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Pittsburgh Triathlon Organizers Monitor River Safety for Big Race

More than 1,200 athletes are expected to bike, swim and run around the North Shore this weekend in the 17th annual Pittsburgh Triathlon. This year, organizers are paying special attention to making sure the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers are safe for swimmers.

The event begins Saturday at 6:45 a.m. with a sprint race, which features shorter distances than traditional triathlons. There will also be an “Adventure Race,” in which competitors will substitute canoeing or kayaking for the swim portion of the triathlon. The classic triathlon will take place Sunday.

Friends of the River Front began hosting the USA Triathlon Certified race to highlight the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Three Rivers Water Trail, which are used as part of the course. The race is also a large fundraiser for the non-profit group.

Athletes will begin with the 1,500 meter swim portion, which takes place in the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers near the Point. The swim is followed by a 25 mile bike race on the HOV lane on 279 to Perrysville and back, then a run on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

Program Manager for Friends of the Riverfront Sarah Carr says the swim portion raises many questions among athletes every year. According to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), rainy weather can cause sewage to overflow into the rivers around the city, bringing harmful bacteria into the water. During wet weather, ALCOSAN publishes warnings, telling people to minimize contact with river water until the water levels lower.

“We do really want to focus on making sure that athletes who are competing are aware of these river quality issues and also that if there are serious hazardous levels in the water that no one would enter the water on that day,” Carr said.

Event organizers will determine the morning of the race if it is safe to swim. Currently, predicts scattered thunderstorms and a 40 percent chain of rain for the weekend. If the swim portion of the race is canceled, an additional run length will be added. Friends of the Riverfront have been working with the River Advisory and Information Network, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and water-monitoring company Platypus to gather information about how weather effects E. Coli levels in the race area.

“We’ve already started to monitor the water and we’ll continue to do so throughout the race, and we have developed a triathlon swim leg policy based on the water quality that will guide us over what decisions are made at what levels,” Carr said.

Athletes will switch between events at a central location on the North Shore, where an expo will be set up with various venders and booths. The expo is open to the public for the duration of the weekend.