Triathletes need shoes that are quick to put on.
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Triathlons could be considered a four-sport event. Not only do you swim, bike and run, but you have to be skilled at transitioning between the disciplines quickly to get ready for the next sport. Transitions can be done in no time -- or cost you lots of time. Triathlon shoes are engineered with transitions in mind and are designed to get in and out of quickly.
Shoes on the Pedals
After the swim in a triathlon comes the bike portion of the event. Many triathletes will arrive at their bikes in the designated transition area, put on their helmet and run away barefoot with their triathlon-specific cycling shoes already connected to their bike pedals. Once they cross the mount line, they will jump onto their bikes, and start pedaling with their feet on top of their shoes. When they have some speed, they will slide one foot into their shoe while maintaining speed. Next, they will slide their other foot into their shoe. Pros and amateurs alike vary in how long they take to put on their cycling shoes. Some are comfortable with pedaling barefoot for a while and others prefer getting their feet into their shoes as soon as possible.
Triathlon-Specific Cycling Shoes
There are cycling shoes that are specifically designed for triathlons. Some features to look for are a heel-loop, a single strap for fastening, a stiff sole and comfort. The heel-loop helps putting on your cycling shoes quickly and gives you some leverage to pull them on. Cycling shoes often have three or four straps, but in a triathlon quick transitions are a top priority and a wide single strap is standard. A stiff sole helps efficiently transfer energy to your pedals. Comfort is important because triathlon events tend to be long, so you'll be in your cycling shoes for a long time.
Bike to Run Transition
For the bike-to-run transition, speed is important once again. Triathletes will take their feet out of their cycling shoes before the dismount line and continue to pedal with their feet on top of their shoes. Having a single strap for fastening and a heel loop for grabbing help to make this process quicker. Once they are near the dismount line, the triathletes will balance with both feet on one side of their bike and step off just before the line. Effective dismounts have the triathlete dismounting at a run.
Triathletes can use any running shoe. Although there are some designed specifically for triathlons, they aren't necessary. Two features of the running shoe are of utmost importance for a triathlon: the shoes must be comfortable worn barefoot since most triathletes don't wear socks, and the shoes need elastic laces, so that you don't have to tie them. Elastic laces are cheap and can be purchased separately from a running shoe to replace standard laces.
Beginners can do a triathlon in any shoe and there are different transition options for athletes of all levels. Beginner triathletes can use a standard running shoe for the bike and the run. After swimming, you may come to transition and put on your running shoes, and bike with your running shoes and standard pedals. After the bike portion of the race, you're ready to run.
Jumping onto a bike barefoot isn't for all triathletes, and some experienced amateurs will never do it. If you're going the barefoot transition method during a race, make sure to practice it beforehand. Another option is to put on your cycling shoes in the transition area and run to the mount line with your cycling shoes already on. To come off the bike, you can dismount normally, with your cycling shoes still on, and run to your bike rack with your cycling shoes on.