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Should I wear socks in a triathlon?

Updated: Jul 15

Triathlon transition setup with questionmark over the socks

It's a valid question when it comes to Triathlon, Aquathlon, Aquabike or any sport that you come out of water.

How do you spot a triathlete?

They aren't wearing socks!

Some would call it a running-joke...(Please don't leave!)

Having been to many triathlons with first time triathletes, the biggest worry I seem to be questioned on is getting through the swim. This is normal and understandable.

The second biggest worry always comes straight after exiting the water - do I put socks on, or not?

Recently, I went and raced a local triathlon and got asked by the race director during the race briefing, in front of many triathletes, experienced and first timers, whether I would be wearing socks. He asked it with the expectation that no one should wear socks. I replied, “No, I’m not going to, but that doesn’t mean everyone else should go without!”

At the end of the day it is your choice whether you spend time putting socks on after your swim, or even after the bike. Below we will go into some detail with some questions that you should ask yourself to get to the answer you need.

What are your expectations for your event? 

This is the most important question to ask yourself, both in your build up to the event and in the answer to this question.

2 novice triathletes in transition with one putting on a sock
Going for socks at a local tri

If your aim is to finish the event and you are not worried about your speed, time or where you place, 100% spend time to put socks on after you get out of the water. Being comfortable will ensure that your mind is fully on getting yourself through the event without worry of sores or blisters. Triathlon is such a brilliant sport that you wouldn’t want to be put off because you saved 20 seconds in transition but ended up with horrible blisters!

On the other hand, if you are racing and you want the best possible time, achieve a big result or want to beat your friends, the 30 seconds saved in transition could give you the edge you need - I have a friend who put socks on after a swim and got beaten by another member of our friendship group by 6 seconds, having lost 38 seconds in the first transition. Boys being boys, 2 years on, he still hasn’t heard the end of it!

How far is the triathlon that you are doing? 

If you are doing a short triathlon, say a Sprint or Super-sprint, the likelihood of developing blisters is a lot lower than if you’re going further. The duration that your foot is going to be rubbing against your shoe is going to be low enough that your feet should remain fine. 

Some top athletes over longer distances will wear aerodynamic socks which will improve their efficiency on the bike as well as their comfort. Over such a long distance this efficiency and comfort benefit will outweigh the time lost putting socks on.

2 Triathletes at the end of a 10km run without socks
Sprint Finish at the Olympic Triathlon - London 2012 (No Socks!)

The chances of developing blisters also depends on your speed. I’d recommend not running for more than 40 minutes ‘sockless’, but that recommendation changes based on the next question that I have for you.

What is the temperature and how humid are the conditions?

The temperature will have a huge impact on the comfort of your feet. If it is hot or humid your feet will get s weaty, however much talcum powder you might use! This moisture will cause your feet to slide more in your shoe, creating more friction and a much higher chance of blisters. Socks will both wick this moisture away and create a protective barrier from this friction. 

Although, if it is too cold and your lack of socks cause your feet to go numb your bike ride is going to feel very uncomfortable and may cause your running form to suffer with no perception of how your feet are hitting the ground. 

You may have seen Elite athletes at the Tokyo Olympics with no socks on in 38 degree heat, and you may have seen a first time triathlete doing a super-sprint event with socks on in 15 degree temperatures. 

What should you do?

It is all your own personal preference. But if you are unsure, then it might be worth working with a coach. They can assess the situation you are in from the outside and discuss the best course of action with you.

At Efficient Endurance, we always focus on the athlete and what is best for them. With over 12 years of coaching and racing experience we have been through it all both ourselves and with coached athletes.

Have a look to see how we can help you:

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