You Can Do This
Take the first steps toward becoming a triathlete

Congratulations on taking the first step!

We created this page to clarify what it really takes to participate in triathlon, and to showcase some of the unique features that make the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon so special.

Since 1983, the Chicago Triathlon has welcomed more than 100,000 first-time triathletes across the finish line. Nearly 30% of each year’s entire field are new participants who decided to give triathlon a shot. Newbies certainly have strength in numbers.

This may be the world’s largest multisport event, but it’s also the most versatile. Race weekend truly offers five separate event distances and more than 12 special competitions to athletes of all ages, abilities and experience levels. It’s more attainable than you think.

Make no mistake, we want to see you become a Chicago Triathlete!  To better understand the true race experience, a 12-part documentary video series is being unveiled through the season.  See below for the first few pieces, offering a general idea of the true race experience. Click here for more.

Chicago Triathlon Video Series | #1 The Experience

Chicago Triathlon Video Series | #2 A Race For Everyone

Address the Issue

Without question, this sport has a perception problem. Triathlon is often assumed to be the most competitive, expensive and grueling sport on earth. In reality, only 11% of participants actually believe in that philosophy and compete to win. The remaining 89% are there for the personal challenge, to stay fit and/or just to have fun. You’re in good company.

Know the Difference

The team behind the Chicago Triathlon absolutely loves what we do. Our purpose is to make this sport attainable, and our philosophy is that anyone with an interest in triathlon can finish one – and actually enjoy the process.

What makes us unique is how we’ve constructed complimentary programs, both educational and physical, to counter these barriers and motivate new participants to get involved in this life changing event. Thousands of regular people benefit from these programs each year, and you can too.

Understand the Questions

Since 1983, more than 100,000 first-time triathletes have crossed our Finish Line. Most of them were once terrified of open water swimming. Several of them used hybrid, commuter or mountain bikes. Plenty of them had to walk a mile or two along the run course. They may not have won, but they absolutely succeeded.

While getting to know these athletes, and their decisions to commit to their first triathlon, we identified these as their most common initial questions (feel free to click/read accordingly):


The Transamerica Chicago Triathlon is Chicago’s only city-based triathlon, held during the last weekend each August. Event weekend consists of two days of racing, including a short-distance “SuperSprint” and Kids’ Triathlon on Saturday at Foster Beach, followed by our Sprint and International distance races on Sunday in downtown Chicago.

The Transamerica Chicago Triathlon is owned and produced by Life Time Fitness, with a local production staff based in downtown Chicago. Life Time Fitness operates more than 120 health clubs across North America, as well as produces more than 50 signature endurance events across the Life Time Tri, Life Time Run, Gildan Esprit de She and Blueprint for Athletes Leadville Race Series brands.

This is one of the world’s largest and oldest triathlons – 35 years old and still cutting-edge. We are known for an unparalleled course, including a spectator-friendly swim in Monroe Harbor, a new bike course that utilizes roadways never accessible to the general public, and a scenic run course that finishes in the heart of the city. Although we are big, we’re known for our premium athlete experience and top quality production value.

The Transmaerica Chicago Triathlon the Midwest’s first ever multisport event, founded in 1983. Beyond the race history, Chicago’s topography makes it incredibly rich for triathlon training. Lake Michigan, especially Ohio Street Beach, offer unparalleled swim training conditions. The Lakefront Path provides a continuous, nearly unobstructed 18 mile bike and run course as well.


Triathlon is a non-stop swim-to-bike-to-run competition. The sport offers various distances for athletes to choose from. The Chicago Triathlon adult race options offer traditional “short course” distances:

After a few years of experience, some athletes graduate into “long course” triathlons (also known as Half or Full Ironman). Let’s not worry about that right here and now!

You’ll see athletes of all sizes, shapes and abilities at this event. Here’s a simple breakdown of our 2015 participant demographics:

  • Average Age: 38
  • Gender: 41% Female
  • Reside in the City of Chicago: 44%
  • Reside in Illinois: 70%
  • # of States represented: 48
  • # of Countries represented: 17
  • 73% are in committed relationship
  • 44% have children
  • 95% participate for the personal challenge
  • 87% participate to get/stay in shape
  • 49% participate for the social aspect
  • 11% participate to compete/win

That’s cool. Before you even think about bowing out, consider the relay option. Teams of 2-3 people can pick and choose which discipline(s) they participate. At the very least, consider becoming a volunteer during race weekend. We guarantee you’ll fall in love with this event, and make quite an impact on the participants’ accomplishments!


Training volume is incredibly subjective to current fitness, strengths/weaknesses in each discipline, and your overall goals. As a general rule, we recommend the following for anyone first entering the sport with a basic level of fitness:

Curious to see what a structured training program looks like? Share your contact information in the form below. We’ll forward you a simple training blueprint to get you started.

Unquestionably, the swim is the biggest barrier to triathlon. While many people are comfortable swimming laps in a pool, there are certainly some nuances when moving outside and into open water.

In 2012, we created an Open Water Swim Clinic Series to specifically help new triathletes gain experience and confidence prior to race day. Volunteer coaches from all across Chicagoland lead small groups through a variety of drills and distance swims during the summer. Local retailers rent demo wetsuits during the sessions. Afterward, everyone congregates for beers on the beach and plenty of tri talk. These sessions are an incredible testament to Chicago’s love for triathlon.

The first of several Swim Clinics will be held in late June (exact dates TBD). The clinics request a charitable donation, and participants must RSVP in advance for each. Registration for the first 2017 session will open in late May. These sessions will sell out.

Not necessarily. It’s completely your choice. If you’ve never worn a swim-specific wetsuit, we definitely recommend you test a few during the summer (especially compare full sleeve vs. sleeveless models). Wetsuits might be a bit strange at first, but you’ll soon grow comfortable with them – and fond of their flotation! Read more about wetsuits here.

No worries, you still have plenty of options to explore:

  1. Consider borrowing a bike from a friend. While this isn’t optimal (bikes are meant to be specifically fit to one rider), it is a realistic solution. Road, hybrid or mountain bikes – you’ll see bikes of all shapes and sizes on race weekend. BTW, we do have a separate mountain bike division if you choose to race with a fat-tired bike!
  2. Consult with our retail partner, Live Grit. They’re great with educating new cyclists on your options, and have a variety of packages for new triathletes. They’re also the centerpiece for our First-Timers’ Program (hint, hint).
  3. At the absolute least, consider participating in the Divvy wave at Saturday’s SuperSprint Triathlon. Seriously. You show up, and we supply the bike on-site. It’s that easy. And awesome.

The only required gear is: a swimsuit or triathlon apparel, a bike with helmet, and shoes of some sort. There are lots of little odds and ends that make life better, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm & a leg. Here’s a quick idea of what’s practical:

What do you like to eat/drink? Start with that. As you begin training, you will notice a need for more food/fluids as you burn more calories. You will start developing routines around pre, during and post workout nutritional intake – which might include a combination of solid foods, gels, water and sports drinks. It’s best to consider training with the sports drink and solids/gels that are used on course – so you don’t have to worry about providing your own fuel. Two quick rules of thumb:

  1. You don’t need much more than water if your workout is less than 60 minutes.
  2. Never try anything new on race day (that goes for clothing, equipment and so much more).

Nutrition is never an exact science, but you will soon gain great insight into what works and what doesn’t in a variety of environments.

The Chicago community has plenty of training options to explore:

  • Charity partners
    We have relationships with more than a dozen incredible charity partners, each provide varying levels of race preparation and on-site hospitality en lieu of supporting their great causes.
  • Tri teams
    Chicago is a hotbed for triathlon training, with programs to please any athlete with any need whatsoever. Consider one of these great partners:
  • Life Time Endurance
  • Chicago Tri Club
  • Chicago Endurance Sports
  • TriMonster
  • Well-Fit
  • Chicago Blue Dolphins
  • Live Grit First-Timers’ Program
    This special development program is designed to alleviate traditional intimidation, build athletic confidence and provide a calm racing environment for aspiring triathletes. The program launched in 2015, reaching sell-out capacity and achieving a near-perfect finisher rate. The 2017 program is nearly full as well.The program is presented by Live Grit, Chicago’s never-intense triathlon store, and limited to 300 sprint and 150 international registrants. First Timers’ Program participants receive a myriad of educational opportunities and in-person training sessions included with their race registration fee. Participants also receive special race weekend services including dedicated Transition staff and separate wave starts.

By the way, each of these groups help coach our swim clinics.


It depends. The first athletes will begin at 6 a.m. on Sunday, August 27. The final athletes will begin shortly after 10 a.m. Generally, the longer course (International) athletes will begin first, followed by the Sprint athletes. Participants are grouped by similar gender and ages into “waves” of approximately 150 people. Waves launch every 3-4 minutes to ensure all athletes have plenty of open water and roadways to compete. There’s a bit of a science behind the choreography, and it works.

Think of the transition area as a secured, outdoor, co-ed locker room. All athletes store their gear here, which is only accessible by registered athletes at specific times before, during and after the race. Precise timelines are posted prior to race weekend, when you will learn:

  • (a) What time you start
  • (b) What time you need to be setup in transition
  • (c) Approximately when you will be able to return to transition following your race

These timelines are very rigid, and draw a respectful balance between long wait times for athletes who start later in the day vs. impeding those who start early in the morning and need a clear transition area during their race.

All athletes first need to pick up their packets at the Health & Fitness Expo during race weekend. This is mandatory for all triathlons, as there is no race-day packet pickup. From there, athletes have the option to rack their bikes at their dedicated area (inside the transition compound) on either Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning. Exact timelines will be communicated prior to race weekend.

On Sunday morning, athletes will place all their bike and run gear next to their bike in transition, then carry their goggles, swim caps, wetsuits and any other gear toward the swim start staging area. Pre-race fluids, snacks and toilets are provided for athletes before, during and after their race.

Easy, drop us a line using the opt-in form below. Additionally, you are welcome to review our 2016 Athlete Guide (the 2017 edition will be distributed in August). At 50 pages, it’s quite thorough!

Take the Next Step

Whatever their initial fears, each of these pioneers chose to take a risk, commit to the journey and eventually earn the title of “triathlete.” We want that for you, too.

To support you on this process, we encourage you to take these steps:

  1. Learn more about our programs, clinics, webinars and special competitions by reviewing this page, as well as exploring the rest of this website.
  2. Input your contact information using the opt-in form below. One of our coaches will follow-up with a personal email and establish a simple discussion around your objective.
  3. Recruit your friends. Triathlon may be an individual sport, but learning, training and participating alongside your peers only reaps bigger rewards.
  4. Register for the 2017 Transamerica Chicago Triathlon! If you’re ready to commit, feel free to input code “YouCan” at the end of the registration process and save $10 on any race distance (expires March 31, 2017).

Thank you, good luck and let us know how we can help!

— The Staff at the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon