The consequences of listening to music during a triathlon

If you are like me when I started running, you appreciate listening to music when exercising. Many of us do! Training with music is great to keep up with motivation. It’s a real boost for the long runs, and also great when you don’t have a partner to train with. Who doesn’t enjoy music? But on race day things can be different, especially in triathlon, that’s why I am writing this article today 🙂

Can you listen to music during a triathlon?

It is not allowed to listen to music during a triathlon. Depending on the race event, you can either get a variable time penalty or directly get disqualified for listening to music. This is because it is essential during a race that you stay aware and alert about your surroundings.

Please find below an extract from World Triathlon (the governing body for triathlon worldwide) about the rules for music. This rule is part of the section ‘Conduct of Athlete’ and applies to the entirety of a triathlon competition.

“Athletes may not use communication devices of any type, including but not limited to cell phones, smart watches, and two-way radios, in any distractive manner during the competition. A “distractive manner” includes but is not limited to making or receiving phone calls, sending or receiving text messages, playing music, using social media, taking photographs or using in a one- or two-way radio communication. Using any communication device in this manner during the competition will result in disqualification;”

World Triathlon competition rules

It is almost word for word the same rules written in the Ironman competition rulebook and in the USAT rules. The only difference is the penalty given for this offense. I have summarised in the table below the penalty given to someone listening to music during a triathlon for the 3 most prominent triathlon organizers.

Race rules underPenalty for listening to music
USATVariable penalty
World TriathlonDisqualification
Ironman Disqualification
OthersCheck the rule book
Summary of penalties for listening to music by triathlon race organizations

A variable time penalty is a time penalty that depends on the number of offenses you have done and the length of the race. It varies from 2 minutes to 12 minutes. But in all cases, at the 3rd offense, you get disqualified.

Why is music not allowed in triathlon?

Listening to music is forbidden during a triathlon to ensure every athlete is fully aware of their surroundings. Triathlons gather hundreds to thousands of people at the start line. Having athletes not paying attention to others, to the referees and the volunteers would be a recipe for disaster.

The reason music is forbidden in triathlon is explicitly expressed in World Triathlon competition rules:

“Not use any device that will distract the athlete from paying full attention to their surroundings.”

World Triathlon competition rules

Indeed, triathlon gathers lots of people with different levels in the 3 sports. This is why you will see people passing each other a lot during a race. Also, some events have courses with loops. This means the fast people will overtake the slow people on their second loop for instance. If people were running with music, they might not hear the calls to keep on the side of the road, nor the runners coming behind them. It would be easy to block the way unintentionally.

There are lots of examples of situations where it makes sense to prevent listening to music in a triathlon. But remember it is for your safety, and for everyone else on the course.

Do triathletes train with music?

Many triathletes train with music. Music is proven to keep you motivated, focused, and can help with bpm to maintain a specific cadence. Training with music on the swim or the run is fine, but it is best to avoid music on the bike for safety reasons.

Music is a personal preference. Remember you can’t have music on race day. But you might not really notice it – except maybe on long events like ironman distances. Else, there is the adrenaline of the race to keep you going, all the people to overtake or that are overtaking you, all the supporters, all the volunteers cheering you up… It’s just a great atmosphere that will keep you going.

For training, the main rules to follow are:

  • Do not listen to music if training in a group (for safety reasons)
  • Do not listen to music when riding outdoors (it’s forbidden in some countries but you won’t be able to hear traffic)
  • You can listen to music while swimming – just keep paying attention to others. However, I don’t see the benefit unless you are working on endurance by doing laps. The aim of swimming sessions is to always work on the technique and interval training.
  • The best is to listen to music while running. Be careful about what you listen to, the beat will affect your running cadence.

Overall, I think music is great only for solitary long-run sessions to keep the motivation 🙂

But that’s just personal preference.

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