In addition to coaching I work as a floor manager at a family-owned run specialty shop. We put the shoes on and take them off for customers and tie them as well. I can tell you that when a customer insists on tying their own shoe I usually have to sit on my hands, and sometimes I have to close my eyes, because lacing is such an important part of how they experience the shoe.
In fact, how shoes are tied is so important that we usually spend a good chunk of training practicing tying shoes. So let’s talk about why the way you tie your shoes is important, and then a few tricks you can use in your lacing to solve common issues.
To talk about lacing I first need to talk about a properly fitted shoe. Your running shoe should be snug in the midfoot, a slight slip in the heel is ok but it shouldn’t feel like it’s coming off your foot, and you want room to wiggle your toes. When standing with your toes on the ground (not lifted towards the top of the shoe to see where they are) you should have a half to a full thumb width in the front of your shoe. And do you know what makes that midfoot hold the shoe securely on your foot? You guessed it, the way you lace.
There are lots of nerves and blood vessels running on the top of your foot. The key is to make sure that the lacing is not so loose that the shoe slips around, but also not so tight that we’re cutting off circulation. I have seen people, typically men of retirement age, who will literally loop the laces around their hands and pull as hard as they can. That is too tight.
You also want to make sure that the laces are uniform the entire way up. You do this by starting at the base of the laces and tugging there and then moving up eyelet by eyelet. If you just pull at the top you’ll have loops of loose laces at the bottom and potentially too snug of a fit at the top. Here’s a video demonstrating proper lacing.
Laces dictate the snugness of the shoe, and this snugness can vary slightly based on the tension you put on each section. However, with certain shoe issues there are some lacing tricks that can help immensely.
There are times you may need more space in the front of your shoe. Maybe your forefoot is wider, maybe your toes are swollen during an ultra, or maybe you have a black toenail. To give this extra space you can simply take your laces out and then re-lace your shoe skipping the first set of eyelets.
This trick allowed a friend of mine to run Western States with a broken toe. A few weeks later she also finished the Tevis Cup 100 mile horse race with the broken toe, riding the horse who had stepped on and broke said toe weeks earlier.
Sometimes you may have pain on the top of your foot that is irritated by the laces passing over it. There are also cases where people may have an extremely high instep, a bony protrusion on the top of their foot, etc. In these cases skip-lacing can be effective. It is exactly what it sounds like, you lace up to just below the affected area, and skip to the eyelets above the area. This allows the shoe over the area to be looser, while still snugging it around your foot.
Finally, there are times when a shoe slips too much in the heel, but fits well in the rest of the foot. In these cases, you can either do drop lacing or a runner’s knot. For drop lacing you simply use the top eyelet that is further back. This grabs the ankle material further back and snugs it around the heel more).
If you still feel that the heel is slipping too much you can try a runner’s knot. For this, using the top two eyelets of the shoe you go up through the front eyelet and down through the back eyelet, creating a loop. You then cross the laces and drop them down through the loops. Then use a sawing motion to tighten the laces down. Check out this video to learn more. One word of caution with the runner’s knot is that it can be easy to get too much tension and put unwanted pressure on the tendon in the front of your foot.
To recap, it is important to lace your shoes properly. It’s essential to getting the right fit for your running shoes, and in some cases can help fix issues that you’re having with your shoe or foot. There is a rumor that Lebron James spends 15 minutes before basketball games getting the right tension on how his shoes are laced. As a runner it’s well worth a few minutes to get our lacing done right!
Des Clarke is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with her, check out her coach profile.