Before sunrise Sunday morning, volunteers were preparing to host more than 1,200 racers all along the riverfront in downtown Chattanooga. As the sun climbed just barely over the horizon, those racers began pouring into the Tennessee River, one by one, three seconds apart, from the dock near Scrappy Moore Field along the Riverwalk.
They swam with the current to Ross’s Landing, 1.5 kilometers away, where a set of steps led up the hill. At that point, the event was just one-third complete for most of the competitors.
Sunday marked the eighth annual Waterfront Triathlon, which is an extension of the event that used to start and finish near the dam farther up the river.
The Chattanooga Track Club sponsors the Olympic-length race—a 42-kilometer bike and 10k run followed the 1.5k swim—but it’s also become an attraction for the city as a whole.
“The Chattanooga Track Club definitely wants to support running and fitness in the Chattanooga region,” said Jenni Berz, one of two race directors this weekend. “Anytime we can bring people into Chattanooga and contribute to the economic base and give back to the city in that way, we consider that a success as well.”
In 2011, the Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee reported that the triathlon had an estimated economic impact of $110,000 on the city. This year, vendors lined the streets, many of which were closed off to house the spectators and racers around the riverfront.
As the years have gone by, the event has grown from a few hundred competitors to the 1,000-plus that it now draws.
“We see a wide spectrum of athletes,” said Sherilyn Johnson, also a race director for the Waterfront Triathlon. “We see beginners and pros and everywhere in between.”
While most complete the triathlon individually, some divide the events into a relay, or just compete in two stages. The 2012 overall winner, Tyler Jordan, completed all three in two hours, seven minutes and seven seconds. It was Jordan’s first time running the Chattanooga event, but he’s competed in multiple triathlons since he began focusing on the three-stage events over the last year.
“(The Waterfront Tri) is pretty big, in terms of competition,” Jordan said. “It’s not the biggest, but it was a really hard course and it was definitely really hot out there.”
Kirsten Sass was the women’s overall winner, with a time of 2:10:57, while the top relay team, Team Hub Endurance, finished in 2:01:10.
Awards were presented early Sunday afternoon, as some racers began filing out, walking their bikes toward downtown. Volunteers rushed to take down flags and tents and avoid the heat.
“We survived,” Berz said. “The weather was incredible. It turned out a lot cooler than we expected, especially based on last week’s temperature. That always makes for a great race.”