Shoe fit and feel is critical for runners. Not only can it make your run more comfortable, proper shoe fit can prevent injury from over-tightened or poorly fitting shoes, and blisters caused by rubbing. Finding a consistent shoe fit is tough when you have to tie your laces every run. Triathletes may be able to offer a solution!
Triathletes – particularly sprint or Olympic distance specialists – have a particular need to balance shoe fit with quick transition ability. Essentially, our running shoes end up being slippers, (or they should, anyway). Watch most any triathlon, and you’ll see most athletes in the transition area working their way from the bike to the run as follows:
For most of us, getting our shoes on is the trickiest, most time-consuming part of T2. Some people make it harder by wearing running shoes with stock shoelaces.
Now, this isn’t a big deal if you’re not terribly competitive nor concerned about times, PRs, or placing in your age group. However, if you’re looking for “free time” that doesn’t require you to swim, bike, or run any faster, transitions are where that’s possible!
In my first triathlon in 2006, after racking my bike in T2, I sat down, took off my cycling shoes, donned and tied my running shoes. I think I got them tied in under sixteen minutes. Five-year-olds were laughing at shoe-tying prowess. (That same race, my swim-to-bike transition (T1) taught me that putting socks on wet feet after the swim is: (a) more difficult and time-consuming than most bachelor’s degree programs; and (b) completely unnecessary for the bike and a 5K or 10K run leg.) What was the single biggest improvement from my first race to my second just a few weeks later? You guessed it: my transitions were about two minutes faster. Otherwise, I dropped about 90 seconds off my time on the same course, and gained about 40 places overall with that effort. More than half of my total time drop was just from streamlined transitions! You can shave minutes by simply practicing transitions and incorporating a few tricks.
One of the easiest is a “speed lacing” system for your shoes. I’ve tried three different lacing systems in my racing exploits: Speed Laces, Yankz Sure Lace system, and now Xtenex X-Laces. I’ve also tried a set of triathlon-specific shoes which featured a “speed lace” system.
I believe that all runners, not just triathletes can benefit from elastic lacing systems. The question is: which one is
My first set of Speed Laces were a revelation – “Holy cow… it can be THIS EASY to get shoes on?” These guys are simple – you lace them just like regular laces, trim the excess, and then use their locking mechanism to hold them in place. I loved the ease of getting my shoes on, but found that the laces were either too tight or too loose in spots – there wasn’t much ability to customize the fit of the shoe. As I tried tweaking the fit, my shoes either slid around a little bit creating hot spots, or they felt too tight. That said, they were good for a season, and the cheapest of the bunch at about $6 a pop. I was looking for better…
Yankz Sure Laces – Yankz are similar to Speed Laces, but with a different locking mechanism which allows for easier overall adjustment. I liked the cleaner look with the Yankz, but they seemed to get tighter over time and required frequent (albeit easier) adjustments. In order to keep a good fit without my shoes slipping in the heel cup, I had to crank down on the laces. This led to over-tightening in the forefoot, to the point where I started experiencing significant pain in my left foot, even when I wasn’t running. I couldn’t fix the foot pain without making the rest of the shoes feel too loose. But again, I raced in these for a season, dealing with the foot pain probably longer than I should have.
Looking for a better solution, I next tried triathlon-specific running shoes by Zoot. For me, this solution was less than ideal, as I have feet as narrow as some toddlers and it’s hard for me to find a good shoe fit. The Zoots ended up being too wide for my feet, particularly after I’d worn them for the better part of a season. After bleeding through my shoe during an Olympic distance event, I decided that fit was more important for me than fancy “tri shoes”. I loved the insoles and the weight of the shoe, and the lacing system seemed adequate. But for $120 – $200 per pair, I thought I should get shoes that fit. (Some advocate buying the women’s version of a shoe for a narrower fit, but again… at that price, it’s tough to justify wearing hot pink shoes!)
Ever in search of the best of the best, earlier this year I came across my favorite (unsolicited endorsement!) lacing system:
Xtenex X-Laces – I’ve hinted at my love for my new Xtenex laces in my race reports from Solana Beach and Imperial Beach. These unique laces are elastic, and contain little elastic “knobs” that contract and expand as you pull on and release the laces. (Check out their video on how they work). From their website:
“The unique design of the Xtenex lacing system solves the problem of lace migration. Xtenex laces have an elastic core and a series of knots along the entire length of the lace at consistent length intervals. Stretch the lace and the knots disappear, allowing you to thread the lace through the eyelets. Release the tension and the knots reappear. More knots between eyelets lessens the tension; fewer knots between eyelets increases tension.”
And for me, that’s the ticket – consistent fit every time I pull them on, and the ability to make micro-adjustments to the fit and feel of the shoe. I can have a more snug fit where I want it, and a looser fit in the forefoot where the others always got tighter over time. The X-laces elastic seems just right. Unlike the two other elastic lacing systems I’ve tried, these truly expand as your foot swells without compromising fit.
I like these so much, I put them on my trainers in addition to my racing shoes.
Available in about twenty different colors and patters, they run about $15 per set. The difference to me is worth it – no foot pain, no slippage, consistent and completely customizable fit. The fact that I can pick a shoe that fits me well, and then put a customizable lace on it has solved all of my foot pain problems and provided a comfortable ride for a lot less than tri-specific shoes.
The only downside (other than costing twice as much as other lace systems) is the look. You can tuck the lace tips inside the shoe, but that’s not great for a triathlon transition. I just tie them in the front and loop them under the cross-laces, leaving a big mess, but I’m able to slip them on and off with ease. Who’s inspecting your running shoes anyway? Function over form here, people.
As if they needed any more positive press from TriPurple, the company even sent me an email before shipping to make sure that I had ordered the proper size. They sent their fit chart via email, and once convinced I had the right size (X300, 20″ for my New Balance Course shoes), they shipped them out same-day. Fantastic customer service!
So that’s it – my unsolicited, no-personal-interest-held endorsement of Xtenex laces. I strongly suggest triathletes invest a few bucks in a “speed lacing” system, and Xtenex XLaces are the best of the best! I recommend them for runners looking for consistent, customizable fit in their shoes as well.
Do you have a favorite lacing system not mentioned here? Post a comment below!