Wednesday, May 16, 2012

USA Triathlon Rules, Ironman (and 70.3) Rules: Advice from a Marshal

Somebody pinch me... 1) it's triathlon season in the Midwest, 2) I've been a USAT and WTC marshal for six years.  (Where has the time gone?)

If you are doing an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 race - remember that the rules are basically the same, the penalties are different.  Drafting = red card and 4:00 "rest" for your first and second occurrence.  DON'T urinate or defecate in the penalty tent. (Yes, it happens every year.)  Yellow card is every other violation - you check in at a penalty tent, tell them your name, you got a yellow card, your race number, resume racing.

FYI - I personally don't give a shit if I know you, don't know you, what country you are from, who you are friends with, what your name is... a penalty is a penalty.  Ask my friend Jeremy who got a yellow card from me in Kona last year.  It was a legit call.  No breaks for anyone - this isn't the NBA.

Here are the 10 most violated rules in USA Triathlon races from 2011: 

1. Helmets: Only helmets approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) may be used in USAT sanctioned events. Helmets must be worn at all times while on your bike. This means before, during, and after the event.

Penalty: Disqualification

Story - caught a guy (who races pro now) using a German skateboard helmet guts with homemade aeropanels and fraudulent CPSC stickers.  Fraud will earn you a USAT suspension. The WTC view on helmets is: Your helmet.  Your problem.  So if you crack your skull using some Chinese knockoff - it's your funeral (or paralysis).

2. Chin Straps: Chin straps must be buckled at all times when on a bicycle. DO NOT unbuckle your chin strap unless you are off your bicycle.

Penalty: Disqualification on the course; Variable time penalty in transition area only.

Story - this is the dumbest penalty in history and EVERY YEAR we get guys (mainly) unbuckling their helmet on the road. Don't do it.  Even if you have a bee in your helmet.  Stop first then remove the helmet.  It's very easy to see who has a bee in their helmet BTW, so if you get caught... sell it.

3. Outside Assistance: No assistance other than that offered by race and medical officials may be used. Triathlons and duathlons are individual tests of fitness.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

Story - EVERY year we see "personal aid stations" and most commonly - a spouse or friend running as a pacer. One of my athletes qualified for Kona because one of the women who "beat" her had her husband pacing her through the entire Ironman marathon.  Someone from the north shore of the Chicago area (who doesn't like this person) called the officials and she was disqualified from that race and removed from the start list of Kona that year, the following year and received a one year ban from all Ironman events.  Pretty steep penalty to pay for stupidity.

Story #2 - last year at Ironman Wisconsin a large coaching service was having it's coaches run with people from their program as well as handing up over-the-counter drugs (like psuedephed (sp?), Ibuprofen), food - PowerBars, Clif Bars, fluids.  This group got a personal invitation to a meeting with Ironman brass for Monday morning and several follow up calls.  Additionally, now this group is clearly "on the radar" for marshals who witnessed this (four of us). Dumb move. Every time I see that group I'll check them twice.

4. Transition Area: All equipment must be placed in the properly designated and individually assigned bike corral. The wheel of the bicycle must be down on the side of the assigned space. All participants must return their bicycles to an upright position in their designated bicycle corral. No person shall interfere with another participant’s equipment or impede the progress of another participant. All bar ends must be solidly plugged. No participant shall bring ANY glass containers into the transition area.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

Story - at a race in Wisconsin, I gave a penalty for a woman who didn't want to wait to get to her transition spot as her competition was all around her. So she threw her bike on the fence, got her shoes and ran out of transition without racking her bike.  She was bumped from 1st overall to 4th overall for her 'move'.  Dumb, since she won by :37 seconds and would have been fine if she waited 2-4 seconds. She was really pissed, but the women around her were quite happy that 'justice' was served.

5. Drafting: Drafting--keep at least three bike lengths (four bike lengths in WTC/Ironman/70.3 races) of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds (20 seconds in Ironman/70.3 races). Position--keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing. Blocking--riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass. Overtaken--once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear, before attempting to pass again.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

FYI - Once you ENTER a draft zone the only LEGAL way out is from the FRONT.  Pros get nailed on this all the time.  They surge up and then rest a little.

TIP - Regardless of how fast you are - ride on the right side of the road unless you are immediately passing someone.

TIP #2 - It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to keep a legal distance to the person you are immediately behind.  If a pack swallows you up... if you keep your distance as best you can, I can tell if you are trying versus "pressing on".  Ask the age group men at the pointy end of the field climbing to Hawi about keeping legal space. EVERYONE is trying to get position.  When we start that climb - I look for the guys who are not making ANY effort to ride cleanly.  Pretty easy to pick out those guys/gals really. 
6. Course: All competitors are required to follow the prescribed course and to stay within all coned lanes. Cutting the course is an obvious violation and going outside the course is a safety issue. Cyclists shall not cross a solid yellow center line for ANY reason. Cyclists must obey all applicable traffic laws at all times.

Penalty: Referee's discretion

TIP - don't cut the course - we use timing mats for a reason.  You WILL get nailed.  ALWAYS follow course volunteer instructions as they are in charge of your safety.

Story - had a cyclist go head to head with a full cement truck thinking he is "racing" and the cement truck would yield to him.  News flash to that guy... cement truck drivers working on a Saturday don't give a shit about your stupid triathlon clogging up their roads. In a battle of physics (cyclist vs. fully loaded cement truck) - give me the cement truck and the "over" (as in kill, dead, death, mop you up with a sponge, how would you like your remains displayed?).
7. Unsportsmanlike-Like Conduct: Foul, harsh, argumentative or abusive language or other unsportsmanlike conduct directed at race officials, USA Triathlon officials, volunteers, spectators or fellow athletes is forbidden.

Penalty: Disqualification

Tip: different marshals have different tolerances for language.  I draw the line at "Is this directed toward a person (ANY PERSON)?"  If yes, then penalty.  If I call a penalty on you and you scream, "AW THAT'S BULLSHIT!" (as one pro did) - I won't add on unless you direct it at me.  Say, "YOUR FULL OF SHIT!" and boom... penalty. Call another racer an "asshole" - even if they are - boom, penalty.

8. Headphones: Headphones, iPhones, mobile phones of any type, headsets, walkmans, ipods, mp3 players, or personal audio devices, etc. are not to be carried or worn at any time during the race.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

Tip: We've seen them all - even the flesh colored headphones.  Very easy penalty to call.  Get people every year. 

Busted a woman at Ironman Wisconsin who told me she was "tucking in her kids" when I was behind her and heard her asking whoever was on the other end, "How far back am I from the second qualifying spot?"  Confiscated phone and stand down penalty right there on the spot.  Argue with me and I hold you longer.

The issue is two fold: 1) pacing - easier to run when you have your favorite music pumping into your brain (easier to shut out the pain too), 2) safety - I've loaded too many people into ambulances because someone couldn't run a 10k without their Rhianna and was hit by a Honda mini-van when an impatient mommy had to get through the intersection and clips a race participant.  I've loaded race leaders, MOPers and BOPers. 

No music.

9. Race numbers: All athletes are required to wear race numbers at all times during the run. Numbers must face the front and be clearly visible at all times. Numbers may not be cut or folded or altered in any way. DO NOT transfer your number to any other athlete or take a number from an athlete that is not competing.   **NOTE: Ironman and 70.3 races you need to bike with the number on as well.**

Penalty: Variable time penalty for missing or altered number, Disqualification and one year suspension from membership in USAT for transferring a number without race director permission.

TIP: if you lose your number due to high winds or a crash - tell the marshals you see so we DON'T penalize you.

10. Wetsuits: Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wetsuit 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 wetsuit at their own discretion, provided, however that participants who wears a wetsuit within such temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Above 84 degrees, wetsuits are prohibited.
**NOTE: IRONMAN / 70.3 races the water temp is 76.0 F**TIP: Yes, we look at EVERY swim exit picture to ensure you didn't cut down a DeSoto T1 wetsuit to look like jammers (men).  Ask the guy who got DQ'd and removed from the Vegas World Championship last year.  Dumbass cracker.
11. Abandonment: All personal equipment and belongings taken out onto the course must stay on the athlete the entire time. No garbage, clothing, etc. shall be thrown on the course.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

TIP: if you brought it with you it must come back with you - or be disposed of at an aid station. Seriously... just drop it at an aid station.  How hard is that?

Variable Time Penalties

Story: My friend Jeff Zematis won a race by 3:58.  He dropped (launched) a water bottle somewhere on the bike course and was unaware he did it.  Got a penalty for 4:00 and lost by :02.  It was a legit call, but it sucks to lose a race that way.  Jeff would have picked up his bottle had he known he lost it. 

Lastly - three penalties in ANY federation gets you a DQ from that race.

Have fun!


  1. I recently so a comment about racers working together during the bike segment. If you can't draft, how does that work? Jay

  2. Great question Jay.

    Even riding at legal distance a draft is still "there". The difference is if we have 3-5 athletes together versus one athlete completely by him/herself. If I can see my competition. I can talk to them (shout to them). I know how fast you are going. This is how they'd work together - matching splits. Maybe sharing the load of riding first in the line (legally).

    I liken it to driving behind a semi-trailer truck. You may be riding at "safe" distance, but the truck is still pulling you forward as they move forward through air. The drag (reduced air pressure) makes it easier for you to pedal. I've had my bike up to 43 mph on a flat road behind a semi before (for ~more than 1 mile). I knew the driver and do NOT endorse this behavior as it is still very dangerous.