Customer Friendly Race Policies

We’ve been writing a fair bit, as of late, about very different race experiences. Whether it’s finding an event with an amazing course, or a grassroots feel, or a marriage of the pro field and the age group experience, it’s all been focused on one thing: the experience on race day itself. Today we’re going to look at something that has long been a pain point for athletes: customer service policies.

Triathlon, for better or for worse, has almost always placed the burden on the athlete to make sure that they are able to show up on race day. Injured? Rub some dirt on it and get out there (or don’t). Illness? Sorry. Choose to have children? That’s your problem. There have been occasional exceptions to this rule, either by policy, or by insurance. But even the race insurance products aren’t great; for example, if your race date gets moved (like during COVID), your policy was only effective for the original race date.

It’s the elephant in the room for race entry. And it’s something that you, as an athlete, simply have to consider going forward in your calculus of what race should I enter next?

Frankly, the gold standard for these policies are the new PTO Tour events. They’re taking flexibility to a new level in the racing industry, and pulling the onus off of the athlete to self-insure against not being able to make it on race day. Let’s do a little bit of a deeper dive on the four(!!!) separate policies they are offering to racers.

Illness and Injury Policy

This is the policy that most race directors might offer, and usually it’ll mean that you can either transfer your entry to another event or defer to the following year. It’s certainly better than nothing, but it is of little consolation if you’ve suffered a catastrophic injury and don’t know whether you’re going to be able to race again. I’m sadly familiar with this, having had to take two long hiatus from sport due to injury in the last ten years; my last article on Rasputitsa was my first solo event in 33 months.

The PTO Tour events go a step forward with a refund. The details are pretty straightforward – send in a doctor’s note at least 21 days in advance and you get your money back. Having eaten my fair share of entry fees in the past, it’s a welcome change.


As much as we want COVID to be over, it simply isn’t there yet – particularly in places that are not the United States. COVID forced a lot of policy change across the travel industry. For example, airlines continually offered free changes; AirBNB initially refunded travelers forced into isolation before their trip. And that doesn’t begin to mention all of the policies and date changes that COVID forced upon the events industry – for example, I think I still have one final race entry that I paid for in 2019 that is actually taking place here in 2022.

The PTO, in addition to their illness and injury policy, has two specific COVID policies. The first is if the event itself gets canceled – there’s no transfers or deferrals here, it’s a full refund. That being said, with a race in Texas, it’s highly unlikely that stop on the PTO Tour would be outright canceled. That’s where their second policy comes in. If you’re forced into isolation due to a COVID exposure, or you are yourself positive, you’re able to get your money back, too.

That winds up having two impacts: first, it’s beneficial to the one athlete in question. But more importantly, it means limiting transmission of the virus itself by keeping COVID positive athletes away from the race. And yes, I know: outdoor transmission is negligible, etc. But I’d rather a race offer it than not.

New Children

Triathlon has long had a pregnancy problem. Whether it’s professional women who wind up behind the eight-ball under the former Kona Points Ranking qualification system for the IRONMAN World Championships, or not offering any kind of refund to expecting parents, race producer’s answer has been the same as it’s been to every one else on this list: that’s your problem, not mine. The PTO Tour events take a different approach, and it’s the same as the others on this list: send something over 21 days beforehand, and you can get a refund.

Note that the PTO policy is worded as “becoming a parent.” Everyone is included: mothers and fathers, either giving birth or adopting.

Other Stuff

The PTO has committed to “be flexible” for other issues up to 21 days before the race. Their website lists items like bereavement, family emergencies, or relocation. What does that flexibility actually look like? My guess is that it would be to offer a variety of options, like race transfers or deferrals, and depending on how far out from the race date, might include refunds.

Stepping away from Slowtwitch duties for a moment, as a race director I’ll be honest: the way the PTO Tour is approaching these policies is going to make me rethink policies that we’ve offered in the past. Although I personally don’t want to be handling medical information, I think these types of policies are going to only grow in popularity. As a much smaller race, I don’t think that we’d be able to offer refunds, but the bar has been raised with regard to customer service. We’d be remiss to at least not rethink our policies.

PTO Tour Race Dates
Canadian Open - July 23-24, 2022
Collins Cup - August 20-21, 2022
US Open - September 17-18, 2022

Photo Credit - Ben Kimball Photography