Thousands finish strong at Chattanooga's first Ironman 70.3

Thousands finish strong at Chattanooga's first Ironman 70.3

May 18th, 2015 by Jim Tanner in Sportlocal

Professional women athletes jump in to the Tennessee River moments before the start of the inaugural Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga race on Sunday, May 17, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga triathlon

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A little confusion in the swim wasn't enough to derail the athletes in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga triathlon Sunday morning.

The racers began the day entering the Tennessee River at Girls Preparatory School. Overcast skies and some light rain made for near perfect temperatures for the 2,500 or so athletes.

But there was some confusion about the buoys on the swim course that caused some of the men professionals to swim farther than necessary. The top pro men were talking about it after the race, with second-place finisher Leon Griffin saying it could have had an impact on the final result.

"I was riding angry the whole time because of the confusion in the swim," he said. "They say you can't win a race in the swim, but you can lose it in the swim. Today I might have lost it in the swim because I had to work so hard to catch them on the bike."

In the end, 2007 Ironman 70.3 world champion Andy Potts from Hershey, Pa., came out on top, finishing the 1.2-mile swim, 53-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run in 3 hours, 49 minutes and 43 seconds. Griffin's time was 3:51:15.

Potts, Griffin and about five other pros finished the bike portion in a bunch, but Potts was able to push during the run and pull away for the win.

"On the second lap (of the run course), you could hear (other racers struggling) some, but you could really start to feel it," the 38-year-old Potts said. "If you race enough you get that racer's sense, so you can start to feel it. So I just tried to stay on the throttle -- I just wanted to press the issue."

Ashley Clifford was the women's winner in 4:20:34. She pushed to the front on the run course after Chattanooga resident Anna Cleaver was the first off the bike.

"It kind of all went to plan until the end," Cleaver said. "First off the swim, first off the bike. ... Then on the run, I held good for a while, but I didn't quite have it at the end and the girls had an awesome day."

Clifford was impressed with the beauty of the Chattanooga area, which hosted its second Ironman event with few reported negative incidents to mar the event.

"I thought it was really nice and very pretty," Clifford said. "The bike course was hilly, and that kept it entertaining, I guess you could say. The run course with the bridges was very pretty. I thought this course was scenic."

Jackie Herring finished second at 4:21:41, and former Davidson College tennis player Kelly Fillnow was third at 4:25:11 after making up several spots following the swim. The river current was not as fast as in last September's full Ironman, and that had an impact for some athletes.

"My swim is my weakness, so you come into the race thinking there's a huge current after looking at the times for the Ironman (last fall)," Fillnow said. "Then it's kind of frustrating when you don't experience that, but everyone has the same swim so you just have to do the best you can with the conditions."

Ooltewah's Brian Lowman was likely the first local finisher with a time of 4:25:31. He qualified for the Ironman world championships at last year's Chattanooga race and was using Sunday's 70.3 event as training for his trip to Kona, Hawaii, this fall.

"It was perfect. The water was pretty calm, so it was a pretty true 1.2-mile swim," he said. "I had a little bit of a shoulder issue going in, so that part was a bit iffy. But it didn't feel too bad once I got into it, so I guess the adrenaline took over."

As with any Ironman, the pro finishers serve as the warm-up act for the amateur athletes struggling to compete the course for personal accomplishment rather than a top finish.

Cleaver, who moved to Chattanooga from New Zealand to train and live, shook off her slide from first to 10th place in the final 13.1-mile run of the women's pro competition to come out and support the age-group finishers.

She quickly returned to the finishing chute to welcome hundreds of runners and friends and put the finisher's medals on many area athletes -- every one a winner -- whose accomplishments were impressive in their own way Sunday at Ross's Landing.

"This is one of the things I love," Cleaver said, holding an armload of medals for age-group finishers as they crossed the line late into the afternoon. "Chattanooga has welcomed me into the town, and there are so many friends out here who have adopted me.

"I just love coming back and seeing them at the finish, and to be honest they're way more fun to see at the finish than (the pros) are. They're just elated, so it's kind of fun."

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