Cathy Lee-Saxton running barefoot at She-Rox Triathlon 2011 October 15 San Diego CA

Triathlon Rules about Barefoot Running

Cathy Lee-Saxton running barefoot at She-Rox Triathlon 2011 October 15 San Diego CA

Cathy Lee-Saxton running barefoot at She-Rox Triathlon 2011 October 15 San Diego CA

There used to be that rule about “having shoes on the bike and run courses” for any World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) event, which included the Ironman brand triathlons.

I opted to do the Ironman Florida WITH shoes, but was kinda OK with that decision as I was plodding over VERY rough tarmac (which I could even feel through shoes) in the dark at 2300h. Truly though, it would have been much cooler (in all ways) to have done it barefoot. Besides, at that time, there was some concern over that practice being legal and I did not spend over $2K to be DQ’ed (or even get a point).

Before that I did the Vineman in Northern California barefoot. I asked the USAT official beforehand if it was legal to do without shoes and he said “You CAN, but I do not understand why you WOULD”!! I thought that was funny.

Later I, too, tried to find the “shoes rule” in the books. I did not find anything under Ironman or WTC rules and they referred me back to USAT rules. Try as I might, I could not find a rule referencing that matter in the USAT rules. Though I did see the part where it says something like “upper body garments must be worn”. I think that was because at the time (obviously before I was doing triathlons!) so many women were doing triathlons topless with absolutely nothing covering them that some other (probably jealous) women got mad and instilled the rule.

I have worked with many USAT officials and I am a USATF (Track and Field) official. Specifically in the USATF rules (a subsection of rule number 143), it specifically states that barefoot IS acceptable for any sanctioned USATF event.

In fact, I am currently working in Florida and in just a couple days I hope to be on Haulover Beach (you can look it up) where I will also be barefoot.

Barefoot Todd (Byers)

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19 comments on “Triathlon Rules about Barefoot Running

  1. You may be referring to a different set of rules from a different governing body, but the rules for the USA Triathlon organization are here.

    Under Cycling Conduct, it says “Cyclists shall wear shoes at all times while on the bike.” Violating it appears to be a disqualifying event.

    And under Running Conduct, is says “Participants shall wear shoes at all times while on the run course.” For this violation it only seems to be a penalty.

  2. There will be different rules depending on the governing body of each individual event (and the whims of individual race directors and organizers). However, if the race is sanctioned by an organization that explicitly permits running barefoot, such as the USATF, that would be something to show the organizers/officials if they try to tell you that you aren’t allowed to run barefoot in that particular USATF sanctioned event.

  3. From ITU rules page 26:

    The competitor:
    a) May run or walk;
    b) May not crawl;
    c) May not run with a bare torso;
    d) May not run without shoes on any part of the course.

    Good thing I didn’t bother to finish the triathlon I attempted back in 1983 (1M swim, 50M bike, 12M run), because I was too tired after the swim and bike to run or walk 12 miles (in those days it hadn’t occurred to me to run barefoot in races), and I didn’t feel like crawling, so I dropped out.

  4. This is why I won’t compete in triathlons, at least until they remove their discriminatory practices against those of us who were born without footwear (and have no need for prosthetic footwear – other than to satisfy discriminatory rules).

    Besides triathlon rules are far too complicated for my mind to keep track of. Running, it’s simply a matter of crossing the start line, staying on course, and crossing the finish line… only 3 things to keep track of, and 3 is about as high as I can count.

    • Yes, if the rules forbade bare feet, instead of requiring that “shoes” be worn.. of course, you might be able to debate the meaning of the word “shoes” with them, but that too makes triathlons unnecessarily complicated.

      Have fun

  5. “d) May not run without shoes on any part of the course.”

    The rule doesn’t state that they have to be on your feet. You could just carry a light pair or stick them in your belt and you would still be “running, with shoes”.

  6. Correct. My friend, Barefoot Jon completed the run portion of an Ironman in Idaho, with flip-flops in his fanny-pack. One official asked “where are your shoes?” and he told him, and was not penalized.

  7. So….I am trying to understand all this. I will be racing this year under USAT-sponsored events in Ohio. Will I be able to run sprint triathlon’s barefoot? I am confused. Thank you

  8. Interesting as I have looked into this myself for triathlons in Australia. The ITU ruling listed above seems to apply at most races. However I did complete the 10k run leg barefoot at the Byron Bay oly tri last year, and wasn’t pulled up by the officials.

    The funny thing is no matter what rulings, the sport of triathlon is one of the only sports in the world where every competitor runs barefoot, if only briefly… in the transition from the swim to the bike!

  9. Pingback: Triathlons: Is it possible to train for a triathlon with only fair trade gear? - Quora

  10. I was going to do a duathlon once, and it said in the entry form details, ‘shoes must be worn’. I emailed the organizers and said I prefer running barefoot, and they said that’s fine. The obvious response to that would have been ‘ so why does it say it’s not fine on the form?’ but I couldnt do the event in the end anyway. Sometimes these things are just ‘ cut and paste’.

    Now that I run a small community event myself, I know from experience, we just want people to turn up and pay! Couldn’t care less what they wear.

  11. I’ve been running barefoot several years now. I have competed in about 20 triathlon competitions from sprint up to 1/2 distance events in 4 states most of which are governed by USAT rules. I haven’t had one mention of running barefoot by race officials. I have not received one penalty.

    Updated 2014 has only one rule about running with shoes. It is in the section titled “USA Triathlon Supplemental Youth Rules” where it states in Running Conduct (for athletes under the age of 18)

    “2. Participants shall wear shoes at all times while on the run course”
    (this applies to sanctioned “Youth Events” only)
    For all other USAT sanctioned events it is well within the rules to run barefoot if you are 18 or over.

    ITU rules ( been updated recently to state…
    “6. Running Conduct
    6.1. General Rules
    a.) The athletes will
    (iv) Not run without shoes or run barefoot on any part of the course”
    This applies to all athletes in an ITU sanctioned event regardless of age.

    Most triathlons I have encountered are USAT sanctioned events. I have had great success running barefoot. Now if I was looking to qualify for the Olympics in an ITU sanctioned event (in my dreams), I would have to decide if I was willing to wear shoes to compete.

  12. Great article and comments. I am on the fence between attempting (my first) Olympic barefoot or not. I am not going to be at the front of the pack, so adding barefoot is like adding some spice to the event for me. I have done HM barefoot, and feet are in great shape this year for a 6.2 mile run – obviously the swim and transition will be barefoot. The question for me is the 25 mile bike ride. I found some pedals in LBS by Avenir called “Comfort Pedals” – If all goes well, I may use them. I plan to start contacting the RD this week to gain permission or a clear ruling on barefoot – it is a USAT event.

  13. I continue to read the rules, but this forum / comment section has some of the most updated and correct information I can find. (1) USAT seems to sanction most USA events including IronMan. USAT doesnt say you cant go barefoot. (2) ITU seems to sanction the rest of the world. ITU clearly states that you cannot run barefoot at any point on the course. I plan to contact them for a reason of that decision and a mention that I disagree with it.

    I got the pedals in! They cost $10 and I completed a 26 mile bike ride on them. They are excellent! I found out about a SPRINT before my OLY. I am registered for both. I contacted both RD and mentioned USAT does not prohibit barefoot, but wanted their ruling. Both races said it is fine.

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