Racers check in for the Ironman 70.3 in Salem's Riverfront Park on Friday, July 23. The triathlon on July 25 will include about 2,300 athletes from around the world. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Salem is filling up fast with a few thousand athletes who will test their endurance Sunday in a grueling triathlon.

The Ironman 70.3 competition is set to include a 1.2 mile swim in the Willamette River, a 56-mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run through the city, revolving mostly around transition spots in Riverfront Park. 

“It’s half of an Ironman so the estimate is that most people will finish in about 10 hours,” said city spokesperson Trevor Smith, a liaison for the event. “It will be a full day but not a crazy day.”

Travel Salem estimated the race would generate $11 million in economic impact for the city. It’s the first Ironman event in Oregon and ​​will offer qualifying slots to the 2021 Ironman World Championship in St George, Utah.

At last count, about 2,300 people signed up to race and they’ll have to contend with temperatures reaching into the 90s. But according to Smith, it’s the water temperature–which trends on the cooler side–that garners the most complaints from contestants from all over the country.

By Friday afternoon, the park was bustling with athletes and spectators checking in and browsing official Ironman merchandise.

Nicolas Palacios, 35, traveled from Santiago, Chile to Salem for Sunday’s race. It’s his first Ironman, but Palacios said he’s been running ultramarathons for about seven years. Training in his home country has been a challenge with the pandemic.

“It’s really bad because we have very strict restrictions,” he said.

Liz Levin, 56, drove nine hours from Elk Grove, California to compete. She said being in a crowd again was a bit nerve-wracking, but she was mostly “excited and happy” to be competing again.

“It’s like being a kid - you get to play dress-up and change your clothes real fast,” she said.

The finish line will be located in Riverfront Park which will also serve as the transition spot between swimming, running and biking for the athletes.

But spectators, Smith said, can watch from anywhere along the race course and even those who may not be interested in peeking in, will be impacted by the racers and may catch sight of them while stuck in traffic. 

“Congestion and traffic will be an issue,” Smith said. 

The Ironman 70.3 course will center in Minto Brown Island Park and Riverfront Park, with the bike portion meandering south through Willamette wine country.

There won’t be any road closures but lanes will be blocked off and flaggers will be directing drivers through the course.

“It will be around Riverfront Park, mostly,” Smith said of the congestion. “Down Trade St. to Commercial and then over to Mission and Mission to Saginaw and Owens and River Rd. There will be cones, barriers and flaggers.”

People who live in the area will be able to cut through the course, Smith said, as long as they check in with a flagger to ensure they’re crossing safely so as to avoid a pile-up crash of racers. 

A racers’ village went up at Riverfront Park on Friday and will stay until Sunday around 4 p.m. when the awards ceremony is set to take place. 

Racers will take off at about 6:15 a.m. Sunday morning. 

“The elite racers will finish surprisingly fast,” Smith said. “And then it’ll be the other racers who trickle through.” 

For more information or for maps of the racer routes, visit www.ironman.com/im703-oregon.

Rachel Alexander contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Caitlyn May at [email protected].

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