August 5, 2014

11 Dumb Ways to Ruin a Race

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “if you don’t want to follow the rules then no one can stop you.”

Race rules are intended to safeguard triathletes and create a level playing field.  The need to create rules and enforce them has grown in lockstep with the expansion of triathlon – in particular, with the swelling ranks of athletes competing in races.  Unfortunately, many triathletes either don’t know the rules or choose to ignore them.

Recently there was a request on the USA Triathlon coaches email group to share the common rule violations with triathletes. Below is a list of the common rule violations along with my comments on each.

1. Helmets:   You must wear your helmet the way it was purchased without modifications and it must be worn at all times while you’re on your bike.  This rule goes on to say you have to wear your helmet before, during, and after the event.

Penalty:  Disqualification

My Thoughts:  I’ve seen plenty of exceptions to this rule.  If you want to attach a Go Pro video camera or a small stuffed animal of some sort to your helmet there’s a good chance you won’t get penalized…just be sure to check with the race director or a referee before the race.  As for wearing your helmet before and after the race, I’ve never seen anyone get a penalty for not having their helmet on while riding, say, to the bike drop-off area or out of it… but be aware that it IS considered a violation.

2. Chin Straps:   Your chin strap must be buckled at all times when you’re on your bike. Never unbuckle your chin strap unless you are off your bicycle.

Penalty: Disqualification on the course; Variable time penalty in transition area only.

My Thoughts:  Pay particular attention to this one because race officials have very little sense of humor if you violate this rule.  On more than one occasion I’ve seen an athlete’s day abruptly end, especially as he headed out after the swim-to-bike transition, because he forgot to buckle up.

3. Outside Assistance:  You can’t receive assistance other than that offered by race and medical officials because triathlons and duathlons are individual tests of fitness.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  The key is you can’t receive equipment or help from spectators, although I have seen referees look the other way when an athlete gets a little help changing a flat tire.  On the other hand you can give things to spectators.  So if you want to get rid of some extra clothes you needed early in the bike leg to fend off the cool morning air that won’t cost you.  Again it’s always a good idea to check with the race referees before the race to be sure…just because I said it doesn’t mean the referee will agree.  

 4. Transition Area:   Place all your equipment in the properly designated or your individually assigned bike corral. The wheel of your bike must be down on the side of the assigned space.  You must return your bicycle to an upright position in its designated bicycle corral.  No person shall interfere with another participant’s equipment or impede the progress of another participant.  Your bar ends must be solidly plugged and you can’t bring ANY glass containers into the transition area.

Penalty:  Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  Transition areas can be very crowded, busy places so be courteous and efficient with your space…remember you’re setting up for your race transition not base camp to ascend Mt. Everest!   

 5. Bike Fouls: There are four defined bike fouls.

a)     Drafting:  Keep at least three bike lengths of clear space between you and the cyclist in front.  If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds.

Penalty:  Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  Drafting is probably the most commonly violated rule in every race, especially if it’s a flat bike course.  Intentionally drafting is cheating and unfortunately many riders are okay with a little cheating.  Unintentional drafting can occur if you’re not paying attention after a rider passes you because they usually slow down after the pass and drift back toward you.  Stay alert!

b)     Position:  Keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing. Always pass on the left, never on the right…unless of course you’re racing in a country where traffic rides on the left and passes on the right.

c)      Blocking:  Riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass.

Penalty for each:  Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  Position and blocking fouls are also very common and dangerous because quite often faster riders end up going off course just to get around a slower rider who’s riding in the middle of the road.  I’ve been in races where the end result of such carelessness ended in tragedy.  Better to abandon the PR and avoid a DOA.

d)     Overtaking:  Once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear before attempting to pass again.

Penalty:  Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  The overtaken foul gets my vote for the most annoying since it often happens because the individual being past gets competitive and speeds up instead of allowing you to pass.  Wish I had a recommendation for this, but I don’t.     

6. Course:   You’re required to follow the prescribed course and to stay within all coned lanes.  Cutting the course is an obvious violation and going outside the course is a safety issue. You’re not permitted to cross a solid yellow center line for ANY reason. You must obey all applicable traffic laws at all times.

Penalty:  Referee’s discretion

My Thoughts:  This is likely the single most important safety rule because many bike courses are not closed meaning cars are traveling close to riders.  Anyone who’s ever witnessed or personally experienced a bike/car collision knows that the race violation penalty is the least of athlete’s problems.  

7. Unsportsmanlike-Like Conduct:   Foul, harsh, argumentative or abusive language or other unsportsmanlike conduct directed at race officials, USA Triathlon officials, volunteers, spectators or fellow athletes is forbidden.

Penalty:  Disqualification

My Thoughts:  If you think this isn’t an issue than I suggest you volunteer to staff a penalty tent at a triathlon.  Just like prison the penalty tent is full of people claiming their innocence!  There is never a good reason to be abusive – remember this is a tough day for EVERYONE involved in the race:  athletes, volunteers, and supporters alike.  Be nice.

8. Headphones:   Headphones, headsets, ipods, mp3 players, etc. are not to be carried or worn at any time during the race.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  Just imagine the chaos of hundreds or thousands of competitors listening to their favorite songs lost in their own little world!  I have seen athletes in Ironman distance races that carry cell phones and make calls during the race.  Really?  If you MUST do this, you might want to double check with the referees before the race to make sure they’re okay with it.

9. Race numbers:    You’re required to wear your race number at all times during the run. Your number must face the front and be clearly visible at all times and your number may not be cut or folded or altered in any way. Don’t transfer your number to any other athlete or take a number from an athlete that is not competing.

Penalty:  You can receive a variable time penalty for a missing or altered number.  You can be disqualified and receive a one year suspension from membership in USAT for transferring a number without race director permission.  

My Thoughts:  The easiest way to meet this rule is the use an elastic race belt for your number instead of pinning it to your clothes; they are inexpensive and easy to move around so it doesn’t interfere with your stride.  Besides getting a penalty you could miss out on scoring a high quality action shot of you in the race because the photographer won’t be able to identify you afterward. 

10. Wetsuits:   As an age group participant you’re 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 F, age group participants may wear a wetsuit at their own discretion, provided, however that participants who wears a wetsuit within such temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Above 84 degrees wetsuits are prohibited.

My Thoughts:  Prizes and awards may not be important to you so if you do wear your wetsuit in water between 78-84 degrees Fahrenheit be careful because it’s very easy to overheat, especially in a full wetsuit, which can result in anything from physical discomfort to you passing out in the water. 

11. Littering:   All your personal equipment and belongings that you take out onto the course must stay on you the entire time.  No garbage, clothing, etc. shall be thrown on the course.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

My Thoughts:  Your entry fee does not entitle you to trash the course.  Accidents happen, like your bottle flying off your bike.  But if you’re seen intentionally throwing trash or leaving your old tube on the ground when you change a flat then you deserve a penalty. We’re guests in these communities so if you want them to continue to host you, be mindful and dispose of it at the next aid station or in the transition area.

The Breakdown

Here is a chart to give you an idea of the how long you’ll have to contemplate your innocence when you get a penalty.

Distance Category 1st Offense 2nd Offense 3rd Offense
Short or Sprint 2:00 minute 4:00 minutes Disqualification
Intermediate 2:00 minutes 4:00 minutes Disqualification
Long 4:00 minutes 8:00 minutes Disqualification
Ultra 6:00 minutes 12:00 minutes Disqualification


That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

Related Posts


More on the Real Secret to Triathlon Fitness

  My last blog post generated quite a few questions from athletes.  So, I thought I’d sha


The Real Secret to Triathlon Fitness

Do you want to know the secret to getting more triathlon fit?  Yeah, me too. The fact is there


Are Your Habits Helping or Hurting Your Training?

Get Triathlon-Fit First Triathlon training is simple. All you need is enough swim, bike, and r