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Triathletes are a unique breed, to say the least. We devote an obsessive amount of time to our training and racing, and much of that obsession overflows into our daily lives. It can even be argued that many of us may have a difficult time distinguishing between what would be considered appropriate behavior in triathlon and the real world. In Triathlon Land, no one bats an eye when you talk about whether or not you pooped before your workout that morning. But try having that same conversation with your boss before a big meeting, and things might get a little awkward.
With that in mind, it might worthwhile to review some guidelines that would be considered proper etiquette in triathlon, but inappropriate in the real world. Hopefully this brief refresher will prevent awkward situations, or worse, jail time.
Blowing snot rockets
We all have the urge from time to time to clear out the pipes. Our nose gets blocked by those pesky boogers, and it distracts us from everything else that demands our attention. Naturally, we need to breathe, so clearing the blockage is important.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Giving a glance behind you on the bike before blocking one nostril and letting the mucous missile fly to one side.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Blowing snot rockets on a roller coaster, motorcycle parade, or outside the window of a tall building that overlooks a busy street.
Try, not tri: Keep tissue handy for blowing your nose like a normal adult. Your family will thank you as they no longer have to dodge the nasal land mines that have been deposited randomly throughout the house.
Drafting on the swim and the bike (in draft-legal triathlons) can provide a substantial advantage to athletes looking to win or PR. But there are times in the real world where drafting might be considered a little bit rude.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Finding the feet of a faster swimmer and gently tapping their toes from time to time to make sure you stay with them and save energy.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Drafting someone at the grocery store and gently tapping them with your shopping cart when they stop to grab some Doritos.
Try, not tri: Give people a few feet of space. Everyone will appreciate your new found sense of self awareness.
Stuffing food into your outfit
Patrick Lange is the king of shoving every known piece of nutrition into his triathlon suit during a race. Why wouldn’t we want to emulate a world champion professional triathlete? But take caution: There are many scenarios where we must stifle the urge to shove nutrition into our outfits.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Stuffing gels and sponges into our tri kit at the aid station so that we can save them for later in the race.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Stuffing hors d’oeuvres into a tuxedo or fancy dress during a cocktail party to save for an after dinner snack.
Try, not tri: Leave a few Clif Bars in the car for the ride home. Fancy appetizers don’t really stay fresh in the pocket of a tuxedo.
Whether we’re racing in a triathlon or getting through a typical work day, fueling and hydrating our bodies is vital to…well, staying alive. But there are subtle differences in how to fuel in triathlon and in the real world.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Running through an aid station, grabbing water, chugging some, and dumping the rest on your head before tossing the trash to a volunteer.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Running through a convenience store, grabbing food and water, eating and drinking some, and dumping the rest on your head before tossing the trash at the clerk.
Tri, not try: Use legal currency to purchase food and water before consuming it outside of the store. Then discard any trash into an appropriate waste receptacle. Remember: Most convenience store clerks are not as kind as aid station volunteers.
Shouting “On your left!”
During a race, warning someone that you are about to pass them is not just a courtesy, but also a proper safety protocol to prevent crashes. But should we be shouting, “On your left!” in other circumstances?
Acceptable in Triathlon: Shouting, “On your left!” while safely passing someone on the bike.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Shouting, “On your left!” at an open-casket funeral viewing.
Try, not tri: Patiently wait in line to pay your respects.
Discussing bowel movements
There is no activity that triathletes enjoy more than discussing their intestinal issues in gruesome detail. Whether it’s the number of port-a-potty stops they had to make on the run, or how they never even made it to the port-a-potty at all, triathletes have no shame in sharing. But in the real world, sharing on this particular topic can very quickly become oversharing.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Talking with another athlete in the post-race beer tent about how you accidentally pooped in your tri-suit at mile 13 of the run.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Talking with a random stranger on the bus about how you accidentally pooped your pants at the last bus stop.
Try, not tri: Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss real-world GI issues. Seriously, if you’re experiencing triathlon-level GI issues in the real world, there is probably something very wrong.
Wearing your triathlon kit
With all the training we triathletes do, we practically live in our triathlon suits. Let’s face it, we’ve all been to the grocery store once or twice in full triathlon garb. But when is it not appropriate to wear your tri kit?
Acceptable in Triathlon: Wearing a tri kit when training for or racing in a triathlon. Tri kits may also be acceptable in triathlon-adjacent activities, such as quickly picking something up from the grocery store or lounging around the house.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Wearing a tri kit at your best friend’s wedding, most schools (don’t ask me how I know), or while guest lecturing at the local university on any subject other than triathlon.
Maybe try, and/or tri: Southwest flights or Zoom meetings from the waist down.
In the triathlon world, the proper decorum for going number one is that there is no decorum. We pee a lot, and there is no shortage of places that triathletes will urinate – while swimming, while biking, and even while running (for the incredibly talented). But those talents are best left for the training and racing, and not real world scenarios.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Urinating in your wetsuit during a practice swim to avoid visiting the port-a-potty.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Urinating in your cubicle to avoid losing momentum on an important work project.
Try, not tri: Plan regular breaks throughout your day to visit the restroom. Yes, I know – what a hassle!
Lubrication is a critical piece to the non-chafing puzzle. Applying petroleum jelly or anti-chafe cream liberally can save triathletes a lot of pain and suffering post-race. Transition is filled with athletes slathering generous amounts of product to their nether regions, a generally accepted practice in triathlon that would likely be frowned upon in other scenarios.
Acceptable in Triathlon: Shoving a handful of Vaseline down your tri shorts while in transition to help prevent chafing.
Unacceptable in the Real World: Shoving a handful of Vaseline down your pants while waiting to be seated at your local Applebee’s.
Tri, not tri: Understand the activities that may or may not lead to chafing. Before leaving your house, it may be worth asking yourself “is my next activity likely to cause chafing?” If the answer is no, you can probably save yourself the trouble, and an awkward conversation with the police.
There are far too many other quirky triathlete behaviors that would be inappropriate in the real world to list here. But as a general rule, it’s probably best to assume that triathlon etiquette will never be appropriate real-world behavior, so let’s save it for race day. Your spouse, children, friends, colleagues, and that poor convenience store clerk thank you.