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Triathlon Vocabulary Terms You Need to Know

Swim, bike, and run seem simple enough, but our sport has a unique language all its own. One of our writers does her best(ish) to unlock tri lingo.

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I’m a perennial outsider, not really on the inside of any community. And that serves me well as a writer, but also ensures I’m rarely the first to know anything. I don’t get jokes (though I laugh, nervously), and I am frequently deep in the weeds with regard to jargon. Triathlon is a minefield for me: I recall an anxious phone conversation with an experienced triathlete the night before my first (and only) half-iron distance race. I listed off my gear—swimsuit, goggles, running shorts, shoes, helmet, and bike, though I did not specify it was a three-speed Montgomery Ward affair with attached child seat. The veteran asked if I had aerobars. Spying a Clif bar I’d stashed in the fanny pack I planned to attach to the handlebars of my mom ride, I confirmed—yes, check! Aerobars, Clif bar—what’s the diff, right?

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For you, my fellow initiates, an attempt at illuminating your darkness:


Yesterday’s steel-cut-oats-quinoa-chia-egg thing forgotten in the toaster oven; repurposed as car jack


British for bank; pronounced, “bahhhnk”; noun or verb; E.g., “I do all my offshore bonking in the Virgin Islands.”


Cares about the little guy, but if he’s still there at the end, all bets are off

Body Marking

How the morgue keeps every body straight; see also, toe tag

Rolling Start

Dipping your palms in flour; the first thing you do before flattening pizza dough

Special Needs Bag

Sandwich bag without the Ziploc strip

Chain Suck

The frustrating result of a bunch of necklaces put in a special needs bag to fly to Lexington, Kentucky, for a fancy affair. You open the special needs bag, and—uh oh—chain suck.

“On Your Left”

In this hyper-politicized climate, it’s only fair to warn people where you stand


I believe they prefer to be called entertainers; see also, gig economy


When you see aliens, or ZZ Top, or Lance Armstrong, but clear documentation of the encounter proves elusive; skeptics will follow


Successive improvements on an original prototype; a marriage, for example, because not everyone can get it perfect the first time


This. Is. Periodization. Dramatization!


A small or discreet fart, often accomplished in mixed gender group settings

Race Belt

Used when Lycra gives up; a race belt is like suspenders for bike shorts