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April 14, 2010 | Triathlon Training Blog

How Much Nudity Is Too Much in Triathlon—Any?

I recently ran across a column in The New York Times where a reader inquired how to tell a guy in his gym how to cover up his “mountain of flesh” after hinting that using a towel didn’t do the trick.

This encounter made me rethink my own perceptions and boundaries of nudity in the locker room with my colleagues present, at the pool and at public places and venues, where we triathletes train and race.

Peeing in Public

And I thought specifically of one event, the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt last July, where even someone like me, born and raised in Germany, contemplated the boundaries between showing too much as being sensible, even economical (supply vs. demand, which I’ll explain in a minute) or just being plain indecent in public.

I was trotting to the port-o-potties within the transition area, which is known for drawing ridiculously long lines the closer it gets to race start, when I noticed a bunch of males urinating into what resembled a circular trough—for all the world to see.  

Somewhat embarrassed of having caught as much as a glimpse of this public display of serial urination, I returned to my transition spot without giving it much more thought.

Luckily, there was some spatial separation between the female port-o-potties and the open air urinals, but no bush, fence or screen to avoid seeing the spectacle again on my way to the swim start.

So, given the typical shortage of port-a-potties at any race vs. the demand by athletes to do their business before the race begins (let alone during the race), one could chalk up this fast-track of male urination under German efficiency, but I can’t help wondering how the guys would feel if the roles were reversed?

I understand that for guys, urinating in public is “natural,” I just can’t see this circular trough becoming a trendsetter in the United States…

Changing Tents

Call me a klutz, but I once accidentally ran into the changing tent designated for males on my way to a swim start.

No worries, I don’t think it caused any post-traumatic stress disorder, because when I recognized my mistake, I immediately ran out screaming (ok, may be more embarrassed than screaming) and into the women’s tent.

I have yet to change clothes in transition, but I saw a video from a previous IM Germany race where a male Pro racer was aided by a female volunteer as he was changing from his bike shorts into run shorts.

She covered up all the right places with a towel while the cameras continued to roll.

Now, the fact that a female was holding up the towel didn’t seem to bother the Pro at all. And I don’t know about you, but if I was the one changing in a tent during transitions and a male volunteer was assisting me or other racers, female or male, for that matter were present, I don’t think I’d care too much either.

If one big tent would buy race directors a few more port-o-potties and some antibacterial soap, I’d take it. 

Nudity in the Locker Room

I don’t know how parading around nude goes over in the men’s locker room other than what this guy said in the New York Times article, but I know that in the women’s locker room, surely the boundary between nakedness and immodesty can be tricky.

I have witnessed girls wearing the shortest, sexiest skirts and leaving little to the imagination on top while sporting 4-inch heels, kill themselves trying to cover up in the locker room as they are changing into the tiniest workout clothes and seen women of all shapes, sizes and ages let it all hang out.

As a German, who grew up in a culture where even small-town families enjoy picnics at the nude beach, women sunbath topless, and people of both genders parade around nude in the same sauna, I sometimes question how this has shaped me. I’m definitely more aware of the taboos here than when I’m on vacation in Germany and no one seems to care very much, if women wear a bra (I know, crazy eh?) or cover up in the locker room.

I think in locker rooms filled with athletes, who are used to seeing their peers naked, perhaps covering up is less of an issue than seeing complete strangers at the local gym or your co-workers, who’d rather not know what you look like in the buff.

But then again, aren’t we using the locker room for one reason and one reason only: To change out of our clothes, to shower, and change into our clothes?

So you tell me, where do you draw the lines between nakedness in public and covering it all up?

By Marion Webb
Marion Webb

Marion Webb is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Webb has worked as a longtime award-winning business journalist, covering fitness, small business, health care and biotech issues. A competitive age-group triathlete and two-time ITU Long Distance World Championship qualifier, Webb competes mostly in the Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and (140.6 miles) Ironman distances.

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