Monday, August 17, 2009

Body Marking

One of pre-tri rituals is to get body marked.

Bib number usually goes on the outside of the upper arms and right below the tri shorts, on the outside of the leg. The reason for this I have never questioned. I assumed from the git-go that it was so that the judges could easily identify you. Additionally, in the swim portion it is the only identifier the triathlete carries with him/her.

As I was doing the cycling portion of my first triathlon this season I began to wonder why it is that the athletes' age is marked, usually on the left calf. And why the category ("I" for individual. "B" for beginner, "A" for Athena, "C" for Clydesdale, "FR" for Female Relay, "MR" for Male Relay and "XR" for Mixed Relay") is marked on the right calf.

So I began to ask. First I went to several folks I know that have been in the sport a lot longer that I have. None knew the answer.

Then I went the next obvious source: Twitter. I posted the question in the usual 140 characters or less. The replies starting pouring in. All of which where guesses and opinions none of which satisfied my curiosity.

The overall consensus was that this is done so that you, the triathlete know who your competition is. Are you being passed by a younger person? Are you passing an older person? Are you keeping up with someone your age? Or are you being punked by someone "much" older than you? This has to be some sort of built in motivator.

Again, thinking that there has to be an "official" reason, I went to the source. The USTA. Wrote them an e-mail and posted the question.

First to reply was Mary Magee, Sanctioning Coordinator, USA Triathlon. This is what she writes:

"Thank you for contacting USA Triathlon. This is an interesting question, because the USAT Rule states that the race number must be visible on the body. There is no rule requiring the age to be written as well. This would be a question for the Race Director- to find out why they choose to have this.

Having ages on calves has become custom at most events and now most triathletes come to expect this. It is a benefit for Age Groupers so that they can see who their competition is during the race."

Then, just hours later, another reply came from Brian Oehler, Sanctioning Coordinator, USA Triathlon. This is what he writes:

"Great question. The number on the calves is actually just a tradition that has caught on in popularity with athletes, and has come to be something that they expect out of races. Not sure whether they do it so they can see who they're competing against, or if spectators like it so they can see the age of competitors, but in any event, it seems to be a cosmetic aspect that many races are jumping in on. Hope that helps!"

So, as you can see there really is no clear cut answer to this question, but I must agree that it is a big help to me when on the bike or run course. I have used this for motivation and plenty of times for justification. How's that you may ask? Well, justify the fact that the triathlete that just blew by me is 20 years younger and one third of a relay team. "That's why he blew by me!"


  1. Wow, this is funny. We just do it not ever really knowing the purpose? Personally, I love it for the specific reason they mention...seeing the competition. I have noticed I always pass the highest number of 20 to 30 year old athletes and I always get passed by the highest number of 40 to 50 year old athletes. Time and experience rules apparently.

  2. I have done two triathlons so far, small local ones, and in neither one did I get body markings. I wonder if I should feel gyped?

  3. I've done this for a long time and thought it was all USAT required. How funny. I usually try and watch a body maker before I go under their pen. I hate getting the poor penmanship person.-Paul Bolin

  4. Here in Europe you don't get bodymarked. Not in big races and not in smallraces never. I've seen the bodymarkings first as I watched the ronman Hawaii. You only have your Racenumber on paper and on the swimming cap and of course on the bike and helmet.