WARNING: 11 Triathlon Rules You Need To Be Aware Of

by Jim P.

bike helmets, bikes, newbie mistakes, transitions, triathlons

So you’ve made the decision to train and compete in a triathlon.

You invested in the necessary gear and equipment, followed a sound training plan, and you’ve identified one or more triathlon events to compete in.

It would also be wise to be mindful of the triathlon rules.

Here’s why…

USA Triathlon Rules

In case you didn’t know, USA Triathlon (USAT) is the sanctioning authority for most, if not all, triathlons you will participate in.

There are rules.

The USAT states that these rules are designed to “maintain consistency and order from race to race across the country.”

You can download the triathlon rules, which include sections on membership, as well as rules of conduct for swimming, cycling, running, and transition. There are also special sections on protests, hearings and appeals, and rules modifications for physically challenged athletes.

The USAT has identified the most common rules violations for which triathletes are most often disqualified or penalized.

The rules violated and the subsequent penalties are as follows:

#1  Helmets

Only helmets approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) may be used in USAT sanctioned events. Helmets must be worn at all times while on your bike. This means before, during, and after the event.
Penalty: Disqualification

#2  Chin Straps

Chin straps must remain buckled at all times when on a bicycle. You cannot unbuckle your chin strap, unless you are off your bicycle.
Penalty: Disqualification on the course; Variable time penalty in transition area only.

#3  Outside Assistance

Since triathlons are individual tests of fitness, no assistance other than that offered by race and medical officials may be used.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

#4  Transition Area

All equipment must be placed in the properly designated and individually assigned bike corral. Furthermore, the wheel of your bike must be down on the side of the assigned space. You must return your bike to an upright position in its designated bicycle corral. You cannot interfere with another participant’s equipment or impede the progress of another participant. All bar ends must be solidly plugged. And you cannot bring any glass containers into the transition area.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

#5  Drafting

You must keep at least 3 bike lengths of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds. Always keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing; riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass is not permitted. Once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear before attempting to pass again.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

#6  Course

You must follow the prescribed course and stay within all coned lanes; cutting the course is an obvious violation and going outside the course is a safety issue. You cannot cross a solid yellow center line for any reason. You must obey all applicable traffic laws at all times.
Penalty: Referee’s discretion

#7  Unsportsmanlike Conduct

These are forbidden: Foul, harsh, argumentative or abusive language or other unsportsmanlike conduct directed at race officials, USA Triathlon officials, volunteers, spectators or fellow athletes.
Penalty: Disqualification

#8  Headphones

Headphones, headsets, walkmans, iPods, mp3 players, and other types of personal audio devices are not to be carried or worn at any time during the race.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

#9  Race numbers

You must wear a race number at all times during the run. Your number must face the front and be clearly visible at all times. Numbers may not be cut or folded or altered in any way. You also cannot transfer your number to any other athlete or take a number from an athlete who is not competing.
Penalty: Variable time penalty for missing or altered number, Disqualification and 1-year suspension from membership in USAT for transferring a number without the race director’s permission.

#10  Wetsuits

You are permitted to wear a wetsuit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees, you may wear a wetsuit at your own discretion. However, if you wear a wetsuit within such temperature range, you will not be eligible for prizes or awards. Above 84 degrees, wetsuits are prohibited.

#11  Abandonment

All of your personal equipment and belongings taken out onto the course must stay on your person the entire time. No garbage, clothing, etc. is ever allowed to be thrown on the course.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

USAT Triathlon rules and violations that you need to know as a triathlete.

Triathlon Rule Violations

There are a few rules violations a newcomer might especially be prone to commit.

Here are a few:

  • Listening to your iPod may sound like a great idea for managing the run. Unfortunately, that would violate rule #8.
  • Let’s say you unhook your chin strap as you are rolling that last 10 feet before you enter the transition area. Oops–you just broke rule #2.
  • Maybe a mile into the run you decide you’d rather go shirtless. You pull off your top and toss it. You just violated rule #11.
  • Perhaps you are a relatively inexperienced cyclist and basically unclear on the specifics of what constitutes a violation of the drafting rule #5. Not good!
  • Something goes wrong in the transition area, and your sympathetic friend or significant other comes in to help you figure it out. That’s a no-no based on rule #3.
  • Your race number is flapping around and getting on your nerves. Y
    ou yank it off, fold it up, and slip it under your tri shorts. That violates rule #9.
  • During the swim, triathlete #128 tells you to get out of his way and kicks you hard in the face as he swims by. Later, you pass #128 on the bike and as you do, you have a few expletives to share loudly and you flip him off as you drop him going up the hill. If someone sees it, you’ve just disqualified yourself on the basis of rule #7.

So, the moral to the story is: be mindful of the official triathlon rules. By reading this post, you can knock ignorance off the list of things that would contribute to you getting disqualified. If you didn’t already know, now you do.

Have you ever been penalized or disqualified in a triathlon? If so, it would be great to hear what happened. Thanks!