The Beginning Triathlete’s Guide to Racing Etiquette (Or Why I’ll Never Pee Myself on the Bike)

I have a bone to pick—lots of them, actually.

I love racing. I truly do. I’ve made no secret of that, and I know a lot of you share this love.

Photo by Warner Bros.

After spending days on end training by ourselves, sharing the camaraderie and sense of community associated with racing is the best payoff an athlete could ask for.  But there are some things that irk me, and I know you’re in the same boat.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a runner, triathlete, swimmer, belly-dancer…there’s just some graciousness to be shown in the competitive setting. Whatever happened to common courtesy and manners, people?

Have we become a bunch of spandex-wearing savages?

As NMA’s Resident Triathlete, I try to positively coach you in many positive ways: giving you lots of high-fives, warm-fuzzy feelings, and talk of rainbows and sunshine and happy triathlon goodness.

But sometimes, a swift kick in the ass is needed.

If you break any of the racing-etiquette rules below, bend over and get ready to be introduced to my bike-cleat-covered foot.

Respect the box.

I did a brief stint in China when I was in college. One thing I learned is that in China, there’s a different concept of personal space due to lots of people in a small area. The Chinese will think nothing of standing RIGHT NEXT TO YOU, even in an empty room. Awk-waaaard.

This ain’t China, okay?

In a race, let’s give each other some room. Some races, especially triathlons, have rules about how close you can be to another racer without penalty. Most races, tough, don’t have such rules. Police yourself. If you’re running or riding alongside someone, don’t be so close they can see your earwax.

A good rule: After you get past the starting line, if possible, create a box around each runner, and don’t enter that box. If you can clash elbows, you’re too close. I think I’m going to start sharpening my elbows, just to drive this point home (literally) in my next race.

There are port-a-johns. There are bushes. There are roadside ditches. Whiz in ’em…not on me.

Unless you’re a professional athlete competing for the chance to win thousands of dollars in a race, there’s no reason to try to shave off a few seconds by peeing yourself. It’s just wrong.

I was the unfortunate recipient of pee spray during the bike leg of a recent triathlon. I was totally respecting the box…but when you’re behind someone and both of you are going fast, pee spray can travel a long way. Specifically, a long way onto other racers behind you.

Say it with me: Umm…Eew.

Give a hoot–don’t pollute.

About a year ago, I was running a half-marathon when I was suddenly clobbered in the forehead with an empty Red Bull can. The person in front of me chucked it over his shoulder with no regard whatsoever for the racers behind him.

I may or may not have picked it up and hurled it back at his head. Just sayin’.

As vegetarian athletes, we tend to be pretty conscious of a lot of things related to health: our own health, the health of those we love, the health of animals.

Don’t forget the health of the environment, too. There’s no excuse for throwing your empty bottles, drained gel packs, or energy bar wrappers on the ground.

Every aid station in your race will have some sort of trash receptacle available. If you can’t make it to the actual receptacle itself, hand your garbage off to a volunteer so they can dispose of it. Just throwing it on the ground is mean to Mother Nature and hazardous to the runners following behind you.

It’s called a hand towel. Use it.

This one is more specific to triathlon, but it’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine. In the transition areas, hundreds (even thousands) of athletes are expected to rack their bikes and their gear in a very small space.

Triathlon real estate is at a premium. That does not mean you have squatter’s rights to get to a race early, rack your bike, and spread a beach towel out with all your gear, a small petting zoo, and a six-course meal.

Learn to pack your transition items well. If you do things right, you should be able to fit everything you need for your triathlon on a hand towel that fits under your bike. If you can’t accomplish this, don’t be surprised if an angry triathlete “accidentally” kicks your stuff all over the place during a race. We’re passive-aggressive like that.

There is such a thing as too much skin. Especially if you’re racing with me.

There is a time and a place for booty shorts and cleavage, females.

That time and place is called the bedroom — not the starting line of your latest marathon.

I get it. You’re proud of your body. That’s great. If I played for the other team, I’d be ogling your body too. Heck, some of you are so insanely hot, I don’t even need to play for that team to appreciate that.

But goodness…can we please keep the bouncing parts to a minimum, and covered? It’s giving all the rest of us regular, non-cyborg females a complex, and it’s making the men racers trip in front of us. Not cool.

Thank the volunteers. I repeat: THANK THE VOLUNTEERS!

You aren’t the only ones prepping diligently for your race, NMA studs and studettes. Racers often seem to forget that most athletic events are the culmination of weeks, months, even years of planning and organization by many awesome people.

Often, the folks behind the planning and organization are not paid, and they don’t get a medal after the finish like you do. Additionally, the people who are handing you water on the course, pointing you in the right direction, or bandaging up your skinned knees after you trip over an empty Red Bull can or a drooling cyborg-ogling male are also volunteers.

Without the volunteers, these races most certainly would not happen. Let them know you appreciate them so they’ll keep coming back. When you run past an aid station, take a second to smile and chirp “YOU ROCK!”

You are not, under any circumstance, allowed to abuse the volunteers — physically or verbally–because you are having a bad day. Remember that the majority of the volunteers there have no control over the circumstances–if it’s hot, if the course is improperly marked, if an aid station runs out of water. They just do what the race organizers tell them to do.

So don’t lose your cool on the blue-haired Kiwanis Club members manning the aid station. It’s not their fault. After the race, find your course official and complain to him or her.

It’s up to you.

We have the power to make racing a positive experience for everyone, but only if we lead by example. NMAs, I’m counting on you to start a trend of acting like the friendly, awesome, intelligent and courteous athletes I know we all can be.

Ahem. I’ll step off my soapbox now. Maybe get a cupcake to calm my angst.

Let me hear from you: What other common courtesy violations do we need to address?

This post is part of a six-part guide designed to help the beginning triathlete get started (without screwing up too badly).  Check out the entire series!



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  1. Awesome post! It really is amazing how inconsiderate we can become while racing.

    I do find myself wondering though when is it “OK” to pee on the bike. Certainly never when there is anyone down stream from you, that is just completely wrong! But during a 70.3, a pit stop can easily add over a minute to your time. If you are competing for a podium finish in your age group is it worth it to forgo what we typically consider basic human dignity? Or do you just suck it up and add a pit stop or two into your final time?

    Any thoughts or opinions on this?

    • Dude, that’s just gross. You can’t honestly seriously tell me that it’s okay to pee in public, and get it on other people, in a race that matters only to your ego.

  2. I shouldn’t let it deter me, but these stories of getting swam over, hit by things, tripped, etc… Scare the daylights out of me! I suppose once you’ve done a race they get easier to cope with? Maybe?

    • Not only will you find it easier to cope with, you’ll also want to do it again and again and again. Triathlon is the most fun you’ll ever have while wearing spandex. I promise. 🙂

  3. Amen! And respect the box on tight turns, especially if you’re not expecting to place! It’s not worth the potential injury for a few extra seconds.

    can you please do a post on swimming pool etiquette as well??

  4. Haha. So true. I avoided triathlons for years for one reason: triathletes. That MBA-having, sense of entitlement and must-prove self at all costs attitude that some folks didn’t get over in high school. Don’t take yourself so seriously!
    And I’m going to plug the Vineman race in Sonoma County, CA because they go to great lengths to reduce litter; even introducing a paper-cup free method of getting water for the marathon leg. So rad.

    • Ann-Drea says:

      Maybe it’s because I’ve only competed in shorter triathlons at a local level, but I’ve always found triathletes to be the most supportive of the sports (large 5ks are usually where I see the egos). Only one time have I encountered a jerk at that was a cyclist who got mad that a woman (girl he called her) beat his time. I’ve never done an Ironman, but when you are racing for 10 (if you are awesome) to 17 hours, it’s very competitive. Also, for the USAT rules at sanctioned events, discarding any item not in a designated area will cost you a variable time penalty. It’s not worth it.

  5. LOVELOVELOVE Susan’s triathlon posts! Thank you!!

  6. Thank you! Thank you! Than you! I love it when somebody has the balls, er I mean courage to say what needs to be said about a given situation.

    Now, if we could find some middle ground and end the ongoing hostilities between runners and cyclists, the world would be a better place.

    • I am happy my cojones can help make the world a better place, Aaron. Truly, truly happy.

      I think Obama should appoint a special task force to create peace between runners and cyclists. Triathletes and cyclists, too.

  7. Laughing so hard! Specifically at peeing and cyborg females. YES, swimming etiquette, please! Circle swim, thank you very much. And yes, there is a difference between the slow, medium and fast lane…check your ego at the locker room!

    Keep these great tri posts coming!

  8. Susan, since you practice what you preach (or mostly do) and cover yourself in the pool, I have recently purchased a set of x-ray goggles so I can google……lane mate:)

  9. Definitely thank the volunteers, but let’s not forget a little fashion sense: NO arm warmers with sleeveless jerseys. It just needs to stop, it makes us all look bad.

    • Ann-Drea says:

      Fashion sense? I don’t have those, but they are awesome. On longer races that might start out in the cool air, those are great because you can slip them off easily without having to take off your shirt that most likely has your race number pinned to it. Fashion sense should not play into a triathlon.

  10. I definitely agree with you about most of the things you said…especially about the box and the volunteers, but I really hope you’re joking about kicking people’s stuff around. That’s totally uncalled for and just because someone else was a greedy jerkface, doesn’t mean that jerkfaceness should be reciprocated! 😛

  11. Samantha @SKDickey says:

    Snot rockets – UGH!!
    Great article!

  12. I’d like to bring back headbands.

  13. I must say, I ran my second tri today and learned first-hand how essential that small postage-stamp sized area you have for transition!

    This race didn’t give all athletes equitable space and I got the short end of the stick :-/

    Some ended up with 4″ of space (me) and others got ~1′ of space (person next to me). When I got to my bike after the swim, she had thrown her towel over my stuff. I grunted and threw it back to her place and went on my merry way.

    Didn’t matter in the end, I ended up passing her somewhere on the bike course and kicked her butt…felt like sweet revenge 🙂

    I’m scared, now getting officially “tri-crazy”

    • Oh yeah, my “common courtesy violation though was the woman who passed me listening to a radio on her bike. I know headphones are illegal, but it doesn’t mean you have the right to force us all to listen to your music!

  14. David Landsberg says:

    Some triathletes pee on the bike (or run). I don’t like it but it is part of the sport. Deal with it or don’t do tri’s. Michael Phelps admitted he pees in the pool.

    • J Scott Chapman says:

      Just because it is something that has been done in the past doesn’t make it acceptable. Also, she is dealing with it. She’s calling it out.

    • If you’re a serious competitor, there’s nothing wrong with it. There are quite a few big name athletes that have no problem letting loose to save time, muscle cramps, or to warn drafters (especially on the bike) to back off. It’s gross, but try telling a competitive athlete with a short lead to pull over and give up the lead to pit stop. It’s not common in less competitive environments (farther back in races, shorter distances, etc).

  15. Re: “What other common courtesy violations do we need to address?”

    Maybe the common courtesies of gender equity and respect. The title of the section, “There is such a thing as too much skin. Especially if you’re racing with me.”, says it all, really; the statements are blatantly sexist and a projection of internal fear. Your angst is apparent and inappropriate.

    • Agreed, to an extent. It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable with it, but that’s not the other racers’ problem. Personally, my focus is on the race, not on what others are (or aren’t wearing). The basis of clothing seems to be less etiquette and more your pet peeve. Less clothing = less drag, cooler race conditions, etc.

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