Tri Talk Tuesday: Ten Triathlon Race Etiquette Tips

Happy Tri Talk Tuesday day! This week is all about variety – yesterday I posted about running in New York City on the Summer Streets, today I’ll share Ten Triathlon Race Etiquette Tips, then I have a few other fun things in the hopper this week – yoga, running, and more! Variety is the spice of life!

So, I was chatting with my Tri Talk Tuesday co-hosts Miranda and Courtney, and we decided that after doing several races this season, it might be a good time to refresh ourselves and our readers on Triathlon Race Etiquette.


Isn’t that something for fancy people who drink tea with their pinkies turned up to the perfectly-styled toile curtains?

Nope, it’s also for racing!

Race-day etiquette is an important part of not just doing well in the race, but also staying safe – and keeping your fellow racer safe too. Here are 10 Triathlon Race Etiquette Tips, and be sure to check out the linkup at the bottom of the post for triathlon blogs linking up with their thoughts on triathlon race etiquette!

Triathlon Race Etiquette Tips



1. Read the Athlete’s Guide and/or Race Website Before Race Day. 

This. This. This. Many races use the website as a main source of information, but you will also find that many have a packet of information that they publish or distribute called the “Athlete’s Guide”. It’s where you can find out everything from where to pick up your packet, to when you bring your bike to the transition area, to your swim wave and swim cap color. Read it through and you’ll feel more prepared for the race.

2. Attend the Pre-Race Course Talk if the race director holds one.

This is where you will get a lot of your etiquette and rules questions answered and you will get an overview of the course and starting procedure. The Pre-Race Course talks are all different but you can expect info about the swim start, mounting the bike, the course, drafting (or no drafting!) rules – and they often take questions.

3. Rack your bike in transition the right direction.

Be kind to your transition rack-mates and rack your bike with the seat facing towards you if you’re standing staring at the bib number on the rack. Here’s a photo of my bike racked at the NYC Triathlon. I loved the fun messages they had for each of us!

Bike Rack NYC Triathlon

If you aren’t assigned a specific spot on a rack, alternate seat directions so your bike isn’t racked in the exact same direction as the one next to you. This will make life easier in transition when you’re all in a hurry to get your bikes and get out of there – or back in for the run.

4. Don’t take up more space than you need in transition.

One small towel, that’s all the space you need! If you start to spread out, your things will be crushed under the weight of someone’s cycling shoes or run over by a bike tire. Also, alternate – don’t set up your things on the same side as the person next to you – if the Athlete’s Guide reminds you to set up by the front tire, then do it! If everyone has their transition towel by the same tire, they’ll all end up alternating to help with space and not getting in each other’s way. If you have a big transition bag, you can leave it by your bike if there’s room and it’s not in anyone’s way, or you can leave it on the edge of the fence of the transition area. Or take it back to your car for the duration of the race.


5. Don’t be rude while swimming in a mass of people.

In the swim portion of a triathlon, you can expect to get kicked, swam over, knocked into, and have a mouthful of water splashed into you just as you breathe. Fine, that’s totally cool and should be expected – this is a RACE! But don’t be a jerk and kick someone or grab onto them on purpose and sabotage their swim. You could be endangering their safety.

6. Don’t stop suddenly with swimmers behind you.

All the athletes are swimming towards the big Swim Exit sign, and thinking through their T1 strategy. Everyone is wanting to be done with the swim – you’re not alone! If you stop suddenly and stand up too early, someone just might crash into you. Keep swimming until your fingers touch the ground – it’s quicker to swim through the water than walk through the water anyhow. This goes for midway through the swim too – if you stop suddenly and tread water, you just might find someone crashing into you. Yes, it’s fine to backstroke, breaststroke, stop and get your bearings – but just be aware of your surroundings. Doing so in a huge mass of people all swimming furiously can be dangerous.


7. Stay to the Right!

Seriously, stay to the right. Don’t ride in the middle or on the left unless you’re passing. It is a rule, and there are many reasons for it – primarily safety!

8. Say it with me: “ON YOUR LEFT!”

Let’s all say it together and practice it so that it will come naturally on race day: “ON YOUR LEFT!” Say this when you are passing someone. Please. I have pulled around a slower cyclist to pass and been almost run over by a cyclist faster than me, who did not announce themselves. I have a legitimate right to pass that person and said “On Your Left” to them, but thank God I checked behind me first or I’d be road kill.

8b. Look over your shoulder before you pass.

I have to add in this side note to #8, we’ll call it “8b”. To avoid being road kill, see #9. Do a quick check over your shoulder before you pass. Pull back into position if you won’t have time to pass before a faster cyclist approaches. I was thanked many times during the NYC Triathlon for this by fast male cyclists catching up with my wave.


9. Have common courtesy.

This is an important tip but it’s all tied in together:

    • During the run, stay to the right as you did in the bike leg unless you’re passing.
    • Don’t run 2-3 people across and block the course for others.
    • Be aware when going through aid stations – don’t stop suddenly in the middle of the path if you need to get a drink of water or a gel.
    • Try to aim your empty cup to/towards a trash can or the side of the road, so that others don’t slip on it and it’s easier for the volunteers to clean up.


10. Thank the volunteers!

There are tons of volunteers needed to make a race go smoothly. Thank them, appreciate them, don’t litter and make their job harder, and consider volunteering for a race yourself.

What is your biggest pet peeve on race day?

 Share something you’ve learned about race etiquette in the comments!

NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC: BURNOUT. Feel free to link up if you’re a running or other fitness blogger, it will be wider-reaching than just triathlon next week!

Tri Talk Tuesday

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Cynthia @ You Signed Up For What?!

Cynthia @ You Signed Up For What?!

Cynthia Steele is a runner, triathlete, & working mom of 3 little kids. She has lost 50 pounds through fitness and healthy eating and writes about fitting in all this crazy stuff while juggling work and kids.
Cynthia @ You Signed Up For What?!

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  1. says

    Even though I’ve never run a tri, I’m going to say “great tips!” these are all good things to keep in mind if I ever do one. I kind of want to try the NYC Tri one day because swimming in the hudson is pretty cool, but I think next spring I will try something mini. I’m talking mini mini if I can find one lol. I’m terrified of the whole swimming and getting knocked into by other people!
    Patty @ Reach Your Peak recently posted…Race Day ErrorsMy Profile

  2. says

    YES!…basically to all of these but please don’t take up more room then you need for transition! I’ve seen people bring more gear then I would for a full day of riding and then, knock over my shoes, etc. during their transition. It’s so awful to get to your bike and find your stuff scattered. I want to print out a copy of this and hand it out before the race :-)
    Allie recently posted…Flying 5K – My First Official Race for Oiselle!My Profile

  3. says

    I agree whole heartedly on the swimming ones! There was a lot of anger and frustration in the water at IG Syracuse this year for both the stopping and the walking since it’s so shallow. A lot of really ticked off athletes and a lot of under prepared swimmers clogging things up. And both things combined can make for an unsafe swim!
    Courtney@The TriGirl Chronicles recently posted…Tri Talk Tuesday – Race EtiquetteMy Profile

    • says

      I am totally supportive of people doing what they need to do in a race to get through, but people just need to be aware of their surroundings and the people who are trying to do THEIR race around them. Hopefully everyone was okay at the Iron Girl you were at!

  4. says

    OMG. Cynthia, I am definitely going to link back to this post in one of mine next week; I have had horrible experiences lately, on foot, with cyclists not announcing themselves and runners/walkers not giving way to cyclists!! Is there no etiquette anymore?!? Okay, sorry, I digress. Anyway, great post and I appreciate you reminding all of us about this important information! :)
    Tara @ Running ‘N’ Reading recently posted…Marathon Training TuesdayMy Profile

  5. says

    I agree with so many of these, especially being respectful during the swim. One of my friends was doing an Ironman and had his cord pulled, unzipping the back of his wetsuit. He said it started to fill with water and was one of the most terrifying moments of his life. I personally have had bad experiences on the bike with riders veering too far into the middle or right with no one around them. What the heck? How hard can it be to stay to the LEFT? I needed this today. :)
    Kristen @ Glitter and Dust recently posted…As My Second 70.3 Ironman Approaches…My Profile

    • says

      I was doing more reading after I posted this, and see people saying they only say On your left in training and not in a race. I honestly think that’s dangerous. You never know if someone is going to swerve to avoid a pothole or do something unexpected and it would be dangerous.

  6. says

    Yes definitely look over your shoulder on the bike before passing. So many near accidents because people don’t take three seconds to check behind them. And like you said, the swim can be hectic and kicks to the face happen but you don’t need to bulldoze past someone or deliberately force them to swim off their chosen “path” to get ahead.
    Ursula recently posted…Race Day EtiquetteMy Profile

    • says

      I’m used to looking over my shoulder from biking in the road now, so it’s second nature to me. And yeah, no need to be rude about the swim – just do your race and it’s fine to be aggressive and in it to win it, but you don’t need to purposefully endanger someone!

  7. Lisa says

    #8! Absolutely! I too have almost become roadkill by a much faster cyclist flying past me by surprise. I have also never been told not to announce my presence but have been thanked countless times for doing so!

  8. Paul says

    Great tips, though I would add respect and encouragement of fellow triathletes. A kind word or two can do wonders for the spirit, especially if your world feels like it’s unravelling deep into the run!

    Due to the huge rise in popularity of triathlon a good number if athletes are new to the sport at each event. Kindness and encouragement will encourage people to compete again and again which will only benefit the sport we love.

  9. Kris says

    The 2-3 wide running really grates on me. At a recent duathlon, 3 people were running side by side taking up the entire area that was coned off for the run leg. I heard a few people say something but they didn’t single out. Finally I sped up and passed them. Not sure how they didn’t get the clue to single out with people running between them constantly.
    And yes, kind words of encouragement or a helpful tip to someone that may be new to tris is so appreciated!