Drafting and drafting penalties are a part of triathlon. Here is how to best handle a drafting penalty if and when it happens to you.
Triathlons are crowded affairs, with thousands of athletes of relatively similar ability racing together. And despite the rule book and image of triathlon being an individual affair, drafting is part of the race. It begins with the swim, and the wise triathlete does everything in their power to find a good set of feet to draft. And on the bike, try as you may to keep 12 meters between you and the riders in front you, you may still end up staring at a race marshall's blue card. When this happens, here are a few things to do (or not to do) if you're going to be spending 5 minutes in the penalty tent:
What You Can Do:
~ Do a full systems check to make sure you're not falling behind on the 4th discipline of triathlon: nutrition. Use the few minutes to catch up on your nutrition and hydration: fill up your aero bottle, pound another gel, take a salt tablet.
~ Rehearse your T2 plan: visualize the next stage of your race during the penalty. Where is your bike on the rack? What is your sequence of events for moving through transition as fast as possible? Can you make up a little time by being more efficient in T2? Just a few moments spent thinking this through can save you seconds or even minutes in transition
~ Use the time to compose yourself and focus on your breathing. Lower your HR. Try to lower your core temperature. Remind yourself that you don't really lose 5 minutes- you may be able to run a little faster or a ride a bit smoother after the break. And if the penalty prevents you from making a silly nutrition or hydration mistake then it may actually save you time in the long term.
What Not To Do:
~ Don't complain. It's not going to change anything.
~ Don't dwell on the penalty after you've served your 5 min stand down. Once you get back onto the race course your only focus should be on what you're doing right this moment
~ Don't blame anyone but yourself. Blaming others implies you have no control over your own decisions. Even if the course was crowded, or countless other athletes are drafting, you always have a choice to fall back or push to the front.
Finally, remember that just because you are hit with a drafting penalty, it doesn't mean you're a cheater. Yes, there are people who intentionally draft- and they're cheaters in my book, but not all people who serve a drafting penalty mean to cheat. The best way to race a triathlon is to ride as close to that 12 meter draft zone as possible and enjoy the slight drafting benefit 12 meters provides. Just remember that if you cut things too close, and have to pay the consequences, the penalty is now out of your control, but how to chose to respond and move forward is fully within your control.
The Ironman rule book.