Race Info (General)

Q: When is the race?

A: Sept. 7, 2024 (9/7/2024), 1st wave starts at 8 a.m.

Q: Where is the race?

A: Ohio Street Beach

Q: When is packet pickup/registration?

A: Tentatively on 9/6/24 at UIC from 4:30- 7:00 p.m., and on race morning, check in opens at 6:30.

Q: How long is the race?

A: There is a 5K and a 2.5K distance.

Q: Is there a time limitation for either race?

A: All swimmers must be out of the water by 11 a.m. at the latest. A patrol boat will remove swimmers at 11 a.m. (yes, they will forcibly remove you from the water).

Q: Is there anywhere to park nearby?

A: Yes, we will offer discounted parking at 321 E. Erie, just 2 blocks from the race start.

Q: What is the course like?

A: The course is a triangular 2.5K course marked both by buoys. The 5K is twice around the triangle. Swimmers start in the water, and finish with a run up the beach.

Q: What is the expected water temperature on race day?

A: You are kidding, right? Water temps have varied between 60-80°F. Lake Michigan is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, and wind and currents can cause vast changes in water temperature in a very short period of time. Check out for real time temps.

Registration FAQs: (Note - registration for 2024 opens on March 1).

Q: How can I register?

A: On 3/1/2024, at 10 am CDT, Click HERE and follow the prompts.

Q: Can anyone register?

A: No, you must be 18 and a USMS member, or get a One Event Registration.

Q: Do I need to be a full year USMS member?

A: No, you can obtain a One Event Registration at

However, please consider joining USMS and enjoy the many benefits and camaraderie.

Q: Is there an age limit for the race?

A: Yes, you must be 18 to swim in Big Shoulders.

Q: How much does registration cost?

A: $100 until May 1st, and price goes up from there if we haven’t sold out. We sold out in 2 hours last year.

Q: $100, that’s a ton of dough! Why so pricey?

A: Although we are an all volunteer committee, there are a lot of costs incurred in putting on a race like this, including a Chicago Park District sanction, paying the outstanding lifeguarding crew, paying for the timing company, the food, beverage, transportation, tents, buoys, and a bunch of other costs.

Q: Well, that still seems like a lot of money – where does the balance go?

A: Big Shoulders is a fundraising event for the Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Teams at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as the Alliance for the Great Lakes. We proudly support these charities.

Q: What do I get for my $100?

A: Entry into one of the premier open water swimming events in the country, plus a commemorative Big Shoulders T-shirt, a race goody bag, and a super cool medal/bottle opener/fridge magnet.

Q: Does the race have a maximum capacity?

A: Yes, the race will close at 1200 registrations, 800 for the 5K, 400 for the 2.5K.

Q: Will the race sell out before race day?

A: Absolutely. It sold out on March 1, 2023 at 12:20 p.m CDT (2:20 total).

NO Transfers, Refunds, Deferrals, Cancellation

Q: Can I have a refund if I stub my toe or cough up a lung the week before the race?


Q: Can I transfer my registration to a friend if I get the mumps?

A: No, see above.

Q: If I can’t make it to the race, can I have the fee applied to next year?

A: No, that’s a deferral, and, as stated above, we don’t allow them.

Q: Why don't you allow transfers, refunds or deferrals?

A: We are an all volunteer, not for profit event, and are not staffed or equipped to deal with the logistics of transfers, deferrals or refunds.

Q: What happens if the race has to be cancelled due to lightning, water quality, a plague of locusts or a meteor shower?

A: If weather issues arise on race morning, we’ll wait it out as long as we can, but if the Chicago Park District tells us it isn’t safe to put swimmers in the water, we’ll cancel the race. In that case, we’ll distribute shirts, medals, bagels, etc. BUT WE CANNOT OFFER REFUNDS OR DEFERRALS. The cost of the event is fixed and the money spent by race day.

Swimwear and Wetsuits

Q: Can I wear a wetsuit?

A: Absolutely, but you will swim in the wetsuit division, and scored against only other wetsuit swimmers. Results will be listed as Male wetsuit and Female wetsuit only, with no breakdown by age groups.

Q: Can I wear a FastSkin, my Flash Gordon or Aquaman costume, and compete in the non-wetsuit division?

A: All suits that are disallowed by FINA and USMS for pool swims are likewise banned from open water swimming. 

Q: Can I wear a neoprene swim cap/hat?

A: Yes, so long as it does not extend below the neck, and you wear the supplied brightly colored cap that correlates to your wave over your neoprene hat.

Q: I have a latex allergy. Do I still have to wear your supplied cap?

A: Yes, we give out silicon caps, so no excuses.

Q: Can I switch to a wetsuit if I registered non-wetsuit?

A: Yes, you can switch to wetsuit (or from wetsuit to no wetsuit) at any time up until 1 week before the race (9/1/24), unless the water temperature is predicted to be below 68, or is below 68 degrees on race day, in which case the deadline will be extended.  .

Q: Is there a temperature below which wetsuits will be required of all swimmers?

A: Yes, if the water temperature is 60 degrees or less, all swimmers will be required to wear a wetsuit.

Training and Safety

Q: I’ve never swam an open water event before. Can I handle this?

A: If you can swim continuously in a pool for 30 min., you have a solid base and can begin training for the 2.5K. However, we recommend that all swimmers spend some time swimming in a lake or ocean to prepare for open water swimming. Learning how to breathe in choppy water, sight for buoys, swim in a pack, and turn around buoys is extremely beneficial to open water swimming and racing. We recommend that individuals interested in the 5K have completed an open water event before considering registration.

Q: Do you offer organized training sessions for open water swimming?

A: No, but there are many local coaches and programs to assist non-swimmers (aka triathletes) for open water swimming). Email for recommendations. Some groups also hold clinics on various weekends at the race site, Ohio Street Beach in Chicago.

Q: Who provides the safety at your event?

A: The Chicago Park District Lifeguards and supervisors provide the safety personnel to patrol and over see the course. In addition, the Big Shoulders Medical Team has a tent on the beach, and we have an ambulance on sight during the entire event.


Q: Do you have any deals with local hotels?

A: Yes, please refer to our website,

Q: Will you have gear check available on race day?

A: Yes, we will have a tent for gear check.

Q: Do you have any cool merchandise?

A: Yes, but it is handled by A3 directly.  We will not have swag to sell on the beach, other than extra shirts from years past. Merchandise is available HERE.