I hope everyone is ready for a good weekend training and in some cases racing. After a few things I saw at my last race a few weeks ago I thought I would do a quick write up on race tattoos or tri tats. For those completely new to the sport. The Tri Tattoo is a temporary tattoo that matches your race number. It’s what identifies you as a participant while swimming, biking and running were your gear can be completely different on the standard race bib just will not work. They also allow the announcer to identify you and makes it easy for all the fancy software the sports photography people run in order to sort and group photos so you don’t have to look through 10K or more photos just to find the 5 or 6 that are of you. Lastly and most importantly they make you look cool. Like a Pro.

When you get the race photo address give it a tri. Search you race number it could surprise you how easy it is. This is of course assuming they did t already group them for you. Every company is a little different.

With the tri tat there is a right and wrong way to apply them. I’ve seen many wrong ways over the last couple years and even saw some new ones at my wife’s Spa Girl race a few weeks ago and yesterday at the Katy Triathlon. This is expected with sprint races being geared more for the beginner.

Lets summarize some of these “wrong ways” because after all my goal with this blog is to help the beginner learn from my experience as well as those with experience to learn from each other.

The Mirror – This is when the wearer applied the tats in reverse making the 26 year old racer identify as a 62 year old racer. And, no, you can’t podium with the 60+ age group.

There is a variation of this where it’s upside down and backwards. I haven’t come up with a name for this.

The Mystery – These tats are ultimately missing something. More often than not it’s one of the numbers sometimes half a number. The best fix for this is to find someone who is talented with a Sharpie. The most likely cause of this is from not having the tat flat on the skin with plenty of water on the backing to allow for the full transfer off the paper.

The Ghost – The best I can guess is that these are the people who forgot completely or they were not provided with the race packet and somehow missed body marking.

Sharpie artwork, No tri tats

The Profile – These people put them on the outside of their arms so that you can’t see them unless they turn to the side.

The opposite of the profile are those that place them on the front facing surface. Making it easy to see for the finish but the race course photos always have them in the lost and found because they were taking photos from the sides. Think of it like an old big screen TV (15 years or more ago) if you weren’t sitting directly in front you couldn’t see what was on.

The goal is to see them from as large a viewing angle as possible.  Place them so that they are about 45 degrees from the side or front surfaces of your arms. This will help make sure they are visible no matter what position you are in.

Try to get them straight. This is easy with the single number tattoos but if you have a set of 3 or more tats for each race number it gets much harder to get them aligned properly and not upside down. 😬

The Age Group number (that one that tells everyone behind you that your not really 29 for the 6th year in a row) goes on the back side of the left calf.

The rest of your body is a free for all to apply custom tattoos of just about whatever you want. It’s your canvas.


  • Have someone help apply them.
  • Apply them the night before.
  • Always remove the clear plastic before applying. They can be saved but its not guaranteed and very difficult to do.
  • Scotch tape can be used to remove all or part while it’s freshly applied. (example: wrong number)
  • Baby oil will remove them (So I’m told, it’s never worked for me. maybe it’s skin type.)
  • Sun screen can also remove them on some people to be careful when applying
  • Packing tape works (This is my new method, like a bandaid pull hard and fast and you won’t feel a thing)
With tri tats