Watching an IRONMAN race is an endurance event all on its own. It requires a lot of planning to follow your athlete on the course that features a 2.4 mile swim, 116 mile bike course and 26.2 mile run. But it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Whether you’re following a particular athlete or simply there to support them all, here are some tips to help make your IRONMAN viewing experience better!

The Prep

On race day, make sure to download the IRONMAN Tracker Mobile App on your phone, so you can get the status of participants in real time.

The Swim

Racers will be welcomed to a point-to-point swim in the Tennessee River with a rolling start. To make the most of your day, we suggest renting a city bike. The daily pass is $10 and there are docking stations all over downtown. Ride up the Riverwalk to the swim start and see the spectacle of racers entering the Tennessee River. From there, you can ride back toward town alongside the swimmers. Some options for you along the route include:

  • Stop by the Lookout Rowing Club, where you can enjoy a higher perspective to track your athlete's progress downstream. If you have a sharp eye, you'll be able to pick out individual athletes from this advantageous viewing position. Get Directions.
  • From the overlook at the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Walnut Street Bridge you can see the river and also get a sprawling view of North Chattanooga. You can see the swim exit from here — and the athletes can sense it getting close too. Just one more slight kink in the river separates them from their bike. Get Directions.
  • The Walnut Street Bridge offers the perfect overhead perspective of swimmers as they finish the swim. You can see them exit the water and head into transition. Get Directions.

The Bike

The bike portion of IRONMAN typically offers spectators a break. Once you see them leave transition, the ride lasts 5 to 8 hours. This is a great chance to grab coffee and breakfast at one of the many local shops. During this time, you can also stop by the stores on Frazier Avenue, the public library, the Tennessee Aquarium or the Creative Discovery Museum to keep testy children at bay. Keep your cell phones topped off throughout the day at one of the many local coffee shops.

To help spectators safely and easily see their athletes, Ironman is offering a shuttle service into Chickamauga, through which cyclists pass twice. Trips will be running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and they’ll bring you back into downtown. This is the best way to catch the action. If you want to stay downtown, you can also watch the cyclists at these locations.

  • The transition area—specifically, just outside of transition—is a sure place to see athletes. Located at Ross’ Landing, not only do the athletes come through here twice (at the beginning and end), they’ll also be moving a little bit slower.
  • The Chattanooga Market comes alive on Sundays, with local merchants selling things like handmade popsicles, pottery and everything in between. You’ll get to see athletes finishing the ride by the time the market is open, and it’s easy to get back to transition from here. Get Directions.

If you’re willing to drive, Mountain Cove Farms is the furthest point on the bike course and features some of the most beautiful, secluded countryside in the whole area. You can see athletes make the turn to head back north on both loops. The country store here is a favorite of local cyclists, too. However, you have only two good options for viewing here: Come early, bring a picnic lunch and wait for the last cyclists—or drive further south and take Highway 157 over Lookout Mountain back to Chattanooga. Get Directions.

The Run

Here’s where the IRONMAN really comes alive. Not to minimize the challenge of cycling 116 miles, but running through the finishing tape is what every triathlete dreams about. The more iconic, the better—and Chattanooga’s course is one that the athletes won’t soon forget. You’ll have anywhere from 3.5 to 7 hours to watch your runner, so there’s no need to stake out the finish line just yet. Have dinner and drinks at a Frazier Avenue eatery, like Frazier Five and Dime or maybe Brewhaus, where you can sit on the back porch and watch athletes crossing Walnut Street Bridge.

As athletes start the run, they begin a fairly tranquil section of the Riverwalk—the same section from which you watched them swim. It’ll be a reminder of how far they’ve come, and how far they have left to run. Ride your city bike to the first turnaround (about four miles in) at the corner of Riverport Road and Amnicola. Athletes will face some small rises back into town before crossing Veteran’s Bridge. Then the fun starts.

When folks say they used to walk to school, uphill, both ways, they were talking about Barton Avenue. It’s a great place to spectate—and not coincidentally, the runners will need your enthusiasm here. However, they get a long downhill to recover. And you can strategically place yourself at Tremont Tavern—right at the bottom of that hill —for a burger, while they run through the beautiful Riverview neighborhood. Then it’s back up Barton from the other side, across the walking bridge, and on to lap 2. Other places to watch the run include: 

  • Riverview Park is a great spot for keeping young kids entertained during a day that’s long and tiring for everybody. The park is located just a block away from the running course, providing multiple opportunities to see athletes pass by. Get Directions.
  • Get up close and personal with the athletes on Walnut Street Bridge. As they run toward the city’s skyline, there's nothing quite like the encouragement from friends, family, and even strangers. For those on their initial loop, reaching the halfway mark is a moment of excitement. And for those on their second loop, be prepared—because they might give you a massive, sweaty bear hug, with the finish line less than a mile away.

The Finish Line

An IRONMAN finish line is like nothing else you’ve ever experienced. The pros usually finish in 8 or 9 hours, while competitive age-group athletes are in the 10 to 14 hour range. But the dedicated troopers who finish closer to midnight cutoff really electrify the finish line.

It’s so thrilling, in fact, that many of the athletes who finish by dinner time will come back and ring in the last finishers. There’s nothing like hearing legendary announcer Mike Reilly shout “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” loud enough for all of Chattanooga to take note. This moment will forever be a cherished memory for both the Ironman participants and all of you who supported them every step of the way.

After the excitement settles, famished athletes and families will be on the lookout for late-night fuel. Explore options like State of Confusion, Stir, or Pickle Barrel to remedy the midnight munchies and a generous slice of cake for your reward for a job well done!