Everything You Need to Know About 70.3 Chattanooga

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For those of you headed to 70.3 Chattanooga, Congratulations! You’ve made it to race week!

Although we’re not doing the race this year, Matt and I have competed at Chattanooga for the past three years (2021, 2022, and 2023.) In 2021, it was our first ever 70.3, so this race holds a special place in our hearts. 

Lately, I’ve had a lot of people asking questions about the course, the weather, and fun things to do in town, so rather than send a very long DM message to everyone, I decided to write a course preview!

(This preview also works if you’re doing Ironman Chattanooga, because the course is very similar)

Our first 70.3 in 2021.

70.3 Chattanooga falls on a Sunday, which gives you an extra day of travel for those who plan to drive. We live in Florida and it takes a full day to get to Tennessee, so we leave on a Thursday.

That puts us in town Thursday afternoon, and then we have Friday for a short run, athlete check in, and expo shopping. Then, on Saturday we do a last minute spin before bike check in. I always like having a full 48 hours in town before the race, because it helps us get settled and relax a bit before race day. 

This is historically one of the largest Ironman 70.3 races in the US so you can expect 3,000+ athletes. That means the line for athlete check in will be long, so go as early as you can to avoid standing out in the sun for hours. The expo and athlete check-in is located in a large field at Ross Landing Park adjacent to the Chattanooga Aquarium. There are a few parking garages in the area, but limited street parking.

Locations to Know:

  • Ross Landing Park- site of the swim exit and transition
  • You will swim under the Veterans Bridge, Walnut Street Bridge, and Market Street Bridge.
  • You will ride by Lookout Mountain and through Chickamauga, a historic town with Civil War sites. 
  • You will run across Veterans Bridge and Walnut Street Bridge, which is the blue pedestrian bridge. 
  • The Riverwalk runs along the river and you will run on part of it.  
Transition set up looking back towards the Tennessee Aquarium.

Race Morning 

We typically stay in an AirBNB nearby, so we walk about a mile to transition on race morning. One year we stayed further away (COVID times) and we had to park in a garage and walk to transition. Both methods are doable. 

Transition is pretty massive, but there are some good visual markers like parking ticket booths that you can use to reference your spot. During bike check-in, the day before the race, I always scope out transition. I walk the swim in, bike out, bike in, and run out. I also count bike racks so I know exactly where I’m going on race morning. There are also numbered ranges on the end of each line of bike racks. 

We pump up our tires before racking our bikes in transition and don’t mess with them on race morning. We look at the weather for race day and determine our tire PSI ahead of time. The pumps in transition never work very well, there’s a line to use them, and it’s an unnecessary step that can cause more stress on race morning. Ever let all the air out of your tire on accident? I have. Not fun. 

As far as the weather, plan on it being pretty hot by the time you get on the run. In 2021 and 2022, it was pretty toasty. 2023 was semi-pleasant, but still hot. 

There’s about a mile walk from transition to the swim start, but there are buses that we normally ride. Just keep in mind that you want to get done in transition and on the bus as early as possible, because there are so many people. 

View from the swim course. You can see the Hunter Museum of Modern Art on the left. This is my favorite section.


You will hear people talk about the downriver current, and there can be, but that depends on whether or not the dam opens the day before the race. You might have a very fast swim or not a lot of current at all, but every year I’ve raced it’s been wetsuit legal. Typically in the low 70s.  

In the days before a race, so many people freak out about whether it’s going to be wetsuit legal or not. This might be a bit of tough love, but in my opinion, if you’ve trained to swim 1.2 miles, you’ve trained to swim 1.2 miles. A wetsuit isn’t going to do it for you. Can it help? Sure, it’s going to make you a bit faster and provide some buoyancy, but you still have to swim.

You can’t do anything about the weather, so don’t stress about it. 

Because this is such a large race, be sure to swim seed yourself as early as reasonably possible. This is very important so you can avoid traffic on the bike course and get out on the run course before it gets too hot. Also, by the second lap of the run, the aid stations are packed and have run out of ice in the past.

Now, keep in mind I said “as early as reasonably possible.” If you’re swimming 2:00 per 100, you probably don’t want to line up with the 1:20 per 100 group, but be generous with your swim seeding. The faster swimmers are adept at navigating, and it’s much more likely you will be swam over top of by a novice swimmer at the back of the pack than towards the middle. 

Fun Fact: the Swim course at 70.3 Chattanooga is actually 1.4 miles!

Matt and I coming out of the water together!

Regardless, this is an amazing swim that travels in a straight line parallel to the shore. Maclellan Island will be on your right and you will see the rocky cliff by the Hunter Museum of Modern Art on your left.

I like that you get to swim under four different bridges, which helps you know how far you’ve gone. The buoys are all on your right. They’re yellow at the start and turn orange as you get closer to the finish. Those marking the swim exit will be red.

You exit by a swim ladder, so let the volunteers help you up. There are typically wetsuit strippers that will help you get out of your suit if you want. There’s a very steep metal ramp that goes from the swim exit up to transition. I suggest walking this. You can jog, but it gets slippery and will make your heart rate shoot up.

Beautiful ride!


This bike course is a lot of fun. It’s a rolling course, which means you can maintain a pretty good average speed for the ride. There’s only one significant climb at Andrews Ln. around the 27-mile mark, but it’s only 200 yards or so. Just use your smaller gears and spin up. The only thing to keep in mind is that it’s a sharp 90 degree turn to the left that’s at the end of a downhill, so make sure you have your climbing gears ready. 

The most dangerous part of the bike course is the first few miles until you get out of town. There’s a railroad track not too far after transition. Although there will be a mat over top of it, people ride over it too fast and lose their bottles. I hit someone’s bottle last year, so keep a wary eye out. 

Farmland scenes on the bike course.

Also, the road surface isn’t great and there are some potholes, so keep it slow and pay attention for the first few miles. When you get on Hwy 193, the road conditions are excellent and the ride is absolutely beautiful.

Once you reach halfway point of the bike course, there’s a net downhill coming back to transition, so the second half of the ride is typically faster. Also, there’s a very fast downhill on the second half of the bike. You’ll know when you’re there. Be careful because people fly down this stretch. 

Here’s a piece of advice someone gave me before I did my first 70.3. Be careful at the aid stations. (On this course, they’re at mile 11, 15, and 30.)

If you need to get a bottle, use hand signals and let others know what you’re doing. People will fly through the aid station going 20 mph and miss bottles that go flying, so just be careful. Look in front, and behind you, before making a move.

Running up that massive hill out of transition at the start of the run course.


When you start the run, there’s a pretty massive hill that heads out of transition and takes you up past the Aquarium to the run course. I take that first mile easy and don’t look at my pace until I get onto the actual run course. The run course is two laps with 627 ft. of gain, which isn’t a lot, but it’s packed into a few hills which can take their toll if you run them too hard. 

This course is great because you can break it apart into sections. There’s a section along the Riverfront Pwky, a shaded section on the Riverwalk, over Veterans Bridge, and then back over Walnut Street Bridge. There’s a steep hill around mile 5- Battery Hill. It’s short and many athletes just walk up it because there’s an aid station at the top. 

Running across the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. You do this twice.

There’s a lot of run support on the bridges, which is a great place for your spectators to hang out, especially Walnut Street Bridge. It’s a blue pedestrian bridge that’s closed to all vehicle traffic. It’s a bit of a hill with some uneven footing, but with stunning views of the river. The best part is getting to run back down the massive hill to the finish line!

There are aid stations about every 1.5 miles or so on the run, and there’s a flow to them, so ice, water, carb drink, water, ice. Just shout out what you need and volunteers will grab it for you. There’s also Porta Potties in transition and on the run course, in case of emergencies.

After the race, you will pick up your t-shirt, medal, and hat and take your finisher’s photo. Then, you will go right through the food tent, which had Jason’s Deli last year and was awesome!

This is a great race to bring a tent and a few chairs, because it’s fun to hang out by the river after the race and cheer on other athletes.   

FYI, if you’re doing Ironman Chattanooga, the course is very similar. The swim just starts a bit farther up the river. Then, the bike course is just two laps of the 70.3 course. (It’s actually 116 miles, so the longest IM course in the world.) The run is also very similar, but athletes doing the full get to run up the big hill at Barton Ave. that’s across the river.

One of our favorite restaurants in town.

Fun things to do in Chattanooga

A great pre-race activity is the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX Theater, because it’s air conditioned and right next to transition. Get timed entry tickets ahead of time, because they sell out. 

For kids, there’s the Chattanooga Zoo and Creative Discovery Museum. There’s also the Hunter Museum of Modern Art with outdoor sculptures and a great view of the river. You will swim and run by it on the course. 

If you need a relaxing post-race activity, take a sunset walk across the Walnut Street Bridge and grab some ice cream. Also, we’ve taken a ride on the Southern Belle Riverboat, or you could do the WWII-era duck boat. 

Also, Lookout Mountain is a great spot to visit because it has Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the Incline Railway. Ruby Falls is a 260 ft. underground waterfall located in Lookout Mountain. You can take a guided tour. Rock City is just 6 miles from Chattanooga.

You can see seven states from the top. There are beautiful walking trails through gardens and caverns as well as a 100 ft. waterfall called Lovers Leap. The Incline Railway is 125 years old and walking distance to Civil War sites. You can grab a bite to eat at the city at the bottom, St. Elmo. 

Lovers Leap at Lookout Mountain

Our favorite restaurants in Chattanooga include State of Confusion, Tupelo Honey, Maple Street Biscuit Company, and Scottie’s On the River.

I wrote an article for Ironman about things to do in the Scenic City, so click here to check it out. 

Sad we won’t be there for 2024, but we’re headed to 70.3 North Carolina this year, another amazing race! (Let me know if you want a race guide for that one.) But I have a feeling we’ll be back because I have some unfinished business on that run course…

Chattanooga is a great place to race, and I hope you have the best time!

Please check the most current athlete guide to make sure you’re up to date with any changes to the course.

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