A few weeks after posting my Should You Buy a USA Triathlon Membership? post, I received my USAT welcome pack in the mail.  One of the goodies that I received was a mini rule book for triathlons, and I’ve been flipping through it whenever I have some down time.

IMG_5717 IMG_5718

I discovered a few rules that I wasn’t aware of and/or commonly see being broken on the triathlon course.  I wanted to share these USAT rules with you!

Article III.3 – “At or during an event, or while at the event site, all participants must…refrain from the use of abusive language or conduct.”


Drop a f-bomb, and you may be penalized.  Good to know, because I sure do my fair share of muttered cursing during transitions and the first part of the run.  Whoops.

Article III.4 – “No participant shall accept from any person (other than a race official) physical assistance in any form, including food, drink, equipment, support, pacing, a replacement bicycle or bicycle parts, unless an express exception has been granted and approved, in writing, by USA Triathlon.”


This means your friend cannot be waiting for you at the start of the run with a bottle of water.  It’s really nice to have family and friends out there on the course, cheering for you, but make sure they don’t try to give you anything, like a drink or something to eat.


Article IV.2 – “Bottom Contact and Resting [During the Swim]. A participant may stand on the bottom or rest by holding an inanimate object such as a buoy, boat, rope or floating object. Excluding the bottom, a participant shall not use any inanimate object to gain forward progress.”


Remember my Wildman Triathlon?  I should’ve been disqualified, but the race officials took pity on me (read the post and you’ll see why).  However, I could’ve completely avoided the chance of disqualification by merely hanging onto the noodle – not using it for forward progress.  Also – good to know that you can rest by standing up in shallow water!


Article IV.4 – “Wet Suits. Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit 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 Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit.”


Wet suits are great because they make you more buoyant, making swimming easier.  However, you can only have this advantage during certain water conditions.  Personally, I hate wet suits and try to avoid them at all costs.

Article V.9 – “Illegal equipment. Any participants who any time uses, wears or carries a headset, radio, headphones, personal audio device, or any other item described in Section 3.4(i) shall be assessed a variable time penalty.”


Basically – no music allowed during ANY part of the triathlon.  Most road races will say no headphones, but truthfully, very few people will get upset if they see you running a marathon with headphones (they usually have to officially bar them for insurance reasons).  But wearing headphones during a triathlon is a huge no-no, mainly because of the cyclists.


Article V.9 – “Chin Strap Violations. The helmet must be fastened before the participant first mounts the bicycle, at all times when the participant is on the bicycle, and must not be unfastened until the participant has dismounted.”


Lesson learned – put on your helmet and snap the strap before you get on your bike!


Article V.10 – “Drafting. Except as otherwise provided in these Rules, while on the cycling course, no participant shall permit his drafting zone to intersect with or remain intersected with the drafting zone of a leading cyclist or that of a motor vehicle….The term "drafting zone" shall refer to a rectangular area seven (7) meters long and two (2) meters wide surrounding each bicycle…. A participant who approaches another cyclist from the rear or from another unfavorable position bears primary responsibility for avoiding a position foul even if the cyclist being approached alters speed.”


Basically, don’t draft (use the cyclist in front of you for wind resistance advantage).  If you are coming on behind someone, it’s your responsibility to stay out of their draft zone, even if they slow down and enter your draft zone.  If you enter someone’s draft zone from the rear, you have 15 seconds to approach, close the gap, and pass.

What happens if you break a rule?


Article III.7 – “Variable Time Penalties. A "variable time penalty" as used in these Rules shall mean a time penalty that varies in accordance with the distance category of the event, as defined by the length of the cycling course. The variable time penalty for each of the distance categories shall be the following:”


Forget to strap on your helmet, and you could be looking at a 2:00 – 4:00 dock on your overall time!


Happy (penalty-free!) triathlon-ing!



  • Ja @Ja on the RUN April 3, 2013, 1:41 pm

    Wow I didn’t know they’re that strict. Are they? I’m thinking of signing up soon! Thanks for sharing this! Will definitely check out that book! 🙂

  • Laura April 3, 2013, 1:56 pm

    Funny story– My husband and his BFF have been doing triathlons for about ten years. Two summers ago the BFF’s wife and I were watching everyone leave transition on their bikes and this guy rolls out and had yet to clip his helmet. Another participant starts freaking out pointing and yelling, “His helmet isn’t clipped on!! That is a violation!!” and causing all sorts of commotion. The other guy (who was clearly just doing the triathlon for fun) replies, “Yeah, yeah it’s on my list of things to do.” haha Now when one of us hasn’t done something we were supposed to take care of we always say, “Yeah, it’s on my list of things to do.”

  • Angela April 3, 2013, 3:04 pm

    How interesting! I never would have guessed about a lot of those!

  • Carina April 3, 2013, 3:08 pm

    Well, the physical assistance and headphones rules apply to most well-organized marathons too if you read the rules. Generally speaking, if you break either rule, you’re not eligible for any award. A few years ago there was some marathon (maybe Milwaukee?) where the first woman got a DQ for taking hydration from family, and then the second woman got a DQ for headphones, so the third woman ended up with the overall title. Obviously for someone like me who is barely a BQ-er, these rules don’t matter too much, so I don’t mind getting water or gu or something from family or friends (I’m not a headphones person in races no matter what). But not unique to tris.

    • Caitlin April 3, 2013, 3:09 pm

      I remember that DQ from the marathon!

  • rebecca @ blueberry smiles April 3, 2013, 4:27 pm

    I still can’t get over that you’re not even allowed to listen to music during an Ironman race! It’s hard to imagine 10+ hours of racing with no music at all.

  • Heather Montgomery April 3, 2013, 6:23 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. Hubby is racing his first tri this weekend and we had no idea of these rules. How embarrassing.

    • Caitlin April 3, 2013, 7:19 pm

      Good luck!

  • Kaleigh April 4, 2013, 10:20 am

    Does everyone get a free USAT rulebook? This is my 2nd year as a member and I’ve never had one..hmm..

    • Caitlin April 4, 2013, 10:24 am

      i think so. did you get a packet with a race belt?

      • Kaleigh April 4, 2013, 10:19 pm

        Nope..I just emailed them, so hopefully I’ll find out why!

  • Heather April 4, 2013, 12:16 pm

    I am doing my first tri this summer and I am so excited. I just bought a one day membership, so will I get any sort of book explaining things? I am a total newbie, so I have been devouring your tri posts like nobody’s biznass. Question: in the swim part, do you have to swim in any certain way?

    • Mitzi July 6, 2013, 12:36 pm

      Entering my first tri also and have the same question!:) Is there a required swim stroke? Or can I start with my faster stroke but change stroke during swim portion if I’m tiring or need to pace myself? (ie switch from freestyle to breast stroke/ or side stroke)
      I’m 53 yrs old and a 1st timer …. Thanks for the tip on language because I have a feeling I would have been in BIG trouble if I hadn’t read your posts!!;)

      • Caitlin July 6, 2013, 2:34 pm

        Good luck!

        You can swim any stroke 🙂

  • Sara April 4, 2013, 12:32 pm

    Ug. Wow I feel like I would need music if I were running. I understand swimming & biking but If I couldn’t have my headphones running for a long period I would find it hard to stay concentrated and motivated!

    Thanks for all the rules though, I would be so scared to participate in one because I feel like I would break some! haha

  • Anna {Herbivore Triathlete} April 4, 2013, 8:30 pm

    I really appreciate you sharing this with your readers. Most of the rules I was already familiar with but I didn’t know you couldn’t accept water, food, etc. from friends and/or family.

    I can’t wait for triathlon season!

  • chattynatty February 12, 2014, 12:15 pm

    getting ready for Sprint Tri and HIM later this year and I joined USAT, but didn’t get a book- did you pay extra? Thanks for the above.

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