This story was updated at 6 p.m. on May 23, 2021, to correct the race's name to Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3.
Brian Reynolds had never been to Chattanooga before this past weekend. But after winning Sunday's Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 in a time of 4:07.55, the 33-year-old Richland, Michigan, resident said he'd like to defend his title next year.
"Oh, I'd definitely consider coming back," said the mechanical engineer. "Absolutely. Spectators were great, especially on the run course. Lots of energy. This is my first Ironman win. I'm really happy."
The heat was definitely a factor, unofficially reaching 90 degrees by noon. But that didn't seem to alter the opinion of many of the more than 3,000 competitors who were expected to swim 1.2 miles early Sunday morning in the Tennessee River, bike 56 miles through Chattanooga and North Georgia, then run 13.1 miles along the Tennessee Riverwalk.
Befitting a race that tied for the event "Most Likely to Recommend to a Friend" in the 2018 Athlete Choice Awards, most runners echoed 38-year-old women's winner Meghan Fillnow, who said, "It's a really fair course and both the volunteers and spectators are wonderful, just so nice."
Fillnow was beaming ear-to-ear after winning the women's division in a time of 4:35.26, despite Sunbelt mascots Otis and Chip dropping her finish-line tape before she could run through it.
"I love this city so much," said Fillnow, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., and was making her third appearance in the city's Ironman 70.3. "It's so great. So walkable. So much to do. And it has great Southern hospitality."
Loveland, Colorado's Branden Scheel was second on the men's side with a time of 4:14.24, followed by native German Yannick Fischback in third at 4:15.09. Amy Corrigan (4:42.24) was second to Fillnow for the women, with Marni Sumbal (4:42.39) finishing third.
"It went great," said Scheel, who also finished second in 2018 and 10th in 2019. "It's a tough course in places. It brings out the best and worst in you."
Added the 29-year-old Fischback, who now lives in Townville, S.C., and works for BMW, "It's a great course. Maybe a little hotter than I'd hoped for, which made it a little harder to run the hills. But the volunteers were awesome."
The Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 which was canceled a year ago due to the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to have a nice impact on the Chattanooga economy with a pre-race estimate of $6.7 million being spent by the 7,600 athletes, visitors and spectators likely to drop by the Scenic City for the weekend.
"We won't have the final numbers for a while," said Tim Morgan, chief sports officer of Chattanooga Sports. "But everyone I've talked to has been so complimentary of our volunteers and the city in general. I've heard from so many of the participants who've told me how friendly and hospitable our city is. And our people are our differentiator when it comes to competing for these events. After a tough year, we're back in the game."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.