Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Choosing the right shoes for triathlon

I was involved recently in a discussion that started with a question something like “what brand of trainers should I buy?” and was then quickly answered by a plethora of responses such as “I’ve always like Mizuno” or “the Brooks T7 work great for me”.

A little bit concerned by these answers, I felt compelled to wade in.

My shoe cupboard!My response was along the lines that there are no “good” or “bad” trainer manufacturers on the whole.  All the leading manufacturers – from Nike to Adidas, K-Swiss to Asics, Mizuno to Saucony (and others I’ve left out!) – make great run shoes.  The point I was trying to make is that while many of us naturally fall into supporting one brand of trainer, actually what’s important is the individual shoe.  All of the brands I’ve called out above have BIG shoe ranges; offering everything from stripped-down track spikes through to marathon flats and then all manner of ‘supportive’ shoes (not to mention 'barefoot' or 'natural' running shoes!). 

Yet I challenge anybody to take ONE brand and find ALL of their shoes comfortable.  It just won’t happen!

Let’s take Adidas for example – since it’s my blog and my favourite shoes right now just happen to come from them (and yes, I admit it, it doesn’t hurt my opinion of Adidas that both Brownlee boys wear them… sponsorship DOES work!).  Since the middle of 2011, I’ve been training in the Boston lightweight marathon-distance trainer and racing (up to 10km) in the Adios (a very lightweight neutral race shoe).  But I’ve also tried the Supernova range and I’ve really not gotten on with them.

The same goes for K-Swiss.  I rate the K-Ona S highly, but don’t like the K-Ruuz or Tubes.

The fact is, all manufacturers try to capture as much of the market as they can by making different shoes for different runners.  Light runners, heavy runners. Pronators, supinators. Mid-foot strikers, heel strikers.  So let’s say you’re a light runner who pronates slightly but has a roughly mid-foot strike. It’s hugely unlikely you’re going to get on with a shoe designed for a heavy, supinating heel striker, even if it’s from your ‘favourite’ shoe manufacturer!

So… put aside your brand loyalty for just a moment and instead follow these basic rules when choosing your next trainers:

1. Get a gait analysis done. NEVER buy run shoes without doing this! In short, this involves visiting a good running (or triathlon) shop and having yourself videoed on a treadmill (usually wearing your existing trainers or a pair of neutral shoes).  The video can be replayed in slow-motion and will show exactly how each foot is landing – from which a trained shoe fitter can advise on which shoes are suitable for your running style.

2. Be clear on the ‘purpose’ of the trainer.  What distances are you looking to cover? Will the shoes be for racing or training?  I think it’s fair to say most competitive triathletes have at least a couple of trainers – as I said above, I do most training runs in a mid-weight, mildly-supportive shoe, while I race in a very lightweight neutral shoe.  I’m very conscious I would NOT train all the time in the Adios.  I fear the lack of support would make me more injury prone.

3. Be honest with yourself! If you’ve had bad experiences with trainers before, or are recovering from an injury, you need to bear these in mind when selecting new shoes. Tell the shop about any worries and they will help you factor these into your shoe selection.

4. Try to look beyond the badge and colour.  A difficult one, I know. But try to test the shoes ‘blind’.  The only two things that count are fit and feel (tip: try to run on the shop’s treadmill at about the same speed you train / race at). 

5. Try running barefoot. Ok, remember to wash your feet first, or the shop might not like you! But if you’re going to race a triathlon in these shoes, the chances are (up to Half-IM distance, anyway) you’re going to race barefoot.  So find out if the shoes are comfortable.  Ridges and seams that you can’t feel when wearing socks can quickly cause discomfort or blisters when barefoot.

Triathlon-specific features

An increasing number of manufacturers (K-Swiss, Zoot, Asics etc.) are focusing on marketing triathlon-specific shoes designed to appeal with features such as:

- hoops on heel and/or tongue to make them easier to pull on in T2
- elastic laces for T2 speed (these are a cheap add-on, see below)
- drainage holes in soles to aid water dispersal
- sockless liners to make the shoes more comfortable to wear bearfoot.
- large tongues to make it easier to pull shoes on (in lieu of hoops above)

Whether these features are enough to tempt you to buy a triathlon-specific shoe is entirely up to you.  If I were to critique my own choice, the Adidas Adios, I’d love them to have a larger tongue (as above), but otherwise they are fine up to 10km.  Beyond that, I’d probably want a better liner for sockless running.   So will I wear them for my upcoming half-IM? Probably not.  For that I think I’m going to try to find something that really offers a light weight with some support and excellent barefoot running comfort. 

Setting up your shoes for racing

So… you’ve chosen your shoes for race day.  What can you do to help ensure they perform on race day and you don’t have a T2 disaster?!  Here are just a couple of basic tips that might make a difference:

1. Use elastic laces – there are so many choices out there, but personally I prefer the simple and cheap ‘lock laces’. Whatever you go for, set the tension to the best compromise between ease of getting the shoe on in T2 and comfort when running (for longer distance races, lace systems like ‘Greepers’ may offer the best of both worlds).

2. Glue your insole in place – yes really! More than once I’ve either had an insole come out of place in T1 (duathlon) or ride up under my foot during the run.  By using a light glue, you can stick the insole in place and have confidence it won’t ruin your run. Just apply a small amount under where the ball of the foot and heel would be, slide the soles in and allow a few minutes for the glue to dry.  Do this well in advance of race day!

3. Use talc inside the shoes – your feet could well be wet coming into T2 and this will make getting run shoes on more difficult.  Talc helps fight the friction and will help your foot slide in more easily.

So I hope that’s been helpful.  As usual, I’m no expert, just a guy who has made a few mistakes over the years and I’m trying to save you from making the same.  Always happy for others to add their own views using the comments boxes below.


Now, back to multi-sport racing… ;) 





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