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Preparing for the Chicago Triathlon

chicago triathlon prep

The Chicago Triathlon has become one of the nation’s most well-known multisport events that attracts thousands of triathletes from across the world to the city of Chicago. 

Taking place in downtown Chicago during the last weekend in August, the Chicago Triathlon draws both a competitive and beginner playing field, merging one of the largest community gatherings in the multisport world. 

As part of the Life Time brand and family of events, the Chicago Triathlon is a widely-recognized short-course triathlon event that features a Sprint distance and International (Olympic) distance event. There’s also a Super Sprint, Kids Tri, or the option to combine events across the weekend.

If you’re looking to perform your best, here are several tips to help you prepare for the Chicago Triathlon.


To wear a wetsuit? Or to not wear a wetsuit?

The swim for the Sprint and International distance triathlons kick off from DuSable Harbor. So while the Lake Michigan waters will be calm and warm, athletes may want to utilize a wetsuit for the swim. 

For the Chicago Triathlon swim, if the water temperatures are below 60.6 degrees Fahrenheit, wetsuits are required. However, if the temps are above 78.1 degrees, wetsuits are not allowed. All other standards follow the triathlon wetsuit rules of the USAT and Ironman-sanctioned events in terms of thickness.

Any experienced triathlete will agree that a wetsuit will provide added buoyancy and speed in the water. So for beginners, it can worth the investment. For pro-level athletes, a wetsuit can provide a slight competitive edge.


Know the rules of the Chicago Triathlon

There are several rules that the Chicago Triathlon at documented here but many of them are straightforward and obvious. Here are some of the most commonly overlooked rules that you should know.

  • No outside assistance is allowed during the race aside from designated aid stations
  • Any form of floatation (aside from a legal wetsuit) is allowed during the swim 
  • Helmets are required on the bike and riders must remain on the right except when passing on the left
  • Cross the mount line before getting on your bike and make sure to be you’re fully off your bike before the dismount line
  • No phones, cameras, or headphones are allowed during the race
  • Bib numbers must be worn during the run leg
  • Penalty cards are handed out for breaking drafting rules; a yellow card = 1 minute and a blue card = 2 minutes. There are designated penalty tents where athletes must spend their time.

The bike drafting rules of the Chicago Triathlon follow the global short course regulations of a 10-meter draft zone. In general, athletes must maintain 5 bike lengths of space between other riders and complete their pass in 20 seconds. Otherwise, a blue card can be issued.


Bring your A-game for the bike leg

The bike leg for the Chicago Triathlon is fast, flat, and 100% traffic out and back that runs along the Chicago River. It’s an exhilarating road course that caters well to strong cyclists who throw down heavy watts on the bike.

Because the bike leg is often a majority of the time invested in a triathlon, having good cycling legs will serve you well. And given how flat the elevation gain is across the course, having an aero bike and helmet setup will provide an advantage for athletes exceeding 20-21mph. 


Practice your fueling strategy

While Sprint distance athletes may need nothing more than an electrolyte drink, International distance athletes will likely need some extra calories to help them through the race. 

Keep in mind that there are no aid stations on the bike leg of both distances of the Chicago Triathlon (only the run leg), so bring a bottle or gel with you on the bike. There are aid stations at every mile of the run leg that offers water and lemon-lime flavored Gatorade Endurance Formula. 

Unless you’re relying on your own race-day nutrition, consider trying this type of Gatorade sports drink during training to ensure it agrees with your stomach. Your digestive system acts differently under physical stress, so not all forms of fuel work for everybody.


Train your “bike-to-run” legs

The energy of the city makes the Chicago Triathlon an epic and invigorating event. It can be easy to get excited and go out hard on the bike. But as any veteran athlete will attest, this costly mistake can write a check your running legs can’t cash. 

In short, properly train and acclimate your running legs off the bike with structured brick sessions. Combining disciplines during training is crucial to adapting appropriately and being well prepared for the rigors of triathlon. And with the Chicago city vibe blowing wind in your sails, you’ll want to be confident that you’ll finish strong.


Stay present and absorb the experience

Because the Chicago Triathlon is a short course event, it’ll be over before you know it. Without physically taking time to pause, be sure to acknowledge moments throughout your race to really take in the experience. It drifts by quickly, so absorb the moment and stay present, even if you are at your limit.

The energy and excitement of the Chicago Triathlon are beyond compare. The people, the city, and the event as a whole bring a healthy collective of like-minded individuals and athletes all in one space. 

To learn more about the event, the course, and how to register, visit For triathlon coaching, training, and advice in preparing for the event, explore the resources available at Better Triathlete. 

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Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler