For a decade or more, Chattanooga has worked to build its reputation as an outdoor sports mecca.
Sort of a "Boulder of the South."
On Wednesday, city leaders took another step toward matching their Rocky Mountain inspiration.
Fresh on the heels of a successful debut of the 144.6-mile Ironman Chattanooga in September, city leaders and officials from the World Triathlon Corp. announced the addition of a new Ironman event -- Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga sponsored by Sunbelt Bakery, a division of McKee Foods in Collegedale.
"This announcement really anchors Chattanooga as the epicenter of triathlon in the Southeastern United States," said Steve Meckfessel, WTC's managing director of global race operations. "Coupled with the Ironman race we do in September and now 70.3, you're really going to see an increase in triathlon activity. Athletes are going to be out swimming, biking and running.
"We're really excited to have a place close to where we call home in Tampa that can host two races of this magnitude and this size and scope."
Chattanooga becomes one of just 10 cities worldwide that host both a full Ironman and an Ironman 70.3, joining such company as Barcelona, Spain; Cairns, Australia; Cozumel, Mexico; and Boulder, Colo.
Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga will be held May 17, 2015, for the first of a four-year contract with Chattanooga. Online registration will open Nov. 18. The race will be a qualifier for the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria. That race will be held on Aug. 30.
Meckfessel said that September's first full Ironman Chattanooga was a hit despite a few unfortunate incidents, including tacks and oil being strewn along a section of the bike course in Walker County, and the discovery of a body -- unrelated to the race -- in the Tennessee River near the finish of the swim segment.
He said a survey of race participants found that Ironman Chattanooga received a 97 percent satisfaction rate in its first year, above Ironman's worldwide rate of 91 percent.
"We have a great operational team in Chattanooga," Meckfessel said. "I've always said that there's nothing more complex than to plan and execute an Ironman triathlon. ... The way this race set up the course, shut down the roads but still allowed residents in and out, this event felt like it had been happening for 10 years.
"And of course you're close to everywhere in the Southeast, close to Atlanta and easily accessible by both car and air."
McKee Foods -- most commonly associated with Little Debbie snack cakes -- is extending its partnership with Ironman. Little Debbie is the title sponsor for September's full Ironman, and vice president of marketing and sales Chris McKee said Sunbelt Bakery's partnership with this new event helps highlights one of McKee's other divisions.
McKee said Sunbelt Bakery produces granola bars, cereal bars and granola cereal, baked fresh with no preservatives, with annual sales of more than $100 million per year.
As the name would indicate, an Ironman 70.3 triathlon is a 70.3-mile event -- half the distance of the full Ironman held in Chattanooga during September -- with a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bicycle portion and a 13.1-mile run.
"We don't like to call it a half Ironman, because frankly it's not half of anything," Meckfessel said. "Granted it's half the distance of its big brother Ironman distance, but the athletes still put in the dedication and the training and commitment and they buy into the lifestyle.
"It's still swim-bike-run and it's still a full day, so we feel it's better to call it Ironman 70.3."
The addition of Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga to the calendar makes May a busy month for outdoor endurance athletic events. The Chattanooga Bike Club's 3-State, 3-Mountain challenge is typically held the first weekend in May, and six days after the 2015 Ironman 70.3, the nation's best American pro cyclists return to Chattanooga for the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships, sponsored by Volkswagen.
The Chattanooga Tour de Cure bike ride benefiting the American Diabetes Association typically is held in May as well, but the event has been moved to Oct. 10, 2015, perhaps to avoid conflicting with other events.
"We do get a lot requests for events," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said of the many big events choosing Chattanooga in recent years. "And many of those inconvenience residents because they involve road closures and they are expensive for the county and city to put on and they require so many of our people to put them on.
"But we feel like the ones that we do have, particularly the 70.3 and other events both provide a tremendous economic impact to our city and they help us build our brand. If it was just one without the other, I don't think it would be nearly this attractive, but having both the economic impact and making a place that more of our residents enjoy living in and branding us as a great community make it something we can't lose."
Chattanooga Police Sgt. Austin Garrett, supervisor of CPD's special events unit, will be the point person for public safety and traffic control for all of the events coming to Chattanooga in May. He said he works with event organizers and other area law enforcement agencies to ensure that these big events are run safely while managing taxpayer resources wisely.
"We understand it's a busy month, but it's nothing we can't handle," Garrett said. "We don't work a lot of overtime with it by allocating our resources properly.
"That's one of the reasons we handle the traffic planning. We utilize traffic control systems along with road closure signs and cones to eliminate the need for (extra) manpower."
Another concern is the number of volunteers needed to put on not one but several big events in a single month. With so many events, all dependent on volunteers to be successful, volunteer fatigue is a real concern.
"We are now looking at needing a lot of volunteers in a short amount of time," said Phillip Grimes, executive director of Outdoor Chattanooga. "I don't think anyone knows the answer yet, and I think everyone knows it is going to be a challenge.
"Chattanooga has a great volunteer spirit and some folks will volunteer for one and some will volunteer for more. Some of the discussions we are having are about what kind of incentives can we create for our volunteers. It's not easy, but it is a good problem to have."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.