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IRONMAN WATCH

It's Ironman time in Chattanooga; journey begins at edge of river

Mike Reilly is the voice of Ironman

• Go to timesfreepress.com/ironman for race updates, photos and video.

• More Ironman coverage Monday.

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One week ago today, Trevor Wurtele was standing on the start line preparing to begin a long day at Ironman Lake Tahoe in California.

Wurtele, the 2013 Ironman Canada champion, has been a professional triathlete since 2009, and he was looking to improve upon his fourth-place finish this year at Ironman Canada Whistler and two second-place finishes in 70.3-mile half Ironman races in Boise and Mount Tremblant this year.

In an instant, everything changed. Ironman Lake Tahoe ended just before it was supposed to begin.

Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires raised airborne particulate levels to a dangerous level, forcing race officials to cancel both the full and half Ironman races scheduled for last Sunday. The decision forced Wurtele and several other pro athletes to make quick decisions about where to race next.

"It just came so quickly that you didn't even have time to stress about it," Wurtele said Friday at Ross's Landing after becoming a last-minute entrant in today's Ironman Chattanooga. "We were on the start line and then they called it.

"There were mixed emotions. Some people were really angry about it, but there was a group of us that really didn't want to race in all that smoke, so we just took a swim and kind of chilled out and started planning the trip here."

After the Lake Tahoe cancellation, Ironman opened 100 spots early last week for athletes who wanted to race in Chattanooga. Wurtele and a group of other pros made the quick decision to be on another start line this morning on the Tennessee River, adding to what was more than 50 pros entered in the race.

"The planning was the hectic part," Wurtele said. "I was planning to go home after Tahoe, and my car was at the airport. So I didn't want to pay another $12 a day for another week, and my cat was at the kennel. Things like that you didn't really plan for another trip, so I had a lot of organizing to do."

"Luckily there's a great home-stay program here, so they managed to find me a place to stay."

The additions from the Lake Tahoe event should make today's elite field even more competitive. Wurtele said he knew of at least four pros who were added to the Chattanooga field for today's race.

Nina Kraft is an elite pro who already planned to compete in Chattanooga, and she said the Ironman organizers were wise to cancel the Tahoe races.

"I feel sorry for the people, but I think it was the right decision for Ironman," she said. "It's a lot of money that people put in, but health is more important. I really appreciate what Ironman did. I think it was not an easy decision for them.

"And of course we have a few more pros here, but that's just how it is."

2014 Iron Man Chattanooga Event Guide

Get in-depth info about this year's Iron Man Chattanooga. Read the publication here.

The hot topics for the elite athletes leading up to Ironman Chattanooga have been the flow rate on the river and four miles added to the bike course, making today's race one of the longest Ironman triathlons.

A downstream swim course benefits weaker swimmers, regardless of whether the water temperatures falls below the 76-degree wetsuit threshold -- a decision that will be made based on conditions this morning.

"I personally prefer non-wetsuit, because I find it changes my stroke," pro Patrick Evoe said Friday. "But the faster the water is better for me. Any time I can reduce that gap to the elite swimmers helps me. If the swim is a minute or two faster, that's less time that I'm thinking about making up on the bike."

The elite athletes have mixed feelings about the impact of four miles added to accommodate community concerns in Walker County on a Sunday morning.

Kraft said she had hoped the organizers would have shortened the run to account for the longer bike.

"Ironman is already tough at that distance, so to make it a little bit longer is hard," she said. "I would have preferred that they had made it a little bit shorter rather than a little bit longer. Ten to 15 more minutes at a high heart rate when you're pushing hard will make a difference."

Regardless of how the swim and bike segments go, Wurtele said the 26.2-mile run at the end should determine who crosses the finish line on what he feels is a very good Ironman course in a great location.

"I think it's going to be a tough run for sure," he said. "I think that's going to be the deciding factor, having seen the last little bit on the other side of the bridge and the rollers. If you burn too many matches on the bike, you can really hurt yourself on the run. But as far as the beauty of the area, it's really nice, quiet roads out there with smooth, fast pavement, even though the course is a little bit long.

"I'm looking forward to after the race, going around and having a burger. There looks like a lot of nice restaurants here. From what I've seen over the last 24 hours, it seems like a really cool little town."

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.

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