One Dirty Magazine
How to Lace Your Trail-Running Shoes

How to Lace Your Trail-Running Shoes

Use the “lock-In” technique to keep your shoes secure and achieve the perfect fit

David Roche April 25th, 2017

My whole running life, I had tied my shoes the wrong way. It took an embarrassing mid-race incident for me to realize my mistake.

At the 2017 Fourmidable 50K, which was also this year’s U.S. 50K Trail Championships, I was running at the front of the lead pack at mile eight, feeling happy as a clam. Unlike a joyous clam though, I was not prepared for the mud. While running through some clam-approved muck, my shoe got sucked right off my foot.

Max King passed and said, “Oh, sorry, that sucks,” as I dug around in the muck trying to find it.

After the race, I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. My shoes fit perfectly and I tied them tightly—so tightly that I couldn’t untie them after the race and ended up cutting off the laces entirely. So where did my shoe-tying acumen fail?

The answer is in the mysterious extra hole at the very top of the shoe, near the ankle. I had always assumed that that hole was like an ill-advised piercing from high school—everyone can see it, but no one talks about it. I was so wrong.

That extra hole can be used to “lock in” your foot, preventing slippage on steep or muddy trails. Apparently lots of people already know about this!

Using the “lock-in” technique is especially valuable for people with feet shaped like mine—a narrow heel (and cankles from years of sprains). Traditional tying methods make it almost impossible to keep laces tight around the heel without cutting off circulation to the foot. “Lock-in” lacing lets you keep your foot secure while avoiding tying your shoes too tightly across the ankle and mid-foot bones, which can contribute to stress injuries or tendinitis.

If you’re ignorant of the extra-hole, like I was, here is a quick video showing how it works. There are other great videos online as well if you need more instruction.



Tips and Tricks for Lacing your Trail-Running Shoes


1. Don’t tie your shoelaces too tightly over the metatarsals.

The little piggies need to breathe, and you don’t want to asphyxiate them needlessly. Too-tight lacing around the mid-foot can cause tendinitis, especially around the big toe. One pro athlete I ran with in law school didn’t even lace over her midfoot for fear of aggravating an old stress fracture. Think snug, not tight.


2. When using the lock-in technique for first time, be sure to wear socks, start with a short run, or take chafe-prevention measures.

The lock-in technique makes the heel of the shoe contact your skin in a slightly different way than usual. If you run long right away, if you are running sockless or without chafe-prophylaxis, the lock-in method can cause damage. An ounce of lubricating protection is better than a pound of Neosporin cure.


3. Double knot your shoes and tuck-in your laces.

I am not an expert on shoelace tying (I still use bunny ears), and am lucky to have made it past Velcro. But I do know that little is more frustrating than shoes that chronically come untied. After using the lock-in technique, tie your shoes as normal, but make sure the knot is tight and hide the big loops so you won’t trip on them. If it’s wet, make the knot even tighter, because mud can ruin the best of knots.

So there you have it, an entire article and a video on tying your shoes. Fortunately, there is no need for an article on potty training. Or is there?

David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play

Leave A Comment

12 Comments on "How to Lace Your Trail-Running Shoes"

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keith petersen

Well, count me as one of the 50% un-enlightened. I always seem to have slippage on the steeper hills. I’ll give this one a try and see what happens.
Thanks very much for the useful info.

David Roche

Thanks so much Keith! I was so worried this was something everyone knew. It has been life-changing for me on steep downhills. You are awesome!


This reminds me of when I took a generator to a tailgate and realized that I had an outlet in the back of my car. One of those nice but frustrating surprises that make you feel, well, less than smart.


and tie a “Thompson Knot” so it does not come untied- much superior to a double knot because it is easier to untie.

No matter how you lace your shoes, here is the best tip ever for tying your shoes. Do NOT “double knot” them because then it is too hard to untie and adjust them if needed. (by double knot, I think we all agree that is making an overhand knot with the 2 loops and snugging them down against the basic shoe-tying knot.) instead, when you are tying the basic shoe knot, loop “the bunny” through “the hole” a second time before pulling the knot tight. It is so simple I can barely even convince my fingers to do it the… Read more »
Bill Khan

I use that top loop fairly frequently on all of my running shoes to prevent heel slippage. I particularly need it on my right foot, which is a hair shorter. When I saw the headline, I thought maybe you’d adopted my trick of taking the excess lace loops and tucking them into the laces on the top of the shoe. Why? Because it would suck if a stray branch got hooked in the loop and I took a fall or had my leg yanked, as a result.

Antoni Krasinski

Once I learned that tying technique it affected the choice of new shoes. Some fit around the heel securely without using that extra hole – these were my choices initially. Other supposedly great shoes felt lacking in snugness until I discovered that trick – after that some of them became favorites!
Greetings from a fellow rancho runner!


I get blisters really bad when ever I do an ultra marathon (heels mostly). I am hoping this simple trick will help with that.
Listening to you talk, I kept thinking “he’s the Mr. Roger’s for runners”. That’s a compliment. You come across as kind, genuine, and very polite.

Jeff Valliere

David is like Mr. Rogers, only nicer and with a cuter dog. Great tips David! I rarely have a problem, but will have to remember this and give it another try next time I do, I always forget. Thanks!


Decades ago a podiatrist showed me this method for preventing Achilles problems I was experiencing. I have narrow heels. Even w/running shoes made for this I was never able to get shoes to fit snug around the heels. This shoe tying method was, as you say, life changing! I also found that after putting on my shoes if I gently hit the back heel of the shoe against the floor it moves my heels a bit farther back in the shoe. Doing that plus this shoe tying method was the perfect solution.

kenzie F

amazing! This really would have helped the last few years running races up and down the steep mountains near where I live- probably could have prevented some sprained ankles even.

Great read!!! This year I have gotten more serious about racing. Running up is not a problem with the hardware, increasing my descent on the other hand has opened a can of worms. It started with some slippage in the shoe, so we used a set of come-alongs to tighten up. Then it was a series of pressure points across the top of the foot. While bouncing down a hill this weekend I started to feel discomfort in the top of the foot, so we stopped and snugged up. Increased discomfort, so we reversed the process. Started loosening 1/16 at… Read more »