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Help! I’m Racing An IRONMAN How Do I Avoid Getting A Penalty

ByJoanne Murphy |

Paul Lester is the Chief Race Referee for IRONMAN in the UK & Ireland, an athlete himself he has raced multiple IRONMAN events and a variety of triathlon events at home and abroad. In this Q & A he shares some insight into the role of the referees and officials as well as how to avoid getting a penalty or disqualified from your IRONMAN race.

What is the role of the referee at an IRONMAN?

The referees and officials are there to make sure that every athlete has a safe and a fair race. It is the athlete’s responsibility to know the rules of racing and understand that if these rules are infringed or broken then penalties will be applied by the officials.   You can find the full list of rules on the link HERE

What sort and how many referees would there typically be at an IRONMAN/ IRONMAN 70.3 event in the UK and Ireland?

There are approximately eight officials at the swim, T1, T2 and on the run course, and there can be up to 15 moto officials on the bike course.

What are the key racing rules athletes need to be aware of?

  • Do not abuse volunteers, officials, other athletes or spectators
  • Do not use any electronic devices other than bike computers/watches
  • Keep yourself decent (no nudity)
  • Do not take or give anything from/to a spectator or family member during the event. Assistance if required can only be provided by an IRONMAN official, team member or volunteer.
  • Run down the Finish Line on your own (unless in a relay team)
  • Do not discard anything outside of the litter zones
  • Do not draft.


What is considered litter & graffiti at IRONMAN?

Graffiti includes any good luck messages your family and friends leave in permanent paint

Litter includes:

  • Water bottles
  • Gel wrappers
  • Gel wrapper tear-offs
  • Used inner tubes
  • Co2 canisters
  • Food wrapping (including banana skins)


IRONMAN take a ZERO TOLERANCE approach to litter and graffiti.  Discarding litter outside of designated areas at feed stations is an immediate disqualification,  we have officials targeting littering on the course, so keep your rubbish in your pocket or in your suit until you can discard it properly.


What are the key bike rules of racing at IRONMAN in the UK and Ireland?

  • Keep to the left-hand side of the road.
  • Overtake to the right and immediately merge left after completing the overtake.
  • Maximum of 2 athletes side by side when overtaking.
  • Do not cut corners.
  • Do not cross the centre line of the road


What happens if I break the key bike rules?

You will receive an automatic disqualification (without notice) if any of the above rules are broken

What does drafting on the bike mean?

The draft zone is 12 metres measured from the front wheel of your bike to the back wheel of the bike immediately in front of you. If you enter this ‘drafting’ zone you must pass the bike in front within 25 seconds. The passed athlete must then drop back 12 metres within 25 seconds.

If you fail to overtake the bike in front of you within 25 seconds, fail to overtake at all, or if you are the athlete being overtaken and you fail to get 12 metres behind the athlete that overtook you, you can be penalised for drafting.

How do I avoid drafting on the bike?

Think about whether you are gaining an advantage from where you are riding. If you are, then make sure you change your position, overtake if safe to do so, or move out of the draft zone by making sure the bike in front of you is 12 or more metres ahead of you.

How do I avoid getting a penalty?

Read the rules, use your common sense, don’t cheat and be nice to everyone

Why would I get a penalty?

If a referee or official thinks you have deliberately tried to gain an unfair advantage, raced in a dangerous manner or failed to comply with an instruction given.

How do referees indicate that you are to serve a penalty?

Referees use a card system and can show you a yellow, blue or red card on course depending on the penalty

  • A yellow card will result in a 30 second penalty at an IRONMAN 70.3 or  a 1 minute penalty at an IRONMAN.
  • A blue card is for drafting on the bike course and will result in a 5 minute penalty at both an IRONMAN 70.3 and an IRONMAN.
  • A red card is an automatic disqualification.


What happens if I get a penalty

You will be shown a card by an official, if on the bike course, you should stop at the penalty tent in transition, or the run course, you will serve your penalty on the spot.

How can I appeal a penalty?

To appeal you should contact an official within 15 minutes of finishing, or 15 minutes of being advised of the penalty if it is given after to you after your race. The official will ensure you get an appeals form to complete.

A judgement penalty (drafting) cannot be appealed nor can a disqualification for littering.

Why would an athlete be disqualified?

For deliberately trying to gain an advantage, for breaking the key rules, dangerous racing or displaying unsportsmanlike behaviour.

What does it mean on the results when it says:

DNS: Did not start

DNF: Did not finish

DQ:  Disqualified

Where can I find the IRONMAN Rules of Racing?

There is a link to the full set of Ironman rules on each event website or you can click HERE

What’s the best piece of advice you would give to an athlete before racing?

Know the key rules of racing, don’t try to gain an unfair advantage over other athletes by drafting, doing something silly or dangerous and simply don’t litter on the course anywhere.

Read the athlete guide, watch (or attend) your race briefing and finally be nice to everyone whether an official, an athlete or a volunteer.  Everyone wants to see you succeed and make your way to the finish line in a safe and fair manner.



Ironman Ireland Cork 2019.
Image Credit Huw Fairclough for Ironman
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Meet the Author

Joanne Murphy