donnie’s friends probably thought we were insane.

And then we saw him! And he looked great! Just chatting away with another runner like he was just out on a training run, no big deal.

I can’t remember exactly how the rest of the spots went. Several things happened but I can’t remember in what order. One was that Donnie started passing some of his buds which made things harder to predict his arrival (The GPS gave a vague estimate, but not exact so you had to watch every runner), but it was awesome because that meant he was feeling great. Another time we stopped for restroom and snack but the food took too long and we needed to get to another point to see him so I basically abandoned Donnie’s parents. That was totally shitty and I’m not proud, but I was in MAJOR “Spectate my Husband” mode and the only thing I could think about was making sure I caught him at certain points. I did catch them, and they missed him at that one point, but we did have several planned.

I think this was our third viewing of him on the run! He's on the left.
I think this was our third viewing of him on the run! He’s on the left.

The second-to-last point was an interesting place on the course where we could actually catch people quite a bit behind Donnie before we saw him. The course was really great for spectating lots of people. We met up with some friends there and cheered on some other Huntsvillians before heading over to catch Donnie. This was mile 20+ something and – of course – it started raining. It was hysterical because we had left all of our rain gear at the hotel! This seemed pretty perfect. Luckily, I didn’t care so the kids used stuff that belonged to Donnie’s parents and I just stayed in the rain (they were trying to stay sheltered) waiting to cheer on people I knew.

When we finally saw Donnie at this last point before the finish – he looked AMAZING. He gave us a huge fist bump and he was just moving more and more ahead of people who had been ahead of him for a long time. It was AMAZING. We screamed for him one last time and the headed down to the finish line.

We discussed a bit about where to set up. Do we set up RIGHT at the finish so we can see him actually cross the finish line? Or do we set up further up the course so he can see us and know we’re there. (There’s no way he’d see OR hear us if we were actually at the finish line.)

We opted to sit further up and I don’t regret it at all. It was perfect. We saw him coming down and I started sobbing and screaming for him – it was amazing. Then, we moved fast enough towards the finish that Nikki and I actually heard them say, “Donnie Holmes, You are an Ironman!”

Our view of him running to the finish line. Look how strong he looks after 143+ miles of self-propelled travel!
Our view of him running to the finish line. Look how strong he looks after 143+ miles of self-propelled travel!

We headed to the family area and someone came and found us and took us to Donnie. We had Huntsvillians working the finish line and they grabbed him and claimed him as their own. It was amazing. We hung out with him in the recovery area for awhile and then we found him a nice spot in the grass in Ironman Village to relax/rest while we loaded his stuff up.

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That was probably my biggest contribution to the day, was helping get his stuff back to the hotel while he rested. (Begin self-bragging NOW.) I walked his bike and a bunch of his gear back to the hotel which was a mile away. ALL BY MYSELF. And then I came back, got him and all of the REST of the gear (our gear and his) and helped him get back to the hotel for a shower before dinner.

Both of the kids fell asleep at dinner, it was adorable. We were able to wake Nikki up so she could walk the mile back to the hotel, but I ended our VERY long day carrying Wesley the final mile and it was – by far – the hardest mile I’ve ever traveled on my own feet. I mean, I know my husband did an Ironman, but I spectated an Ironman walking 22+ miles in one day…AND CARRYING MY GIANT KID the final mile.


Nikki’s walking total for the day was 16 miles, and Wes walked 10 miles.  (Yes, that means I carried him 6 miles.) One of the best ideas I had was that I had told them I’d give them $1 for every mile they walked over the two days. Nikki ended up with $23 and Wes ended up with $16.  The other two things that saved me in terms of entertaining the kids from 4am until 10pm or so was A) A battery pack to charge devices (Wes was not into cheering) and B) Magnetic Checkers. I may look for more magnetic travel games next year, they’re way easier to clean up. The drawing stuff didn’t really get used, and Nikki didn’t really do much other than cheer with me!

All-in-all it was a great day. The only thing we’ll do differently next year is KEEP THE RAIN GEAR and get a better position at the swim out so I am sure not to miss Donnie exiting. Oh, and hopefully next year? I won’t have to carry Wes any.

5 thoughts on “Ironman Chattanooga Spectator Recap”

  1. Okay, I fully admit I’m an emotional trainwreck this week, but this made me full on open cry, I was so happy reading about how awesome Donnie did and how great they day went for you.

    Great job, all of you, for such a wonderful memory.

  2. oh, yay!!! LOVED reading this…even if it does only serve to remind me of how lame i am in comparison to y’all! 🙂

    but truly, donnie always continues to impress and surprise…i totally get how proud you are of him. and did i read that right? next year? wow.

  3. I’m with Roseann- I held it together until ‘Donnie Holmes, you are an IRONMAN’ and then I cried. What a wonderful effort, wonderful result, and wonderful support. Your team approach to everything- training, parenting, supporting, all of it! So inspirational both of you!!!

    Yay Team Holmes

  4. He signed up for 2015 the day BEFORE the race! So he signed up before he even knew how he’d like it 🙂

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