IRONMAN® Chattanooga, the Complete Race Breakdown, by Endurance Nation

Rich Strauss

Coach Rich Strauss has conducted three training camps on the course for over 75 athletes and Endurance Nation has fielded over 100 Ironman® Finishers since the first running of the event in 2014.

These are his tips for the race:

Timing of the Event

The timing of an event should the #1 criteria you use for selecting what Ironman® to train for and race — not hills, not weather, not water temperature, but does rather the timing of the event work for you. Will you have cooperative weather and hours of daylight available for training, especially in the last 8-10wks of your work up? Examined under these criteria, Ironman® Chattanooga is a good race, timing-wise for nearly everyone in the US. More importantly, the date of the race facilitates the split-season approach we use with our team. Endurance Nation athletes racing Ironman® Chattanooga  will likely schedule their season like this:

  • Late October thru mid February: OutSeason® training
  • March thru May to late June: training for and racing a May to June half distance event.
  • Late June / early July: begin officially training for Ironman® Chattanooga.

Internally on the team, we only place our athletes in the last 12 to 14 weeks of the members-only version of our 20 week full distance training plan. The schedule above lets us keep their volume as low as we can for as long as we can, so we can keep the intensity up and make them much faster athletes. More importantly, this split season approach keeps their heads out of a space where they are training “for” Ironman® Chattanooga. Instead, their heads are only in that space for about 12 weeks, helping them conserve mental energy and Spousal Approval Units (SAUs) across the season, to be applied closer to the race.

The Venue

Travel costs and logistics: Chattanooga is within 8hr driving distance of thousands and thousands of triathletes, so travel costs have the potential to be much lower than other races.

The city and outlying areas have a good number of hotels. In general, I found the downtown area, where the race will be centered, to be compact, easy to get around, with a variety of restaurants, and affordable parking.

The Swim

The swim will be in the Tennessee river, with athletes taking shuttle busses to the 2.4 miles from T1 to the swim start, which will be in a time trial format. In short, everything will depend on:

  • How early everyone decides to jam on busses to get a space near the front of the swim start line.
  • What the current decides to do the day of the race.

I’ll update this blog post with more information, after I’ve had an opportunity to debrief my Team.

The Four Keys of Chattanooga
Over 400 athletes have attended these talks this year alone, on the IMTX, LP, and WI courses.  Join us for this 90′ presentation at the Doubletree Hotel, downtown.


The Transition

This section to be updated after the race.

The Bike

Go here for the full course map.

In our experience, what truly separates one course from another isn’t total elevation gain, winds, etc, but rather how often it forces you to make a decision.  Lots of little good decisions create a good day. Lots of little bad decisions add up to create a very bad day. From this perspective, Chattanooga is a relatively difficult course to execute:

  • With regards to decision frequency, I would place it a tick below Wisconsin (very frequent decisions) and tick above Louisville (less frequent).
  • However, the terrain on which you’re making these decisions isn’t as “dramatic” as Wisconsin, for example. That is, the hills aren’t as big, etc. However…
  • Chattanooga is “sneaky hard,” which I’ll explain in more detail below.

But first, so we can get on the same page, please read: The Triathlon Magic of Riding Steady, Parts I and II

The Ironman® Chattanooga Bike Course


  • Terrain-Specific Execution: get your mind right about how you should approach the terrain you’re on right now, using that guidance above.
  • Be prepared to recognize false-flats: a false flat is a section of road that looks flat but is not. You’re actually going up at a 1-3% grade but you can’t really tell because all of the terrain around you, to the left and right, is also going up at this 1-3% grade.

Micro: that said, let’s divide the course into sections and discuss how everyone else will ride vs how we want you to ride:

How Everyone will Ride:

The Too Hard Zone

The IMChoo Stoopid Zone

The Too Hard Zone Zone

The first about 30 miles of every long course bike course are where the majority of athletes will be riding much harder than they should. On the elevation profile above, this is from T1 to the top of the hill just before the hard left onto Hog Jowl Road.

My notes for this section:

The first about 7 miles, to the Georgia state line, are completely admin on not-so-great roads. Still, athletes will ride this section like it’s a crit.

Note that then from about mile 12 to the turn on Hog Jowl at 32-33, you’re on basically a false flat the entire time. Here’s how this section will play out:

  • Athletes will work a little, or a lot, too hard on these false flats because they are so difficult to identify.
  • At the same time, the hills on this section are relatively small and appear to only be about 3-4% rollers, tempting you to not bother shifting and/or just hammer over them.

The Lost Opportunity / Too Hard Zone

The IMChoo Lost Opportunity / Too Hard Zone

This section is a net downhill, through rolling terrain, to Chickamauga, and then a climb out of town. Our notes:

  • Athletes will come off the gas here and/or power up the short hills and shut it down, loosing the opportunity conserve momentum and keep it rolling through this section.
  • They pick up the energy of the crowds on Chickamauga, apply that to their legs which aren’t quite feeling it yet, and ride that Chickamauga hill too hard.

The Still Too Hard Zone

The IMChoo Still Too Hard Zone

The IMChoo Still Too Hard Zone

The profile above is from the top of Chickamauga Hill on the first loop to the hard left on Hog Jowl.

In our experience, if you’ve boogered your bike pacing, you’ll begin to feel it by about mile 70 or 80, or as early as 60’ish. Therefore, in this section, you’re not quite feeling it yet, so athletes will still ride a tick too hard on the false flats, a tick too hard on the short hills in this section, but really come off the gas on the backside of the hills, losing momentum.

The Starting to Feel It Zone

The IMChoo Starting to Feel It Zone

The IMChoo Starting to Feel It Zone

The profile above is Hog Jowl to the base of the hill out of Chickamauga. By now, the mistakes of the day will have definitely caught up to people. Athletes will come way off the gas on the downhills, losing momentum and crawling up the hills.

The I’m Screwed Zone

The IMChoo I'm Fooked Zone

The IMChoo I’m Fooked Zone

The profile above is from the base of Chickamauga hill all the way back to T2. The mistakes of the day will have definitely caught up to people by now. They will climb out of Chickamauga, going backwards to their Loop 1 selves, and then have a long 14 mile slog back to T2 on crappy admin roads, with a lot of time to think about the 26.2 mile run they now have to do on not-so-jiggy legs.

How the Endurance Nation Four Keys Athlete will Ride:

The JRA  Zone

The #EN4Keys JRA Zone

The #EN4Keys JRA Zone

The Endurance Nation Four Keys (#EN4Keys) Athlete, YOU, will use this section to ride easy (Just Riding Along), get their legs back, get a head start on fueling and hydration, and make sure they are riding the opposite of everyone else.

The Ninja Zone

The #EN4Keys Ninja Zone

The #EN4Keys Ninja Zone

From from the start of the false flats, through Cove, Hog Howl, out of Chickamauga, back onto Cove to the start of Hog Jowl, round two, you will be guided by these two objectives, in this order:

  1. Setting up mile 18 of the RUN!
  2. Setting up a strong last 30 miles of the bike.

You’ll do this by executing properly the terrain they see in front of you:

  • Applying our hill climbing guidance from those Steady blog posts above.
  • This is what you must understand about false flat/Cove Road section: you’re on a false flat (1-3%) so the little hill in front of you that looks like it’s only 3-4% is actually 6-9% grade. And you won’t know what kind of payback you’ll have (very little, I promise) on the other side. So you’ll be tempted to not bother shifting and instead just pop your effort over these deceptively not-so-steep rollers.
  • Conserving momentum at every opportunity, keeping it rolling.
  • Applying the 90% Rule: 90% of the field doesn’t know how to race so just make sure you’re doing the opposite of everyone else, especially on false flats, small rollers, and on the climb out of Chickamauga on Loop #1.

The Strong Zone

The #EN4Keys Strong Zone

The #EN4Keys Strong Zone

The profile above is from the hard left onto Hog Jowl, through Chickamauga, and back to T2. You will:

  • Conserve momentum on Hog Jowl, staying on the gas and using momentum to help with the rollers here.
  • Put up the same or slightly stronger effort up Chickamauga hill on the 2nd loop, compared to your first loop, and counter to everyone else who will be going backwards.

You will pass a LOT of people on this section and enter T2 confident that you’ve set yourself up for a great run!

The Run

The complete run course map is here

When looking at a run course, identify:

  • What is the terrain in first 6-8 miles? In our experience, you’re only in control of your pace, ie, able to choose to run too fast, in the first 6-8 miles. So if the terrain is particularly hilly in this section, the consequences of mistakes are compounded because they are happening on hilly terrain.
  • What is the terrain in the last 6-8 miles? If this is a particularly hilly section, mistakes of the day express themselves on hilly terrain, significantly compounding them.

So lets now look at the terrain on Chattanooga run course:

The JRA Zone, Miles 0-8

The IMChoo Run, 0-8

The JRA Run, 0-8

The profile above is from T2, along the bike path along the river and back to T2 before crossing over to the north side of the run course.

  • Everyone: will blast out of transition, especially up that short pop in the first half mile! They’ll then continue to run too fast for the next 6-8 miles. However, as this is happening on flat ground, the consequences won’t be immediately apparent.
  • You: will understand that your goal is to set up Mile 18, to not slow down after the Line! You’ll run very easy in this section, applying the 90% Rule.

The Wait for It Zone

The IMChoo Wait for It Zone, Miles 8-18

The IMChoo Wait for It Zone, Miles 8-18

The profile above is from downtown, across the river, through the neighborhoods, back across the river, out on the bike path and back to downtown.

  • Everyone: as you’ll all be hitting hills on the other side of the river just after mile 8, many people will still have enough gas in the tank to hit these too hard on the front end, but will feel it a bit coming back, especially coming up the backside of Barton. The walking will then begin on the narrow bike path and crowded aid stations by about mile 15.
  • You: are waiting for It, the Line — conserving mental energy, continually self-assessing to ensure that you show up to Mile 18 ready to actually begin the race in…

The Strong Finish Zone

The IMChoo Strong Finish Zone

The IMChoo Strong Finish Zone

  • Everyone: the mistakes of the day, and their consequences, will express themselves in the hills from miles 20 to 24-ish. This is a very tough part of the course to put tough hills in front of tired athletes and it won’t be pretty, especially the slog up the backside of Barton Road.
  • You: your only objective, for the entire day, as been to set up this section! You’ve been disciplined, patient, and now it’s time to actually begin racing!

Additional Learning —

The Four Keys of Chattanooga

Join us for this FREE talk, as Coach Rich teaches you how to race every inch of the Chattanooga course!




IRONMAN®  is a registered trademark of World Triathlon Corporation, is not affiliated with Endurance Nation®, and does not endorse or sponsor our products, materials or events.

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