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From the moment the cannon fires, until you cross the finish line, the clock is ticking. In triathlon, every second counts, and a quick transition can make all the difference. That’s where elastic shoelaces come into play.
Replacing traditional shoelaces with an elastic version can be a quick way to pick up free speed in transition—allowing you to slide your foot in and out of your shoes with ease. Elastic shoelaces are adjustable, easy to install, and come in bright colors to match every kit.
But, for all the pros, there are a few elastic shoelace cons, and you might be surprised to learn you’re using them the wrong way…
When should I use elastic shoelaces?
There’s no question that elastic or “speed” laces are faster than traditional laces. Typically, the shorter the race, the more important the use of elastic shoelaces becomes, because every second counts. That makes these a great choice for a sprint or Olympic-distance triathlon. However, for any run longer than a 10K, the benefits diminish. For example, in a 12 to 14-hour Ironman those seconds are less valuable and it’s more important to take the time to put on socks and tie your shoelaces.
“In a long race, like a marathon, take the time to put on your socks and tie up your shoes,” said Cody Angell, a triathlete, runner, and co-owner of St. Pete Running Company with his wife. “If it takes an extra minute over a 13-hour day during an Ironman, that might not move the needle either way.”
But if elastic shoelaces work great for short distances, then why not use them for longer races anyway? First, the elastic nature of these laces means that your foot will move around more inside of the shoe, which can lead to blisters. Second, this increased movement of the foot within the shoe can also lead to reduced run economy because your foot biomechanics change slightly.
“Traditional laces provide a lock down feel across the top of the shoe, which is really important,” Angell said. “If elastic laces were the superior answer for every runner, all the time, I think shoes might come equipped that way already.”
Something else to consider is the type of terrain and surface you’re going to run on. For an off-road race, standard laces might be a better bet, since they’ll hold your foot more securely within the shoe.
Why you shouldn’t train in elastic laces
This is also why you shouldn’t train with elastic shoelaces. Traditional laces are designed to securely hold your foot in position within the shoe. Whereas, elastic laces are designed to help your foot slide in and out of a shoe with ease.
It might seem like a small detail, but using elastic laces on too many of your training runs can lead to big problems. Within the foot, there are muscles, ligaments, and tendons that work together to provide stabilization. Because elastic laces allow the foot to move within the shoe, those structures can be subjected to more stress and fatigue. Over time, the constant movement of your foot during the toe-off and contact phases of running can place undue stress on the foot and even alter the way you run, which could lead to injuries.
Using elastic laces once or twice a month during a race shouldn’t cause any long-term problems (as long as you use them correctly). But for racking up weekly mileage during training runs, take the extra minute to lace up your shoes properly.
Different types of elastic shoelaces
While there are likely dozens of versions of elastic shoelaces for sale at the expo of your next triathlon, there are a few common types.
Some elastic laces have a locking closure. This allows you to adjust the closure for a more secure or looser fit. However, because the tension runs throughout the entire lace, some people don’t like how tight these feel across the top of the foot. One popular locking brand is Lock Laces, but Angell recommends an alternative with added adjustability—Yankz! (Yes, with the exclamation point.)
“If you have a foot that requires being dialed in, check out Yankz!, because they can be adjusted from the top and the bottom,” he said. “These are recommended for people with maybe a wider forefoot, but who want to lock it in at the top. They have the right amount of elasticity, but they’re not so tight that you can’t get your foot in easily in transition. The downside is they take longer to install.”
Another style of elastic lace has small bumps at consistent intervals that hold it in place, like Caterpy laces. When you stretch the lace, the knots disappear, which allows you to thread it through the shoe’s eyelets. When you release the tension, the knots reappear, keeping it secure.
A big benefit is adjustability. More knots placed between eyelets means less tension, while less knots between eyelets creates more tension. This might be helpful if you prefer a looser fit in the toe box, but want to cinch it tight at the ankle. Also, no closure piece is needed. You just cut them off at the ends.
“We switched from Lock Laces to Caterpy, because they’re easier to install,” Angell said. “Also, the dots can be configured specially for a high instep; just pull 4-5 dots between each eyelet. For a thinner foot, use 2-3 dots and they hold their place relatively well.”
Common mistakes with elastic shoelaces
Elastic shoelaces may seem like the simplest piece of race equipment involved in triathlon, but like with any piece of gear, you should never use anything new on race day. “We always see people break this rule,” Angell said. “If I could only count the number of people who come into our expo booth at a 70.3 or Ironman buying stretchy laces for their shoes.”
It’s important to try out elastic laces prior to race day to ensure they’re properly adjusted and that you’ll feel comfortable for the entire run. Too loose and, while you can get your foot in easily, your heel will slide up and down. Too tight and, although your foot will be secure, the laces might feel uncomfortable. Play around with the fit in training—not on race day.
“The mistake we see most people, even experienced people, make is that they put the laces in too tight,” Angell said. “When you run, your feet splay and swell up, so we recommend to install them a hair loose.” This is an added benefit of elastic laces because, as your feet swell during a race, the laces give slightly, relieving pressure, as long as you have them adjusted correctly.
Tips for using elastic laces
- Do use for short distance triathlons like a sprint or Olympic.
- Don’t use for runs that are too long, especially if you have any niggles or running injuries.
- Do practice using them before your race so you can adjust the tension.
- Don’t install the laces too tight.
- Do use in race shoes, not on regular training runs.