Triathlon tattoos: where and how to place them


To participate in a triathlon race, you will need to be properly recognizable by officials. You will have to wear race numbers that often come in the form of decal tattoos. Where should you wear them? How do you apply the tattoos properly? And finally, how do you remove them? This is what this article is all about.

Where should you put your triathlon tattoos?

Triathlon tattoos should be placed on each arm unless specified by a technical delegate at the briefing. Race numbers must be put vertically from top to bottom and not horizontally. If category or gender tattoos are required, they usually are placed on one of the calves.

Triathlon race number tattoos (vertical digits)

These rules are specified by the World Triathlon governing body. You can find below the exact sentences regarding body marking as specified in paragraph 2.9.a:

“The Local Organising Committee will provide body marking or body marking decals, who will apply them prior to the event”

“Body markings are to be applied to each arm, unless instructed otherwise by the World Triathlon Technical Delegate at the briefing”

“Body markings and/or decals using multiple digits will have numbers appearing one above the other, not side by side”

“One calf of each athlete – if not covered – will be marked with the category and gender of the athletes”

If possible, it is recommended to put the tattoos on the upper arms. In the case you have sleeves, putting the tattoos on the forearm is tolerated.

Indeed, while the rules only specify the arms without a specific region, the USAT regulations (applying to the USA) clearly specify that numbers should always be visible and readable (more information about that here). The upper arms have much less heavy movements than the forearms, so putting the tattoos there makes sense.

Triathlon age group tattoos are to be put on one calf.

To make sure your numbers are always readable, some events may give you 4 sets of race numbers. In that case, you usually put the two additional sets on your quadriceps, still from top to bottom.

Ironmans does not seem to have specific rules regarding race numbers. They may gave you stickers that are to be placed on each arms vertically as for any other triathlon. If no stickers or decals or given, write the numbers with a marker big enough to be easily readable.

How to apply triathlon race tattoos

  1. Remove the protective transparent layer
  2. Humidify some paper towel
  3. Apply the tattoo on both arms (preferably upper arms)
  4. Apply the towel on the tattoo
  5. Wait for 1 to 2 minutes so the tattoo is completely moisten
  6. Peel the protective opaque layer

How do you write a triathlon tattoo

If not given decal tattoos, you may need to write the race number with a permanent marker. You will need to write the numbers vertically from top to bottom on each of your arms, preferably the upper arms. Dedicated sports makers are recommend so they withstand the water and the sweat.

The USAT recommends the non-toxic markers from SportSafe. They should last the entirety of the race while being safe for the skin.

They can withstand being in the water, they can handle soap and long hours covered by sweat without the writing wiping off. Unlike industrial markers, they do not contain toxic ingredients. They are FDA-compliant cosmetic ingredients.

Please note that you can also use a regular sharpie to write your race numbers. Many of us have a sharpie at home and they are non-toxic to the skin. However, they are not dedicated to this purpose like SportSafe’s pens. The marking might not last the entire race on long distances.

On a side note, it is recommended not to put sunscreen on before being marked up. You can apply it once the ink has dried on your skin.

How to remove a triathlon tattoo

Temporary tattoos are made to stand up to soap and water. To remove triathlon tattoos, the best solution is to scrub the marking with baby oil or try directly baby wipes. If that’s not enough, you can try non-alcoholic disinfectant wipes, rubbing alcohol, nail varnish, or even make-up remover.

You can also try this method shown by Nelleke Baldé who does it with strong tape (see below). Many people recommend using transparent packing tape. It sticks to tattoos but not much to the skin so it doesn’t hurt.

The most popular methods are baby oil and packing tape. You can combine both by starting with the tape and finishing with baby oil in areas you didn’t manage to remove.

If you read this article up to this point, you may also be interested about reading my article about triathlon race identification in general. It does not only covers tattoos but also belts, bike and helmet identification. It explains what are the rules of World Triathlon regarding race numbers and the specificities of the regulations from USAT which governs most races in the USA (click below).

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