Rules for Triathletes

After running two small brick sessions I’ve noticed that there’s a bit of a grey area of knowledge when it comes to rules. If this season is going to give you your first BTF (British Triathlon Federation) sanctioned race, then you’ll be following their rules. Most are common sense, but there are a few that could catch you out and in fact should have prevented a few of the group from taking part in the brick sessions.

I’m not going to go through all the rules and regulations, there are a lot and they can all be found on the BTF web site (link below). I’ve just listed a few below that I’ve been asked about and a few that it’s easy to get undone by.

Before the race

1.5 “All persons unable to produce a current race licence [eg BTF membership] at race registration shall pay the appropriate day membership fee [membership + insurance] which is non-refundable” For those doing several races and lots of training, this has got to be taken up. BTF membership is £40 for membership and this covers your day licence and insurance, and, also insures you for when you’re training, and, gets you a copy of the British Triathlon Annual Handbook and Trinews (the BTF magazine) – a Bargain in my opinion.

1.7 “Copies of the [race] rules must be made available to all competitors a minimum of two weeks prior to the event” This sounds obvious, but please, please, read the information sent to you when you get your race pack. Every race will have slightly different rules, eg whether tri bars are allowed, whether fixed gear bikes are allowed (generally not), etc. Read, re-read and read again.

8 – Banned Equipment “Any equipment that acts as an impairment to hearing or concentration is prohibited from use during an event (including transition). This includes … mobile phones (which should be switched off in transition), personal stereos and MP3 players” For anyone used to taking part in 10k, ½ and full marathons, I’m sure you’re used to wearing your iPod and listening to your favourite Take That track to get you around the race. These are strictly forbidden in triathlon, and the marshalls/referees are pretty hard on people who ignore the rules. The penalty can range from a verbal warning, through a time penalty, through to disqualification. There are a huge list of activities that may result in a big DQ on your results – again the rules book shows these.

21.4 “Competitors must take responsibility for knowing the technical and competition rules and abide by them” Ignorance is no defence. And don’t think that because you’re not members you don’t have to abide by the rules. Each race you take part in has a mandatory day membership, so you WILL be a member and you WILL follow the rules.


9.2 “A wetsuit may consist of up to three separate parts. The wearing of wetsuit leggings only, gloves and/or socks is not permitted” This means that those of you who get cold toes are going to have to get used to it. It’s tempting to wear the Orca or Blue Seventy swim socks, but they’re not allowed in a race, as they’re seen as an unfair advantage. Unless you have a peripheral vascular disease and have an exemption, then prepare for cold toes!

9.4 “The minimum temperature for a standard distance swim (1500m) is 12.5degC” Yes 12.5 degrees, this is the main reason we keep saying to get out into open water and experience the cold.

9.6 – Temperatures where wetsuits are worn. See the rules book for this, but I’ve had a few questions as to when you would or wouldn’t wear a wetsuit. For a standard distance, if the water is below 14degC, then you must wear a wet suit, above 22degC, they are forbidden. Between these temperatures, they are optional.


23.5 “Competitors must mount their cycles … outside the transition area” Check where this is for your race, in fact check your entire route for the race, especially distances from leaving the water back into transition and the distance from the bike rack to the mount/dismount lines. Some races may have 4-500 m runs in these transitions – be prepared.

23.7 “Competitors must not interfere with another competitor’s equipment in the transition area” I’ll leave this to your imagination!


11.2 – Cycling equipment, there are some exacting standards here that apply to the configuration of a bike, most ‘standard’ road bikes will fit. But there are few ‘gotcha’s, for instance, they must measure at least 24cm from the ground to the centre of the chain wheel axle (bye-bye Bromptom!). Front disc wheels are banned, and “wheel covers or disc wheels are allowed on the rear wheel only for non-drafting events”, “there must be a brake on each wheel”, “both wheels must be classified as free wheels” (ie no fixed gear bikes” and “handlebars and tri-bars must be plugged”) (There was one rider this Sunday with a plug missing and one last Sunday. If you are missing a handlebar plug, get it sorted!)

11.3 “Approved cycling safety helmets of ANSI Z90.4, SNELL 890, EN1078 … must be worn by competitors” This goes for races AND for training (in my opinion), so from now on, for any bike training session, no helmet = no ride, and this is going to be enforced going forwards. I’ve been lenient until today. For races, make sure your helmet has a sticker inside with one of those standards. Also, if the helmet is more than 3 years old I would suggest a new one as they start to degrade. In races I’ve heard of marshals physically snapping old and weak helmets – be aware. (See Rule 11.5)

21.2 “Competitors must … obey the laws of the land and observe traffic regulations” Sounds obvious, but in any race, unless the race is on closed roads, then you MUST observe the highway code. When we cycled across to Hackney marshes a few weeks ago, several group members felt it wasn’t necessary to stop at red lights. You MUST observe the highway code. Again, penalties will be given to anyone who infringes the highway code when we’re on a group ride whether as a formal ride, or as a ride between two sessions.

24.3 “During the cycling phase, a number must be displayed on the rear”+ 24.4 “During the running phase, a number must be displayed on the front”. You will only be provided with one race number, so please, don’t think of using safety pins. Get yourself a race belt, it will save you time.

26.2 “During the event, competitors are individually responsible for the repair of their machines” Do you know how to change an inner tube? How to fix a broken chain? If not, then practice. I know from personal experience that punctures may be the end of a race – prepare, prepare, prepare.

26.7 “Helmets must be fastened before the competitor’s cycle is moved from its allotted place in the transition area and must remain fastened until the cycle is returned to this position at the end of the cycle section of the race” I hope this is common sense by now?

Draft rules – there are lots of these, and I’m sure you all know what drafting is by now. For a big event, the marshalls/referees will be looking at intention to draft, so basically if you’re coming up behind another rider either overtake or pull back, do not sit on their back wheel. Note this rule only applies during the bike section, there’s nothing to say you can’t draft in the swim or run.

Penalties – during the race the referee’s word is god, whatever he says you MUST follow his instructions. If you wish to appeal after the race you may, but during the race, follow his instructions.

Okay, there are a lot of rules here, and in the rule book are many more. I’m not doing this to scare you or to say that triathlon is just a huge list of rules and regulations preventing you from doing your best. They are all there for safety. In a big race, eg London Tri, with over 13,000 competitors, rules are there for everyone’s safety.

My big thought from this? Take out the BTF membership, read the rules and be a considerate triathlete. We’re all there representing London Fields Triathlon Club and want to show the very best of Hackney.

Finally, enjoy your race! Karl (LFTC Coach)

BTF Rules
BTF Membership
First Timers Guide to Triathlon