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The Growing Risks of Triathlon Racing

Evacuation plan
Originally uploaded by Iron Mike Schubert

As triathlon increases in popularity, the risks associated with it also increase. It wasn’t that long ago that sprint and olympic distance races only consisted of 200-300 people. They were similar to the 5k runs you see on the weekend. Over the past 2 or 3 years this has changed dramatically. Sprint races with 600 people are now the norm but the race venues have not changed.

This in and of itself would not be a problem. Several mitigations can be put in place to maintain the safety of race participants. Properly seeding individuals at the start (not simply based on age group), increasing the time between waves, and creating waves for novice racers at the back of the field are all examples of this. None of these seem to be taking place though, and it is of growing concern.

The primary area of concern is the bike segment. Out there, you have folks going between 14 and 25 mph with different skills and abilities. I remember a group ride earlier this year with someone who was fast on her time trial bike, but had terrible handling skills and caused a couple of close calls between traffic and our group. I don’t ride with her any longer. While being a spectator at a race earlier this summer, I heard a racer say “On your right!” to let another cyclist know he was going to pass on the right. This is flat out illegal in sanctioned events and is poor form regardless of the rules. When people act unpredictably on their bike, people get hurt.

What can you do as a participant? First, make sure you are racing in USAT (USA Triathlon) sanctioned events. There are a baseline set of rules and conduct that race directors are held to. You also get supplementary insurance coverage for any race day accidents. Second, report unsafe conditions to the race officials either a) when you see them or b) after the race. Finally, make sure you are acting safely and predictably.

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