It's almost D-Day! Soon you'll finally be able to soak up this new experience, and discover what it is like to practise three different disciplines in one competition. You've been training hard for the last few weeks, or months, in preparation for your first triathlon. It's all systems go: your swimsuit is just waiting to slide into the water with you, your bike has itchy wheels and your trainers are running laps around your living room.

But are you sure you haven't forgotten any tiny details? If I asked you about triathlon rules, would you know what I'm talking about?

Yes, just as for all sports that are regulated by a federation, triathlon competitions are governed by some very specific rules you need to know in order to make the event enjoyable for all the participants and organisers.

In this article, I'm going to list the main rules you will come across at triathlon events. Please bear in mind that these rules have been established by the triathlon federation as well as by event organisers, i.e. people who have a complete knowledge of all three sports. These rules mostly concern safety, and are for the most part, good common sense. Firstly, we're going to look at the rules that concern pre-race preparations, and then we will go on to look at the regulations that apply during the race itself.


The first step will be to collect your race bib. To do so, you will need to have a triathlon licence. If this isn't the case, you will need a medical certificate proving that you don't have any medical conditions that would prevent you from taking part in a triathlon competition.

Once you have collected your bib, you will have to put your bike in the transition area.

When you enter this area, an official will check your bike and make sure it conforms to triathlon standards. In trials where drafting (trailing another cyclist to take advantage of the reduced air pressure) is permitted, time-trial bikes and aero bars are not allowed.

When you enter the bike park, you will have to wear your helmet attached, as well as your bib around your waist. Once you have found your allocated spot, take the time to organise it so you don't get in the way of other competitors during the race. If the organisers have provided crates, use them to store all your belongings during transitions.

Please note that during certain races, once your things are placed in this area, you won't have access to them before the race, so make sure you don't forget anything!

As for neoprene wetsuits, the organisers will tell you what the temperature of the water is. If the water temperature is below 16°C, you won't have any other choice but to wear a suit no thicker than 5 mm.Between 16° and 24°, it will be up to you whether you wear a suit or not. Above 24.5°, you will not be permitted to wear a neoprene wetsuit.



Whatever the format of your race, and whatever your level, everyone must respect the rules to give each participant the same chance of success, because even though some participants are "in it to win it", don't forget that we compete first and foremost for fun, and if there were no rules, the race would be a lot less enjoyable.

As for all competitions, each competitor must set off at the same time so that everyone can start on an equal footing. Don't forget, nothing is gained by running if you don't start on time!

During the swimming portion of the race, drafting is allowed, so you can take advantage of the "wave" created by the swimmer next to you. However, even if contact does frequently occur, especially at group starts, the triathlon is an endurance sport rather than a combat sport, so you don't need to fight or drown your swimming neighbour - or you risk being disqualified!

Once you have left the water and entered the transition area, make sure you respect the direction of traffic when you go to get your bike. This is when your transformation from swimmer to cyclist happens.

Remember not to leave your things lying around. If bags or crates are provided by the organisers, make sure you use them so the area stays tidy for the next transition.

You'll have to wait until you're completely out of the area before you mount your bike. In general, a line is marked at the exit, and it is only once you have crossed this line that you will be able to start pedalling.

This is just good common sense, but make sure you put your helmet on properly before you even pick up your bike, and that the chin strap is correctly attached. Sometimes the fatigue from swimming and the excitement can quickly make you lose your head. Here's a tip: place your helmet on your handlebars - it's the best way not to forget it!

During the cycling portion of the race, remember to put your bib on so that it is visible from the back.


Depending on the race format, drafting may or may not be allowed.

Don't worry, you will find all these details in the regulations you'll be given with your bib. For super sprint, sprint and olympic events, drafting is often allowed, so you will be able to cycle in the peloton with the rest of the competitors. However, for Half Ironman and Ironman events, drafting is usually banned. This allows the level of difficultly to be raised and also reduces the risk of accidents linked to the presence of time-trial bikes, which impede visibility because of the aerodynamic position cyclists have to maintain for several hours. When drafting is forbidden, you will have to respect certain distances between competitors: 12 metres behind and three metres to the side. If you wish to overtake, you will have to do so as quickly as possible so that it is not considered as drafting. If you yourself are overtaken, you should slow down so that you respect the 12-metre gap.

During the cycling portion of the race, remember to put your bib on so that it is visible from the back.

Once the cycling is over, you will have to tackle the last stage: running!


As far as rules are concerned, you don't need to remember much, except that your bib needs to be visible from the front. During hot weather, make sure you don't unzip your trifunction suit below your thorax or go bare-chested, as the officials may penalise you for it...

As for exterior aids, whether these are material (hand paddles, pull buoys, flippers, snorkels, bike engines etc.), or not (running "rabbits", doping), none are allowed. The only aid that may, depending on the race instructions, be authorised, is refreshment other than that provided by the organisers. For certain races, you may be able to enjoy refreshment provided by your friends or family during the cycling portion of the race.

As you can see, all the rules you have just discovered usually relate to common sense and mutual respect, allowing us all to practise our sport in pleasant conditions and complete safety. Make sure you know them all off by heart so you aren't caught out at your first race.

Now you know all about triathlon rules, keep up the training and good luck for your future races!



I have always loved sport and have been practising water sports for 15 years, such as swimming and competitive sailing.

I work in the sales team of the Decathlon store at Scionzier, in the Haute-Savoie Department of France.

I have now an amateur triathlete; this sport helps me combine my passion for the water and my desire to push myself physically. I am more comfortable over long distances and the Nice Ironman is my next goal.


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