Tying the Knots

bill rodgers laces  usain bolt's shoes

Day #64: Lacing Up For the Big Race

In a society where some of the most important knots we tie come unraveled before the race is finished (think “until death do us part…”), I thought it would pay to consider just how we lace up before our big running events. And so it stands to reason that one refrain I am constantly reminding my daughters of is: “…before the start of the Olympic 10,000 meters in such and such a year, Two Thousand and — … make sure you double-knot your laces!” My daughters roll their eyes – “Whatever, Papa!” and run off to play while I imagine them cranking down the home-stretch, eyes fixed on the finish, and then – whoops! slip! trip! Down she goes in a pile of debris, as the worlds’ greatest pour through to steal the podium…” Yeah, you are rolling your eyes by now, too:)

My dream/nightmare scenario raises several questions, though. First off, will there even be laces in the year “Twenty-something”? Secondly – maybe more importantly – will my daughters possibly be able to tie a single bow, much less the tenacious double-knot? After all, my 5-year-old has velcro and buckles — and Mommy and Papa. Who needs to know how to lace up these days?!

The subject of laces should not be dismissed too readily by the serious athlete. Think back on your own sins. Do you remember a time when you missed an opportunity because of a poorly laced shoe? I’m sure you have your stories… For me, my soccer days come to mind. There I was, hopping frantically on one leg, a lace in each hand, dancing to try to make a play, and then giving up the laces and letting my foot down to make a defensive stand, only to eventually lose my shoe and the ball … and get stepped on with cleats to complete the humiliation. Yeah, you guessed it –that’s when my college coach rolled his eyes. 

The famous have had their moments, too. Boston’s finest Bill Rodgers famously stopped at the base of Heartbreak Hill en route to winning the 1975 Boston Marathon and setting the American record:

“Rodgers stopped four times for water that day and a fifth time to tie his shoe at the base of Heartbreak Hill. Still, he ran 2:09:55, a time he himself did not believe when he found out afterward. ‘I can’t run that fast,’ he protested.” (RW)

Amazingly, the more I look into laces and running history, the more I see that the correlation may be the opposite of what I had initially thought. Instead of faulty laces undoing the glories of the greatest, the greatest seem to unleash their best when their laces untangle. 

A second memorable example of an athlete beating the curse of the laces was John Kagwe in the 1997 NYC Marathon. Do you remember that nail-biter? Having broken one of the cardinal rules of race preparation by purchasing a new pair of shoes for the next days race, he was tempting the fates. His triple knot held up through mile 3 of the marathon the next morning. He stopped, got his laces back in order and made up the 30 meter gap that the lead pack opened. His problems were far from over. At mile 10 and again in the 22nd mile – just as he made his move to pressure the field, his right laces untied.With his small lead in jeopardy, he had no option but to press forward, hoping his shoelace-plagued Nike Air Vengeance’s would stay on his feet. They did and he won the exhilarating and anxiety-provoking race in 2:08:01 – only 11 seconds shy of the course record set 9 years before. 

“I could have broken the record if my shoe hadn’t bothered me,” said Kagwe.

Another crisis averted. And he triple-tied them! I triple-dog dare you to try that:)

Finally, we cannot forget Usain Bolt, who at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, shattered the World Record in the 100 meters to grab gold — all with one shoe untied (see image at the top of this post):

“Bolt’s time of 9.69 seconds could have been faster – if his shoelace was tied – and if he hadn’t spent the last metres pounding his chest and hamming it up for the cameras.” (Fox Sports)

Nevertheless, we mortals need to lace up wisely before our big event. I think the most important aspect in this is to put the proper tying of your laces on your mental pre-race checklist. FYI, I am a double-knotter, personally, though I have known many runners who were confident in a single knot, gently tugged. (I suppose I am a bit more scrappy out there on the roads and trails than these counterparts of mine.)

To conclude, I am reminded of a run I was part of a couple of years ago. I was enjoying one of probably 100 training runs with my buddy Gray Mavhera – former NCAA Div 2 indoor 5,000 meter record holder. Gray could run! We were out with another buddy of Gray’s – a runner from Tanzania known to me only as “Bones” because he was so light. Gray used to joke that “Bones” better not stand too close to the street at a bus stop or he may be sucked under the bus when it sped by. That’s how light “Bones” was. Anyway, on this particular uptempo 10-mile training run, I remember being astounded to see, at the end of our solid effort, that “Bones” had his shoes on like loafers – laces not tied but tucked back nicely into the eye-lits of the shoes. Talent, I thought to myself. Genetics! How are you gonna compete:)

Perhaps, Zola Budd had it right all along in 1984 when the only laces she needed to primp were the drawstrings for her shorts. Now, if she could only have stayed in her lane!

Tie wisely:)

~Coach Reed

Some quotes for today — just because it is TODAY:)

“I want to run until I can’t run.” ~Bill Rodgers

“I did stop once to tie my shoe but only after I knew I was far out in front with no one on my heels.” ~Bill Rodgers

By the way, in case you must know the BEST way to keep those laces tied, here’s a link: Fit to be tied

image credits: seanlovelace.com & dailymail.co.uk

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