Tennessee is home to a some great races, from sprints to iron distance. With a love of triathlon but without the time to train for something longer, I’ve decided to race four of the biggest Olympic tris in the state. In case you want to try one or all of them, here’s a lot at four of the biggest- Challenge Knoxville (formerly Rev3) in May, Chattanooga Waterfront in June, Music City in July, and Riverbluff (formerly Nashvegas) in August. (Note: Memphis is May is a classic and an obvious 5th option- would have have made for a very cool 5 races Olympic logo symmetry- but with some changes going on with the race and location, it was hard to do course comparisons. Hopefully next year.)
To start, here they are by the basics and numbers, but I’ll also get into the background and a few stories for these great races.
Knoxville- wetsuit-legal, 2/3 downriver
Chattanooga- generally non-wetsuit, 100% downriver
Music City- generally non-wetsuit, circle swim
Riverbluff- generally non-wetsuit, circle swim
(note: wet-suit notes are based on general water temp)
Knoxville- 1640 feet of climb, 1 cat 5 climb
Chattanooga Waterfront- 578 feet of climb, 1 cat 5 climb
Music City- 676 feet of climb
Riverbluff – 698 feet of climb
Knoxville- 190 feet
Chattanooga- 173 feet
Music City- 339 feet
Riverbluff- 41 feet
With a look at the basics, Chattanooga looks to be the easiest in the swim, followed by Knoxville.
On the bike, the elevation changes are virtually the same for the the June to August races, with Knoxville being vastly more difficult. One year I stumbled across the finished line and happened to come across pro Matty Reed, who had won an hour earlier and was waiting for the awards ceremony. I said hello and followed that up by saying, “Wow, that’s pretty hilly!” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well…rolling.”
On the run, even with the change of moving the 6.2 miles to a flatter course instead of running up and down hills in downtown Nashville, Music City still clocks in as the most difficult.
Personally, I love this race. With pros racing, it has a big feel to it. The finish line is great, the support is great, and the fact that it is so family friendly is huge. This was my first ‘big’ race. Until then, my wife wasn’t very much on board with the whole triathlon thing. But when the kids got to do a scavenger hunt and then run down the finish with me at the end, something clicked. She said, “Hey, let’s do this one every year.” And for the most part, we have. There are Challenge logos on the clothes and signage, but it’s still very much a Rev3 event, which is a good thing. The hills on the bike are difficult- I actually do better on road by than tri bike for this one- but to me, that just adds to it. I’ve really enjoyed meeting several pros there, listening in on the pro Q&A, and getting to a fan. All in all, it’s certainly a favorite. With the addition of Challenge, it’s nice to be connected to the “other” global triathlon race series. (Note: There is also a half iron distance for you over-achievers.)
Every year I want to do this race, and every year something comes up. So far, we’re in the clear this year, and I’m excited about racing it for the first time. Although I’m not a fan of time trial starts for open-water events, I am very excited about the downriver swim, the relatively flat bike and the flat run. If I’m getting a PR this summer, it’s likely going to be here. From a family perspective, it’s hard to get better than Chattanooga. While you’re off on the bike, your family can check out the amazing Tennessee Aquarium or hop the trolley for free to get back and forth from your hotel. Team Magic always puts on a great race, so I’m expecting good things!
Pop quiz- Which race is older than Escape from Alcatraz, Wildflower, and Challenge Roth? It’s the Music City triathlon. The race began in 1979, just a year after the Ironman Hawaii, and is one of the oldest continuous triathlons in the world. The course has moved around the city several times but has found a downtown right on the river. This was my first Olympic distance race, and therefore is stuck in my head as crazy difficult, but if you’re racing in the south in the middle of the summer, you’ve got to expect some heat. Doing well in such an historic race is certainly something to talk about with your friends, and a must on your Tennessee triathlon bucket list. (Note: There is also a sprint option, which is a lot of fun, too.)
The newest of the bunch, Riverbluff is great for scenery if you prefer the outdoors to the big city. Says Kat Williams of Start2Finish, “The venue is beautiful – Lake front with the post race party under a grove of trees. You can also camp at the race site. The bike course is hot, hilly and hard (especially the half). If you’ve ever heard of the Wildflower triathlon in California, the future of this race is inspired by that one.” For me, it’s been a good race to close out the season. With the move from early September to early August, it promises to be hot and challenging, but still keep the great atmosphere. (Note: There is a sprint option. There’s also normally a half as well, but due to road construction, the half is taking a year off.)
Out of these or others, which is your favorite Tennessee Olympic race? Comment below!
I’m excited to try all of these races, and I hope you’re inspired to race one or more as well.
Why Older Triathletes Are Freaks