Following on from the last article, in this one I’d like to cover a few of the rules that seem to cause confusion, and try to explain what they’re all about as it’s not always clear why they’re in the rulebook. This is not an exhaustive look at the rules by any means and for instance doesn’t cover any of the different rules that apply to children’s or paratriathlon events.

Swim kit: (Rule 9)

Rule 9.1: “Competitors shall use no aids other than a cap, goggles, nose clip and costume, which may be a wetsuit, for open water swims. Coverings below the knee and covering the arms are not permitted in non-wetsuit swims and pool based swims.”

So, where’s the problem with that??   Frankly you’d be surprised at how many questions we get asked like “Can I wear buoyancy shorts; a swimskin over my trikit; calf or arm covers in a pool swim?” Simple answer – NO – they are aids to swimming beyond those allowed so are banned.

But, but, but – wetsuits – they offer buoyancy so are an aid! Yep – you’re quite right – but their prime purpose and intention is to keep you warm in open water. The buoyancy of a wetsuit is ancillary to it’s prime purpose of keeping you warm. And you can wear what you like under a wetsuit (provided it doesn’t offer additional buoyancy!) as it will offer no further advantage over and above the wetsuit itself.

If you are used to wearing calf or arm guards under a wetsuit, remember that you will be asked to remove them for a non-wetsuit swim. And they are NOT allowed in pool swims, no matter what you might think or have been told!

All types of swimskins are banned under BTF rules in non-wetsuit swims as they are seen as an aid to swimming. However, WTC allow them, so we have an immediate conflict of understanding by many who race in both BTF and WTC events.

Rule 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. The maximum permitted thickness of material is 5mm. This maximum thickness also applies to any overlap of material/s.”

So it doesn’t matter what the water temperature is, you cannot wear gloves or socks as well as your wetsuit, as they act like a paddle by closing the gap between fingers and toes. And for those who ask, socks also cover compression socks – basically anything that covers the feet and toes. Calf guards are not socks by their very description and if you wear them, then they must be completely underneath the wetsuit legs.

However, a TO has the discretion to allow socks and gloves in very cold water, especially if the air temperature is low, provided that ALL competitors are made aware of this.

Bikes: (Rule 11)

There are no hard and fast rules on what “type” of bike you can use in a triathlon as long as they comply with certain technical standards (see Rule) and importantly they must have a brake and free hubs on both wheels. This rules out fixed wheel bikes (fixies) but allows most other bikes like mountain bikes, hybrids, folders, “shopping” bikes etc, and from 2015 folding bikes which until now have been banned as they do not conform to the technical regulations.

Aerodynamic bikes (plus aero helmets, deep rim wheels, disks etc) are all the rage for professional, top end age group triathletes, and many of the “all the gear but no idea” brigade who often have more money than ability. Many will say these offer an advantage over “ordinary” bikes and no doubt in the hands of an experienced cyclist, they will help them go quicker, but they are also available to everyone if you have the means (money and/or desire). There is nothing to say that a beginner can’t go out and splurge a good few £k on a great racing machine; equally many events can be won by those on standard bikes (Chrissie Wellington won her 1st Ironman event on a standard road bike with normal wheels) As the now disgraced Lance Armstrong said “it’s not about the bike”, it’s about the athlete on the bike (even if Lance and many of his era were getting a little chemical assistance!) and that still holds true today.

So if you want to compete on a more even playing field with those who have fancy bikes, then buy or borrow one – or train harder and ride quicker on the one you have!   All the best kit in the world is no guarantee of buying speed.

NOTE: There are different rules on bike equipment for draft legal races but as this article is aimed at age groupers in non-drafting races, they don’t apply here.

Drafting: (Rule 27)

If there is one area of the rules that causes most aggravation then it’s drafting. The rule is clear – no drafting is allowed inside set distances (see the Rulebook).

However, the problem is managing this in a race as we simply do not have sufficient resource to monitor the bike course – even with motorcycle officials and static drafbusters, it’s never going to be enough.   And as we all know, there are many who seem to think they are beyond the rules and will blatantly cheat.   Unless we catch these people in the act we can do little, but if we get a lot of complaints about a particular athlete(s) seen drafting then we can have words with them to (hopefully) stop them doing so in the future.

Drafting infuriates everyone but until some means comes along to prevent it, we have to accept that it will be an ongoing problem.

In sprint distance events drafting is a major issue where you have many of similar ability on a very short course and a swim that’s not long enough to separate the packs. The ITU has taken the decision that as a way of preventing drafting in World Championship sprint distance races, then drafting will be allowed from 2016. A very interesting development!

Clothing: (Rule 22.5)

“Competitors must be adequately clothed at all times, the minimum being a one- or two- piece non-transparent swimsuit, together with a cycling or running top, if appropriate, with a gap no greater than 10cm (4”). All competitors must ensure their upper body (especially the chest area) is clothed during the cycling and running sections of the event. Front fastening tops and trisuits must be fully fastened at all times.”

Oh boy!

“a gap no greater than 10cm (4”)” between the hem of the top and the waistband of the shorts.   This is a BTF rule – not a WTC rule – and now effectively stops the “Faris Al-Sultan look” as many think of it.   It’s controversial as many athletes (or officials) do not understand why it’s there. It’s intention is to bring some modesty into the sport to encourage new athletes into participating, and to help widen the spread to countries and religions where body covering is more of an issue than in more liberal Western countries.   The days of budgie smugglers combined with crop tops are over in events run under BTF rules. And you won’t believe how happy this makes the fashion police….:-)

“Front fastening tops and trisuits must be fully fastened at all times”. As above on the modesty front, but also to ensure that sponsors logos don’t get split in half. Would you want to sponsor a top athlete only to find that your name isn’t fully visible ‘cos they’ve got their zip undone?? Of course not. At ITU/ETU events, athletes must wear rear zipped kit, and this type of kit is gradually trickling down into domestic events.

A tip: When you buy your next trisuit or top, make sure it has a rear facing zip. Simple eh??

Outside assistance (Rule 22.7):

Athletes are solely responsible for managing their own affairs in a race, and beyond any support given by the organisers (such as drinks/food stations, medical support etc) you are entirely responsible for your own well being.

If something goes wrong with your bike during the race, you are responsible for managing that – you cannot call on help from outside, although being handed the means to help by a fellow athlete is allowed provided that you do the fixing – although you can’t borrow their bike as you have to complete the bike leg on the one you started on. If you are caught being given help by a non-competitor then you may be disqualified.

The most common issue is with punctures and it’s quite amazing how many athletes don’t know how to repair one.  There’s a simple answer – learn how to do it and make sure you have the means to repair one in a race if needed. And ladies – this applies to you as well so don’t try and play the “female card” – it doesn’t apply.

The only exception to outside assistance is if someone’s safety is compromised or for medical emergencies – under these circumstances we would expect assistance to be given as a matter of course by anyone.

The future:

Triathlon rules are not static and there are committees within the BTF and ITU who oversee and manage the rules of triathlon, so there will be new rules and amendments in the future including some BIG changes for 2015 as the BTF are integrating more ITU rules into domestic rules but adapted to UK conditions and local needs. If you get to race for GB in European or World age group championships you will complete under ITU rules and they are a LOT more detailed. For instance, your GB kit has to conform to a set of technical criteria that doesn’t apply in UK even down to things like the size of your name printed on it. And it will be rear zipped – in case you’re wondering.


I could go on about things like helmet wear, sportsmanship, road regulations, MP3 players, course violations etc as these are also matters that give us plenty of issues at events. As I said before, the best thing you can do is to become familiar with the rules by reading them and then you have no excuse to infringe.

And you just think we stand there telling you to keep your helmet done up and to spin your number around for the run?? Maybe this has given you a different view of what we actually do and are responsible for, so thanks for reading.

And – a request.   With the increase in the number of events on the UK race calendar there is a shortage of TOs across the country. It takes a couple of years from registering an interest in becoming a TO to being able to manage an open water event as a Chief Official – and it’s the growth in open water events that is stretching the current team of TOs. The BTF would like more people to come forward to become race officials.   The roles are purely voluntary, but very enjoyable and rewarding – but I should also warn that they can be very time consuming. If you can’t commit the time, then being a TO is maybe not for you; but if you can, contact me and I’ll happily point you in the right direction to get started.

Race strong, don’t be shit, and remember – we’ll be watching you. 😉


Thanks Dick for hopefully clarifying the role of a TO and some of the common misdemeanours.


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