Triathlon etiquette: From training to post-race

The next time someone blows by you on their $6,000 carbon-fiber-rocket-ship bike or swims over the top of you like they're wrestling an alligator, smile and say, "Thank you. Have a great day."

While that may be difficult to do in reality, there are some things you can do in terms of etiquette and sportsmanship to ensure that you and your fellow competitors have a great race or training day.

The best thing you can do as a coach or athlete is act as a mentor and set an example. Actions speak louder than words in training and racing.

During training

  • Be on time for the group ride, runs and swims. No one wants to wait around.
  • Don't turn workouts into races. Why bike or run with someone if you continually pull ahead?
  • Set an example for other athletes during training. Be a mentor, not a monster workout partner. Ask your running or cycling partners to select the route and don't take pleasure in pushing them too hard during aerobic sessions.
  • Do smile a lot and make positive, fun conversation. No one likes a whiner or complainer.
  • Swim

  • Do ask permission to swim in a lane before getting in the pool.
  • If there are two swimmers in a lane, there is no need to circle-swim. With more than two, circle-swim in a counterclockwise direction.
  • Don't use hand paddles when swimming in a lane with others (unless you and everyone else in the lane are part of a class).
  • To pass another swimmer in the lane, tap their toes then quickly accelerate around them.
  • Bike

  • No spitting or snobbers when pack riding! Pull away from the group when this is necessary.
  • Always ride as straight a line as possible when group riding or racing.
  • I strongly discourage aero bar use during group rides.
  • When braking on turns and descents, be sure to yell out "braking" so others know you are slowing down.
  • If you are in a paceline during a training ride, be sure you understand the rotation so the pack moves smoothly.
  • Never use headsets when riding -- unless you are indoors.
  • Do point out road hazards and signal your intentions on group rides. This includes commenting when cars are near and when you are stopping at a traffic light.
  • Run

  • Don't ask your running partner to carry the gels or water just because they have pockets.
  • When running on a track, stick to the outside lanes if you're a slower runner or recovering. Let the speedsters have the inside lanes.When walking, always stick to the outer lanes.
  • If you are trail running or riding, let the person going uphill have the right of way.
  • Dogs are great companions on trails, but keep them away from other runners and riders. I've seen some terrible falls occur because a dog got tangled up in someone's feet.

At the race

  • Don't monopolize someone's time with idle chit-chat on race morning. You both should be focusing your energy on the race, your equipment and the course.
  • Observe all race rules at all times.
  • Don't use headphones during the race.
  • In the transition area, don't place your bike and equipment on top of someone else's. Respect each athlete's space and equipment.
  • There is no littering on the race course.
  • Keep your pets at home if you're racing. Do you really need another distraction?
  • Swim

  • The swim is always tough, but I've seen athletes actually push and crowd others away from their start positions. Don't grab, push or pull others during the swim. It's not combat swimming.
  • Bike

  • Stay on the right side except when passing. Keep a straight line when riding. Always let the rider ahead of you know you are passing on the left. Above all, obey all safety rules on the course.
  • Discard your water bottles and trash only at aid stations. If you have to discard a bottle, make sure you throw it away from the other athletes.
  • If you have mechanical problems, pull off the course on the right.
  • Run

  • During the run, keep to the right except to pass. When you do pass someone, or see them at the turnaround, offer a word of encouragement.
  • Be careful at the aid stations. This is usually the area where items like gel packs and bottles are dropped, making the pavement extremely slick. There is plenty to drink for everyone. Give each other room to drink and go.

After the race

  • When you cross the finish line, don't be too dramatic. Remove your chip or number, get a drink and move away from the finish chute to make room for the person behind you.
  • Treat the finish line workers with respect. Your day is over, yet they still have a lot to do.
  • After you recover, cheer on the other competitors and talk with the athletes. Offer words of encouragement.
  • If you stick around for the awards, wait until they've all been given out. I know it can be long, but support the other competitors till the end.
  • "Be your own hero" after the race -- whether it was good or bad. Smile, hold your head high and take pride in your accomplishment. You stepped up to the start line, put yourself in the heat of competition and you finished -- even if the only person you were competing against was yourself!

Volunteers and Race Directors

  • Thank them. Never yell at or be rude to the race volunteers.
  • Make an extra effort to thank the race director. Without them, there would be no race.

USA Triathlon is the sanctioning authority for more than 2,000 diverse events ranging from grass-roots to high profile races nationwide. The organization works to create interest and participation in a variety of programs including camps, clinics, races and educational opportunities. For more information, visit their Web site at

By Alan Ley
USAT Coaching Education Manager

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