“Now up until that moment, I would have thought that by age 50, one of the life skills that I had really nailed was tying my shoes, but not so…” – Terry Moore
The first time that David Wilder told me that I was tying my shoes wrong, I listened politely but made no effort to mend my ways. I don’t remember exactly when or how the subject came up, but it must have been during the spring of 2013. David, a 2008 graduate of Concord Academy, had been a captain on the cross country team the very first year that I coached there. We had stayed in touch, and after he graduated from college joined me that season as an assistant coach for Track and Field. Anyway, he told me that my traditional method of tying my shoes was flawed. A single knot, tied in the traditional way, was next to useless and would come undone in no time; a double-knot might hold up for a while, but was still prone to working its way free, especially in wet weather when the ends of the laces became slightly heavier as they absorbed water. There was a better way (he said), a knot that had no inclination to undo itself, but instead would self-tighten during normal use.
At the time, I had mild interest but couldn’t be bothered to learn the new habit, so I continued to tie my shoes in the usual way, and they continued to come untied. Maybe they didn’t work their way loose on every run, but it was often enough that when it happened, I had a vague thought that there might be a solution out there.
Of course, we’ve all had to deal with shoelaces coming undone at inconvenient times. Over the years, we’ve also probably learned to be especially scrupulous about our shoe-tying before races. Double or even triple knots are standard fare. Or we give up on the knots and instead employ a technological solution, installing LaceLockers or Lock Laces, or some other manufactured thingy that compensates for the unreliability of the laces on their own.
David was back coaching with me again last fall, and towards the end of the season, the topic came up again. Maybe it was a wet and muddy day, and maybe I was sick and tired of having to stop and — with fingers stiff and cramped — deal with my footwear. Whatever it was, I went to David determined to learn the secret. he obliged, and for some reason, after being shown it again, I didn’t immediately forget it. Over the next couple of months, I practiced every day. It definitely took time to learn, and it still isn’t second nature, but the results more than repaid the effort. Since I started using the special knot, my shoes haven’t come untied accidentally even once.
If, like me a few years ago, you can’t be bothered to change the way you lace up, I’m not going to judge. But if you are eager to solve a problem that has heretofore baffled the mind of man, check out the following video. Remember, the technique will feel awkward at first, but once mastered, will provide you with snug laces the rest of your running days.
It turns out there’s a short TedTalk (from 2005!) that describes a subtle change in basic shoelace-tying technique that produces the “strong” form of the traditional knot, rather the more common “weak” from that many of us learned. I haven’t tried this, but if you’re interested, the TedTalk is here:
I have no idea how well this works for keeping the shoes tied, but it seems to me that it would be prone to some of the same issues as the traditional way.
David’s method, on the other hand, hasn’t failed me once since I started putting it into practice four months ago. At the New Bedford Half Marathon last weekend I myself witnessed several people stop during the race to re-tie wayward laces. But I, on the other hand, never had a problem. Putting David’s method to the test for the first time in a long race, my shoelaces were the least of my worries.