New running shoes hit the market all the time, which can be confusing for triathletes looking to find the perfect fit. So what are the new shoe technologies and how can they assist triathletes?
First, let’s first consider whether there are triathlon-specific shoes. To be honest, I don’t believe shoe companies design shoes specifically for the triathlon market. They may take similar tech from lightweight shoes and racing flats, tweak the closure system, give them a radically different colourway and say they’re tri shoes, but the reality is these shoes use much the same technology as normal road shoes.
WHAT ARE THE NEW SHOE TECHNOLOGIES?
The new technologies that are really making waves are:
• A maximalist, thick-stack cushion of lightweight, energy-returning foams
• Deep but linked decoupling grooves in the midsole
• A rocker outsole
• Carbon plates in the midsole (not yet mainstream)
All of these technologies are researched not only by the companies but also by independent laboratories, so the claims made are based on some solid science.
CAN THESE NEW TECHNOLOGIES HELP TRIATHLETES?
The actual biomechanics of running don’t
differ between the sport of running and the sport of triathlon. But whereas a pure runner starts their race with a fresh set of legs, a triathlete starts the run with fatigue in their quads, and muscle shortening in their calves and hamstrings – and that can be where the origin of some of their injuries lie. Triathletes know only too well that their legs need a reboot at the start of their run and that it can take time for them to settle into the rhythm of a comfortable run.
Tired legs mean your normal pattern in running will be compromised. You may not be able to go to your normal stride length and as a consequence increase your cadence. You may not be able to control your forefoot speed from heel strike and get a forefoot slap. Toeing off may be compromised because your calves are tight and tired. You can’t control the flexion at your knees because of quad fatigue, and all of this may take time to settle.
It is now known that one of the biggest predictors of running injuries comes from something called “the peak braking force”. This is the force that stops your foot when you land on the floor. It should be well controlled by the muscles in your legs and your core (yes, strength training is a real need) but the more fatigued you are, the less able your body is to cope with this force, and the greater the damage it can do.
Can a shoe help? A thick stack in the midsole, together with softer density, more responsive materials (material that absorbs and returns the energy), may be responsible for decelerating and dissipating this force. The thick stack will compress to absorb the impact that your legs may battle with in the beginning.
A rocker design that accelerates the foot as it goes through the gait cycle could also be considered tri friendly. The rocker profile will help the ‘ride’ from heel strike through midfoot into toe off.
A carbon plate, however, doesn’t offer much assistance unless you are running below a three-hour marathon pace, say the biomechanists. In fact, some say you need to learn a new technique in order for the carbon plate to assist.
SOME OTHER FOOT-FRIENDLY ADVICE.
Battling to get a shoe on, or taking time to tie laces properly, costs valuable seconds in T2. And when you are racing for a podium, or a PB (so your mates buy the beers), those seconds count. Elastic laces are an obvious solution, but they can be tricky. Too tight or too loose and they’re uncomfortable, and are timeconsuming to sort out. Zubits are magnetic shoe closures that you lace into the shoe. They are supposedly very powerful, self-aligning and waterproof. It means you can have your shoe wide open, slip your foot in, pull up the tongue – and snap, off you go. I haven’t seen them, but if they do what they say they do, then they are worth a try.
For those runners who complain of forefoot numbness, a simple lacing adjustment could be the answer. Loosen one of the laces that crosses over the top of your foot, where your main foot artery runs. If need be, go to a podiatrist or sports physio and ask them to find the dorsalis pedis artery, then re-lace to make sure there is no pressure on this artery.
Laces should be firm enough to keep your foot and the shoe together. You don’t want your foot to slide around inside the shoe, especially if you are an orthotic wearer. Unnatural or excessive movement inside a shoe equals friction, and friction equals blisters.
Choose your socks with care. Some fibres will absorb and hold more water, which in turn will keep your feet wet for longer. Brands such as Balega use mohair, which dries more quickly. Sealskinz socks are reportedly waterproof and state that the foot remains dry; they have three layers and are designed to allow sweat out but not let water in. A concern here will be using a sock like this in a hotter climate as even a thin sock has a high thermal rating. They may have a place, but be cautious.
Use lube liberally over areas where you are prone to blister. Spread it onto the foot, over the socks and between your toes – wherever you need it. If you wear orthotics, or race without socks, place a thick smear over the arch of the shoe or orthotics before you put them into transition.