My battered copy of the triathlon rules, along with my Triathlon Scotland whistle and clipboard

10 triathlon rules to know

My battered copy of the triathlon rules, along with my Triathlon Scotland whistle and clipboard
My battered copy of the triathlon rules, along with my Triathlon Scotland whistle and clipboard

As I kicked off my season of officiating earlier last month, I was again met with surprise when pulling up some athletes for rule infringements that they didn’t know about. (Or claimed not to know about…) So I thought I’d put out a list of the top 10 triathlon rules that I see broken at events.

1: Drafting

Drafting means following the rider in front too closely, in order to gain an aerodynamic advantage. Get spotted within 7m of the bike in front for 15 seconds without passing or dropping back too often and you’ll pick up a 2 minute penalty or worse, be DSQ’d.

2: Helmet violations

I sometimes joke that I could be replaced in transition by a robot repeating “Do up your helmet!”. This is by far the most common violation I see when stood in transition.

Your helmet must be done up before removing your bike from its rack, and remain done up until the bike is racked in T2. I know it’s tempting to unclog with one hand while running with your bike in the other, but chances are you’ll be caught and made to do it back up, taking way more time than you saved.

3: Bike condition

Whilst there are quite a number of rules about the construction and condition of the bike you’ll use for triathlon, they are pretty unrestrictive so more or less any upright bike will be ok. The big conditions are that the rear wheel must be a freewheel and the bike must have a brake for each wheel. This rules out fixies/track bikes. The wheelbase/dimension rules also prohibit any form of recumbent. (The rules are different for paratriathlon).

Also, any bar ends must be plugged; So the ends of handlebars and clip-on tri bars must be covered. While I’m thinking about bike check-in, you must also have a helmet that fits!

4: Phones and MP3 players

Pretty self-explanatory but you’d be surprised how often we see this. This isn’t just during the race but at any time in transition too. As far as I can tell, the reasons are twofold: you don’t want to be distracted in transition as there is a lot happening in a relatively small space. We also want you to hear marshals or our instructions. Secondly, we want to be sure you’re not receiving outside assistance on course; if you have a phone and are receiving timegaps or coaching, then that’s an unfair advantage.

I feel like this rule will evolve to care of things such as GoPro type camera and also live GPS athlete trackers.

5: Discarded equipment

Littering or discarding equipment on the course is not permitted. Bar the occasional, accidental bottle launch, I actually haven’t seen too much of this.

Apart from one common one: people who leave transition with their helmet on.

If you do this, please don’t just chuck it on the run course. Someone will spot you and penalise you. Instead, you have 2 options: suck it up and wear it on the run or head back to transition and put it there.

6: Only competitors are allowed in transition

It sucks to bring your partner, children, pets etc. to a race and then have to leave them way before the race even starts, just to set-up.

But it is important to keep transition secure. It’s often very busy and cramped before the race, so that’s one reason to limit who has access. More importantly, it’s about keeping everyone’s kit safe. Triathletes often have a lot of very expensive kit. Necessarily, this is left unattended in transition, and limiting transition to competitors only is one way we can keep it a little safer.

7: Know the course

A good organiser will have sent out detailed maps of the course, well in advance of the race. It pays to study these! On the day, there should be signage and marshals lining the course. But weather conditions can alter or remove signage and marshals can be distracted.

On a multi-lap course, you also need to count your own laps (and remember how many you have to do!).

Failing to complete the course is an immediate DSQ – we have no way of knowing how much time to add! This is true even if the signs were blown down, pointing the wrong way or a marshal misdirected you, so don’t waste all your effort racing, just to be let down by not knowing the course!

8:  Outside assistance

While it’s great to bring family, friends and kids to a race for support, it’s really important that they don’t help you in any way during the race.

The most common of these is taking a water bottle from a spectator or handing gloves or a jacket over to a friend on the run course. Other instances could be having someone run alongside you during the run, or even following in a car on the bike course. All of this may result in a penalty or DSQ if spotted by the officials.

9: Having covered legs during a non-wetsuit swim

This is a relatively new rule, but legs and arms may not be covered during a non-wetsuit swim. This means calf compression guards are not permitted during the swimming phase of these events, and the same goes for sleeved “speed suit” style trisuits.

10: Transition markers

Having run past my own bike on at least one occasion, I know first hand how hard it can be to find your place in transition. Unfortunately, that is just part of the sport, and it is not allowed to use anything to try and mark your sport in transition.

You would be amazed at the variety of objects and techniques competitors use to mark their spots! I’ve seen helium balloons, homemade flags, big talcum powder symbols, flashing rear lights and all manner of other things.

If it’s possible for the officials to remove them, then they will, making it even harder to find your place if you’re looking for a big balloon that’s no longer there. If the marker can’t be removed, then a penalty  is given, so try to remember your spot using some other landmarks. Don’t use the people around you! If they’re faster or slower than you, then it’ll all look different in T1/T2 any way!

Final word: Penalties and officials

Triathlon Technical Official's kit stored in its kit bag
Race official’s kit all packed up into its bag

I’ve mentioned penalties a few times in this post, so just thought I’d clarify what penalties can be given out. Officials have 3 different ways they can deal with rule infringements:

  • a verbal warning
  • 2 minutes time penalty
  • disqualification

If an official offers you a verbal warning to correct something, say a helmet violation, then it’s almost certainly best to take it as it’ll take less time than the 2 minute penalty you’re avoiding by fixing it!

That being said, officials are volunteers doing it for the good of the sport, and aren’t generally out to penalise competitors and ruin their race. We are almost all competitors or former competitors who know what it’s like to race! I class it as a good day if the race happens fairly and safely, and I haven’t had to post any penalties. I will almost always look to provide a warning and let you rectify the situation, rather than award a penalty.

The full triathlon rules can be downloaded from the British Triathlon website (PDF).

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