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9 Triathlon Race Rules You Didn’t Know You Were Breaking

Posted by: on May, 31 2017

Found on Triathlete.com and written by Susan Lacke

A primer of the most commonly violated race rules.

Though event rules are readily available on every race’s website, stuffed in race-day packets, and blared through a megaphone at pre-race meetings, newbies and pros alike tune out talk of rules and regulations. Rules are boring, and besides, isn’t it all common-sense stuff, anyway?

Many racers are surprised, then, when they end up in the penalty tent for throwing away a gel in the wrong place or disqualified for unbuckling their helmet too soon. Don’t let your training go to waste because you didn’t review the rules of your race. A primer of the most commonly-violated race rules:

1. Bandits Beware

Even if it seems harmless, don’t buy, sell, give away, or trade a race number without the permission of the race director. If a medical emergency occurs on course, an accurate identity is crucial to provide treatment and expeditiously contact family members.

Penalty: At minimum, you’ll get disqualified from the race, but it’s more likely you’ll get banned from racing outright. USAT suspends memberships for one year; Ironman hands down suspensions ranging from three months to four years; some races issue lifetime bans.

2. Know Your Swimwear

Athletes can wear a wetsuit if the water temperatures are at or below a certain point determined by the race (usually 76 or 78 degrees Fahrenheit). If an athlete opts to go without, they can wear a tri kit, swimsuit or swimskin, so long as the garment fabric does not extend past the elbows or below the knees. Neoprene shorts are prohibited, as are fins, gloves and other floatation devices.

Penalty: If water temperatures are above the cutoff point, race officials may allow wetsuit-wearing athletes to race in a separate, non-competitive wave. Garments or gear not meeting race specifications can bring about an automatic disqualification.

3. Cover Your Melon

Check the inside of your bike helmet—do you see a sticker that says CPSC? If so, you’re good to go. All races in the United States require a helmet approved by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. As of 1999, every helmet sold in the USA is CPSC approved, but if you purchased your helmet prior to that date (or from an overseas vendor), race officials may not allow you to exit T1.

Penalty: Most helmet violations are spotted prior to the race start, but if an athlete makes it out of transition, race officials can pull that person from the course for an unapproved helmet.

4. Buckle Up

It’s not enough to just wear the helmet—the chin strap must be buckled any time you are in contact with a bike. That means leaving transition, dismounting after the bike leg, or even while riding your bike to or from your vehicle in the parking lot.

Penalty: Depending on when and where the chin strap violation occurs, an athlete may earn a time penalty or disqualification.

5. Mind the Draft

Most triathlons are non-drafting, meaning they have a predetermined distance between bikes: at most USAT races, it’s three bike lengths; at Ironman races, it’s 12 meters; at the Challenge Family Championship, it’s 20 meters. The athlete is responsible for knowing the numbers as well as what that looks like in a race scenario (12 meters is approximately 6 bike lengths). Athletes must remain outside of the draft zone except when passing, during which they must complete the pass within a set amount of time (USAT: 15 seconds; Ironman, 25 seconds; Challenge Family, 40 seconds) or drop back.

Penalty: Time penalties vary from 1 minute to 12 minutes, based on the race and the offense. Disqualification can result from multiple drafting penalties.

6. No Tunes, No Selfies

Headphones, headsets and audio devices are not allowed at any time during any triathlon event. Most races allow you to carry your cell phone if you wish, but it must be stored out of sight in a bike bag or jersey pocket. The use of any device that distracts the athlete from paying full attention to their surroundings—making and receiving phone calls, sending and receiving text messages, using social media, taking photographs, or using a device as a bike computer—can result in penalties.

Penalty: Case-by-case: some will receive a warning or time penalty, while more severe cases will see a DQ.

7. Fly Solo

Because you’re the one wearing the bib number, it’s expected that you’ll complete the race under your own power, using only the resources the race provides. Taking outside assistance of any sort, be it a bottle handoff from a spectator or a cheering spouse riding a bike alongside you during the run, is not allowed.

Penalty: Some races dole out time penalties for outside assistance, while others disqualify the athlete immediately.

8. Stash Your Trash

Tossing empty bottles and gel packets is convenient for you, but bad for the planet—it also makes it harder for race directors to secure permits for following years. Shove your empties in a jersey pocket until you get to an appropriate trash receptacle (there are usually plenty of bins at aid stations).

Penalty: Most races issue time penalties ranging from 1 minute to 5 minutes for each littering infraction.

9. Read The Race Packet

No, really—read it. If there’s a pre-race rules meeting, attend that, too. Even if you’ve done a hundred triathlons, rules change from race to race and year to year. The sprint triathlon you did last month may have allowed athletes to run with a bare torso, but one you’re doing next week might require a shirt, jersey or sport top at all times. If you’re racing overseas, the rules may be different than what you’re used to in the USA.