Hello! So – if you’ll recall – last year I spectated my husband’s first Ironman in Chattanooga so I thought I’d re-compile my wisdom for this Sunday’s race for my friends who have asked! Keep in mind I had 2 kids in tow last year and will again this year so speed is/was a factor in all of my decisions. I could do more if it were just me, but obviously I have two small (and sometimes slow) kids I have to take into consideration.
Theoretically, since the swim is only 2 miles, you can see your athlete get in the water, walk the riverwalk/greenway to the swim out and be there in time to see them get OUT of the water. And we almost did that last year but decided against it due to the fact I wasn’t sure if my kids could handle the 2 miles at the right speed. But – I’m very glad I did NOT do that because the spectator “alley” that formed at the Swim Out was PACKED and nearly IMPOSSIBLE to see your athlete getting out of the water unless you had a Front Row Joe spot. I almost missed Donnie, but luckily my friend saw him. I did NOT want to miss Donnie getting OUT of the water because then I would not know for sure when he started the bike. So, get to the swim OUT spectator alley along the river before anyone else does and stand there at the wall until you see your athlete. They come out fast and in crowds so DO NOT LOOK AWAY for one second. My kids knew not to bother me until I saw him!
After we saw Donnie get out of the water we immediately got inline for the shuttle driving people out to Chickamauga. Now, every volunteer told us a different spot to wait for the shuttles (school buses) but it turns out none of them were right. The spectator guide said “Ross’s landing” last year too but the buses actually picked up near the corner of Power Alley (the road that runs by the stadium) and Aquarium Way. I’m not sure if they’ll be in the exact same spot this year, but that will give you an idea. They start pickup at 9am. They told use they weren’t going to be there to drive people back immediately and it was strange for awhile because we were worried we’d be stuck in Chickamauga for several hours…BUT…it all worked out fine last year. We got on the first buses out there, we set up far down the course (away from the crowds) in a nice shady spot, and still caught the first cyclist rolling through. They come in FAST so make sure you don’t look away for too long. We had My Athlete Live tracker last year but we won’t this year so we’ll be depending on the sometimes-flaky Ironman tracker. In theory you could see your athlete TWICE from this spot. Around mile 50 and around mile 100. HOWEVER, we left after the first sighting so we could catch a shuttle back in time to see Donnie start the run.
This part is a little different from last year. The run course is turned around on the South side of the river so we’re going to be doing it a little different. We’re going to sit at the RUN OUT until we see Donnie leave on the run. Then we’re going to head down the Riverfront Pkwy until we get to Battery Place and hop on the Riverwalk to try to catch Donnie around MILE 8. Then we will head to Walnut Street Bridge (South Side) to try to catch him at MILE 13. Then we will cross Walnut Street Bridge to the NORTH side of the river, and try to catch him as he crosses Veteran’s Bridge around MILE 21. NOW. If you are FAST, you can stay there and see your athlete come back around MILE 23 but I was afraid we would not make it to the finish line in time so we opted NOT to do that. We might stick around this year, the kids are faster, I’m not sure.
The Finish Line
Unless you get to the finish line early and don’t mind pushing around to get a good spot, you will NOT see your athlete cross the finish line. We opted instead to wait further up Riverfront Pkway. It was still close enough that AS SOON as he passed us (and he was able to see us because it wasn’t crowded and we got a GREAT picture) we sprinted to the Finish Line and still heard them say, “DONNIE HOLMES! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” They funneled the athletes to the South side of the Finish Line area, but past the Ironman Village and we met up with him there where he was sitting down and fueling up.
- Wear comfy shoes. We walked 17 miles that day. Granted, we made a few runs back to our hotel which was a mile away, but still. TONS OF WALKING.
- Bring cash. There were food trucks out in Chickamauga but they only took cash.
- Carry all maps and guides with you. Course Maps are here. Spectator Guide is here.
- Bring a battery pack. Your phone WILL DIE.
- Do not trust the Ironman tracker. It crashed several times last year. Know your athlete’s predicted pace.
- Have a backup plan to meetup. Pick a tent in Ironman Village (like, the Little Debbie tent or something) where you’ll meet up after your athlete crosses the finish line in case you can’t get into the recovery area to get to them. We had friends working as volunteers so they found us, but I’m not sure I would have found Donnie otherwise.
- CHEER FOR EVERYONE! Don’t just stand around waiting for your person, especially on the run because those athletes are SO TIRED at that point. You can see their names on their bibs, cheer their names while you wait for your athlete!
- Bring your own food and water. Every eatery is slammed and we almost missed Donnie at one point when we thought we had PLENTY of time to grab something to eat but it turned out we did NOT. Things will take a long time everywhere so don’t depend on fast service to stick to your schedule.