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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27 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.

    • Jeff, so u used these comfort pedals and rode barefoot after the swim and it worked well for u? You didn’t have issues with your feet slipping, lack of grip, wet feet giving you issues??? I read the reviews on Amazon for these pedals and they were mixed. I am doing a sprint Tri in a week and am leaning toward doing it barefoot, including the bike ride if I can figure a way to do it comfortably.

      • Problems with slipping and sliding on pedals, I believe, is mostly because people are simply trying to push the pedals and let the pedals guide the feet, rather than move the feet in a circular motion in sync with the pedals.

      • Hi SeaMama. These pedals were great. I had no issues with feet slipping. They even had a small wading pool right outside the Bike transition, because it was a fairly long and gravelly jog from the water. I dont know if others will appreciate this, but as opposed to clipless or other shod options, I really feel that I can adjust the pressure on my foot. If you look closely at clipless, they are designed to contact your forefoot only anyway. The RD’s were both fine (actually encouraging) about the barefoot aspect. But in my (1 Sprint, 1 OLY) experience, there are 2 things you might want to keep in mind. (1) Efficient, or not. Comfortable or not. Shoes provide some protection. I havent used my helmet yet for protection, but Im glad to have it. I did come into a corner too fast, and as I over-applied brakes, my tail-end kicked out and I almost wiped out, going about 35mph. I had no instinct to put my feet down at this speed (or any other) but had the bike fallen, I might have been more injured unshod. (2) I did a darn Olympic Triathlon! I did the Swim (yeah yeah) T1 (0.25 mile) Bike (24.8 mile) T2 (200 ft?) and Run (6.2 miles) all unshod. I have 1 blurry photo to show for my experience. The guy in front of me in the finishing chute was apparently on a reunion tour. If you are going to go through the effort, I hope you get a nice photo (ideally of each leg). But as far as comfort went, I really like these pedals. Another reason I have heard (often) for wearing clip-in/ clipless is “I can use different muscles on the upstroke” – personally, there is a big business to keep this myth alive, but I have a really hard time believing it.

        • Jeff – ‘Personally, there is a big business to keep this myth alive, but I have a really hard time believing it.’

          It is hard to compete with decades of results from professional races simply to accommodate your opinion. It is a good thing you are not in charge of my medical advice. Thank you.

          That being said, I am a hard core barefoot runner and personally do not like shoes any more than the other barefoot person, but they are indeed tools. Tools are designed to allow the human body function better than it can without such tools. I am not going to try to hammer a nail with my bare foot. That’s why I bought a hammer. Under the same logic, I am not going to try to do my best at a triathlon race without the proven tools that allow my competition to crush me without them. One of those tools is clipless pedals and shoes on the bike. I will compete and beat hundreds of fellow athletes this year running barefoot from start to finish in a triathlon without shoes every place it gives me a competitive advantage. On the bike is not that place.

          Congrats on your accomplishments this year. You have my respect for that. Feel free to continue to ride barefoot, but please do not propagate false information about shoes simply being some kind of conspiracy by big business to make you think they will make you faster without actually doing so. When used properly they do actually make you faster and more efficient on the bike. The science is there. It cannot be refuted. Feel free to ride barefoot, but without spreading false science that it is just as efficient as clipless pedals. Thank you.

          I think this struck a chord with me, thanks for listening.

  14. Jon. I have a problem with each of your points. So, lets begin. “Decades of results” – It is quite hard to find any scientific data supporting clipless pedals. There are strong supporters as yourself, but please show me a couple studies, because I cant find any.
    No, I am not in charge of your medical advice. You are. Really, you didnt know that?
    I agree with shoes being a tool. I agree that they may be beneficial. You seem to confuse SHOES with CLIPLESS.

    I am glad that you are such an accomplished runner. If someone told you that “youd be faster in shoes” you’d argue, or at least question it. That is all I did when I was passing people on my first group rides uphill and they said, “wow, and without clipless” – it wasnt hard. I wasnt racing. I was just going up a hill. So instead of buying into what every other biker in the group had done, I questioned, “How much faster will I get with clipless pedals” – get back to me when you have hard data on that.

    I am not saying there is a conspiracy. I said, “there is big business to keep the myth alive” – if there is no significant data to support a position, “myth” is a decent description of it. If barefoot is free and clipless cost money, there is money (big business) to support the myth.

    Lastly. I never recommended that anyone else do what I have done. I just lived my life and reported it. I would like to add that I enjoyed the experience, and I plan to continue to ride barefoot. You are free to do as you wish without any comments from me disparaging your opinion.

    • In many of our cases, “being faster in shoes” has been tested, with varying results. Many of us do run faster without shoes, others choose to run barefoot because it’s simply more comfortable, some because it’s less costly, and even some because our feet blister inside shoes after several miles, and many of us for a combination or all of those reasons. “Racing” isn’t all about winning for most of us. In fact, very few people will actually win a single event they enter, that’s the nature of winning. With racing becoming very popular, there are even a few who enter knowing they will finish last. So I would say that for the reasonable majority of “racers” there is little hope or expectation of blowing the doors off the competition (except maybe that little old lady running next to me).

      And I do agree, that even among top competitors, people tend to accept ideas which are sold to them, with clever marketing (“myths”), not necessarily with proof. After all, most humans really aren’t that reasonable. And if someone offers an elite athlete an endorsement deal for millions of dollars, it would be difficult to turn that down, even if the product doesn’t make you faster (and especially if it doesn’t make you significantly slower). Think of how much I could promote barefooting with that kind of money? Still a company would spend even more publicizing my endorsement of their product, and showing me “winning” while using their product, and THAT would convince far more people of the value of that product than actual unbiased proof in research studies. Besides, they would probably also cancel the endorsement deal as soon as they caught me promoting not using their product.

      People should consider that very few of the products we see at the highest levels of competition got those people to those levels (well, except the endorsements provide race entries, and travel costs, etc.). Athletes got those products for free, because they were already competing at an elite level!

      I don’t care one way or another about clips, or clipless pedals. I’m going barefoot because it’s more comfortable for me. And I’m not doing triathlons, unless they’re affordable, and much less complicated than I’ve seen.

      My suggestion for people in making a decision on any product, “don’t be sold, be reasonable”.
      Ask yourself things like:
      “At what level of competition am I?”
      “Will this product REALLY make a significant difference in MY performance?” (do tests and time trials to verify for yourself – if you have money to play with)
      “Is a half-second improvement in my finish time, really going to make a difference when I’m not even in the top 10% of the finishers?”
      “How much money do I want to spend?”
      “Do I have a sponsor with deep pockets?”

      Most of us, whether we’re in “competition” or not, are just doing these activities for FUN and ENJOYMENT. It really is crazy the kinds of money people spend for these events, on equipment, entry fees, travel, lodging, etc… Of course, “crazy”, and “kinds of money” is all relative to how much expendable cash you have. For most of us, racing very often is simply not economical anymore – entry fees have doubled in less than 10 years or so, income for most of us has not – yes I could work harder, but NO I won’t work harder (or waste my time looking for a “better” job – not when I’m a few years from retirement) just to spend more on recreational activities that I can do for free simply by stepping out my front door.

      Of course, if you are at the top level of competition, and do have a seemingly endless source of money, then by all means, go “CRAZY” – and have fun!

  15. To get back to the original subject, USAT is ok with anyone over 18 running without shoes or even barefoot. We covered that earlier in this post and it is still valid to this day.

    The ITU in December of 2014 eliminated the rule in the Running Conduct section:

    “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 last line is deleted 6.1, a.), (iv) as of December 2014!

    ITU has finally embraced the barefoot runner as eligible. There are no penalties or disqualification steps taken with any athlete who runs in any USAT sanctioned or ITU sanctioned triathlon event!

    The celebration starts now!

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