Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Education about the Rules of Triathlon: How do we make our sport better?

Hi folks! Long time no talk. My apologies for being missing in action.

I'm all ears. I've offered to speak to coaches and clubs for free. A USAT CAT 3 marshal with WTC CAT 1 experience. Only one coach had me talk to his athletes. One club had me talk to their members. Of all of those folks... only ONE male in his 30s got any penalties this year. (He got two and really didn't care. I get the feeling like he will race Ironman Wisconsin the same way.)

It isn't just knowing what the rule is. It is also knowing how to act. Do you ask the official? Do you talk to race management? How do you avoid the penalty? How do you enjoy the race more? How do you be more competitive legally?

This past weekend I was a marshal at a local, highly competitive, sprint triathlon. The race director made some improvements in the race format over last year. This was a welcome site and significantly improved the race experience for everyone: spectators, athletes, officials and volunteers. The issue was really how little the athletes knew of the rules.

In my opinion, coaches must educate their athletes about the rules. Triathlon is a very young sport. Can you imagine bringing your children to soccer (football), American football, Little League or any other sport and the coaches only training the kids physically? This is what I feel most personal trainers, coaches and coaching services need to apply more time to.

I coach several women (in particular) who are outstanding cyclists. They "chick" guys all the time. They need to know the rules about passing and being passed in order to stay out of the nasty racing which usually accompanies faster ladies - not from the gals, but the egos of the men who refuse to allow a more fit woman to pass them for very long. These ladies know how to stay out of the mess the guys and peletons can create, but more importantly they aren't wasting energy on the back and forth. They just see legs and race numbers and do their thing. They think on their feet with their heart rate in the 150+ range.

Sunday we wrote 22 penalties for iPods, mobile phones and one radio. Not only is this unsafe for the athlete and the other racers, but it is a competitive advantage to blast music and leave the "hurt box" mentally. This has been proven in a scientific study. The other "big" penalty was athletes riding on the left longer than 15 seconds without passing anyone. When I say we were being liberal about position fouls... with two full lanes - I was only calling position if they were on the left and not passing. Very generous, but the road was a closed course with 2,300 people on it. I race too after all.

So how do we improve the race experience?

1) We can demand USAT coaches understand the rules and take an exam on some of the "biggies".

1a) We can boycott races that are notorious for drafting, large fields, low marshals and generally crappy race management.

2) We can force pre-race talks where all athletes must sit through a 20 minute rules talk at check in for experienced racers and a 1 hour rules talk for first year racers.

3) Race Directors can include the "biggies" of rules in race schwag packets.

4) Experienced racers need to teach the newer racers. This is how I learned.

5) Increase time between waves.

6) Shrink race fields.

7) Have two races.

Governing Bodies at War
I don't know what caused the rift(s). I don't care. What I do care about is fair, clean racing in all divisions of the race. Meaning, rules get enforced by people who will call what they see. A unified governing body would help, but it isn't necessarily a must have. Look at boxing. Oh... maybe a bad example or perhaps a cautionary tale?

Last year in Kona and at several races this year I was impressed at some of the very hard decisions that race management needed to make. They made the right calls in every case in my opinion.

What else can we do?


  1. I was just talking to a friend/pro triathlete about this today while our dogs played together.

    I remember rigorous enforcement at Vineman 70.3 last year, but for the Vineman full & Barb's race (the women's 1/2 IM I did) I never saw a race marshall on the bike course. I figure they were following the Vineman full leaders and not worrying about those of us who started 2 hours later in a race with no prize money BUT it still wasn't fair to me when girls passed me in paceline in the headwind and then blocked the road riding 4 astride when there was no wind, all while chattering away together (must have been friends). When I had the chance I passed them and dropped them completely, but it stings when you are trying to follow the rules and see stuff like that go on for miles. My guess is they really had no idea about the rules.

    I also saw a ton of ipods on the run course and if there were any officials, again they were with the full IM-distance leaders and not looking at the rest of us. :(

  2. I'm looking forward to learning all the rules from you and learning what to do in certain situations. Thanks for all you do.