On a Sunday that started out dark and rainy, the top finishers at the 2022 Little Debbie Chattanooga Ironman were able to finish the race in bright sunshine that was followed by a clear night for the rest of the almost 2,000 competitors looking to complete the 144-mile triathlon.
For much of its history since the inaugural race in 2014, Ironman Chattanooga has been held on clear days, including some years with very high temperatures. However, steady rain throughout the area cooled the course, the competitors and the volunteers until after noon.
"We were just talking (about the rain) today," said volunteer captain Shelly Ayers, who has been a volunteer since the first Ironman in 2014. "We can only remember maybe twice where we've had rain during the race. The first year there was a shower in the afternoon during the run course, which was good because it was so hot. But beyond that, I can't remember another time where there's been consistent rain like we had this morning."
Competitors from all 50 states and 27 countries were in the Scenic City for Sunday's race, which was comprised of a 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River, a 116-mile bike course primarily in Walker County, Georgia, and a 26.2-mile run on the Chattanooga Riverwalk and through North Chattanooga.
For Ironman Regional Race Director Drew Wolff, the rainfall Sunday morning made for cool, fast racing conditions, although he said rain and winds on the bike course did cause some issues for race leaders.
"We've had our share of weather in this race in the past, certainly some hot weather some years," he said. "Today, we had some pretty sustained rains in Georgia on the bike course. That certainly presented some challenges for our athletes, I think more mentally than physically."
One difference to this year's race was the absence of professional triathletes in Chattanooga. Wolff said most pro triathletes were contractually obligated to compete in the Ironman World Championships, which will be Oct. 6 in Kona, Hawaii, for the first time since 2019 after the event was cancelled for two years because of COVID-19.
Without the pros in the field, the focus was fully on age group competitors, allowing Drew Jordan from Spokane, Washington, to be the first to finish the race in nine hours, 50 seconds to the cheers of volunteers and fans along Riverfront Parkway at Ross' Landing. Jordan was part of the 30-34 age group.
"I love racing with the pros because it's fun to stack yourself up against them, but this is pretty special," said Jordan, who was making his first trip to Chattanooga. "For us to kind of have a race of our own and be in the limelight for a little bit, it's awesome, and it doesn't happen very often."
The first woman finisher was Amy Corrigan, who surged from 44th after the swim course to take a lead during the bike before cruising to an easy win in 9:44:55. Corrigan, from Greenfield, Indiana, was competing for her second time in Chattanooga, which she said is an excellent city for Ironman athletes.
"The (Chattanooga) community is amazing," she said. "From the time we rolled up at the beginning of the week. Everyone just loves Ironman, so it's just super welcoming. This town puts on an awesome race."
Corrigan was part of the 40-44 age group.
Finishing just ahead of Corrigan was Cleveland, Tennessee, resident Seth Hill, 30-34 age group, who was competing in his first full-distance Chattanooga Ironman. Hill was cheered on by about 20 friends and family, including his mom, Tammy Landelius, who traveled from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to cheer on her son. Hill's cheering section was decked out in matching "Keep it Mooooving" T-shirts and helped make his race a great experience.
"It was great; it really was," he said. "I've done the (Ironman 70.3) here a couple of times ... and I was really impressed with how good the crowds were."
As the sun set Sunday evening, athletes continued to cross the finish line before the time limit just after midnight Monday morning, depending on athlete start times. For athletes and the army of race volunteers, a long day of work would become a long night. However, Ayers said her team of workers were looking forward to a fun night helping athletes complete a major achievement.
"We're feeling pretty jazzed," she said. "We've all got our energy drinks, and we've got some good snacks, so I think everyone is ready to go.
"We thrive on the late night. We all have Bluetooth speakers, and we try to make it fun out there in the dark cheering on the runners (to the finish)."