6,000 take part in Chicago Triathlon after swim portion is canceled due to choppy lake waters

Cooler temperatures Sunday made for better running and cycling conditions. As a precaution, the swimming event was canceled as waves of 3 to 6 feet were predicted.

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Chicago Triathlon lakefront racers run runners

Racers run to their bikes on the lakefront Sunday morning for the Chicago Triathlon. Organizers canceled the swim portion due to dangerous waves.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Chicago Triathlon’s swim portion was canceled Sunday morning due to dangerous waves.

It was the second time the race’s swim was canceled for weather since 2019, but many of the athletes were OK with it.

“We couldn’t swim in that,” said Susan Galvin, 60, from Winnetka. “That would not have been safe.”

About 38% of this weekend’s racers are first-time triathletes, organizers said.

With that many inexperienced participants, it made sense to cancel the swim, competitor Robert Garren of Avondale said.

Waves hitting the lakefront wall created a “washing machine effect,” said Garren, a Chicago police officer in the 18th District.

racers competitors runners finish line Chicago Triathlon August 27 2023

Competitors cross the finish line of the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

In an email to racers earlier Sunday, organizers said the swim part was canceled “due to unfavorable swim conditions and a beach hazard issued by the City of Chicago.”

Lake Michigan’s shore was under alert for “large waves and dangerous currents,” according to the National Weather Service. Waves of 3 to 6 feet were expected, forecasters said.

The athletes ended up competing in a duathlon: biking and running. The race still began at the “swim start” on the lakefront at Lake Shore Drive and Balbo Drive. Participants ran three quarters of a mile north to the transition area to retrieve their bikes.

The kickoff was delayed 15 minutes, to 6:15 a.m. The first athletes began crossing the finish line a little less than two hours later on Columbus Drive near Balbo.

Racer Everett Pain, a 16-year-old junior from Hinsdale Central High School, is on his school’s cross country team.

Although he said he’s a “pretty good swimmer,” he added that he’s a better runner.

“I’m better suited for this,” he said.

Everett was grateful that weekend temperatures had cooled to the upper 60s — a much-needed break from the triple-digit heat index Chicagoland endured last week.

“If it was 100 degrees, it would suck.”

Before the swim was canceled, the international triathlon was set to be a 0.93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run.

racers runners participants start line Chicago Triathlon August 27 2023

Participants sprint from the start line of the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

About 6,000 people raced, Chicago Triathlon spokeswoman Allison Humbert Wilkinson said.

Katie Pothier, 41, returned to Chicago from Atlanta to complete her second triathlon — 20 years after her first time racing as a student at Illinois Institute of Technology.

She was competing in the “triple challenge,” a combination of three separate races: a “super sprint” Saturday, the international race at 6 a.m. Sunday and then a sprint distance later that morning.

The triple challenge is 59 miles total: 1.63 miles swimming, 46.3 miles biking and 10.85 miles running. Racers who complete it win a sporty jacket.

Despite recovering from a broken ankle, Pothier was still keeping a pace better than when she was in college.

“I would’ve smoked everyone who raced with me 20 years ago,” she said.

racer runner lakefront Chicago Triathlon August 27 2023.

A racer runs on the lakefront during the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The 2023 Chicago Triathlon race map.

The 2023 Chicago Triathlon race map.

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