Will Orthotics Slow Down My Triathlon Transition Times?

Many athletes wear orthotics. From pee-wee sports, through high school, into college, professional to weekend warriors, a properly made custom orthotic will balance the mechanics of the lower extremity and enable the foot to function at peak efficiency. Even when some athletes recognize how an orthotic can be helpful to them, they're reluctant to try them.

Why is that? Well some feel that it will weaken their foot overall, which isn't true. Others don't want to be "restricted" by an orthotic, which is actually the opposite of what it is meant to do. Unlike these people who worry about function, triathletes are often concerned with how practical an orthotic is.

The nature of a triathlon is unique, in that you have to transition from swimming, to biking, into running. While we often think of Ironman triathlons, they do come in shorter distances as well, making participation in a triathlon more accessible. How does an orthotic work in multiple sports and transitioning from one to another.

The swim is an easy one to address. No orthotic necessary. Some wear their orthotics in the biking shoes, many of whom have special orthotics specifically designed for that style shoe. Others choose to not wear their orthotics when they're on the bike.

If a triathlete uses the same orthotics in their biking and running shoes, then that transition requires them to switch them from one shoe to the other. Otherwise, the orthotics are sitting in the running shoes waiting for them. There are some triathletes who do not want to take the time to put on socks before their run, which I do discourage. But for those where every second counts, it is a time saver.

I had a patient in the office today who is an Ironman triathlete and she uses orthotics in her bike and run. She came up with a great system which she shared with me. She places a velcro dot on the bottom of her orthotic and in the heel of each shoe. She does this for two reasons. First, when she transitions, the orthotic is already in the correct position for her to just slip her foot into the shoe. When she wears her biking shoes, sometimes she doesn't remove the shoes from the clipped pedals, but rather slips her foot out of the shoe. The velcro helps make sure the orthotic stays in the shoe. Shoe insert with velcroorthotic with velcro Of course, once your foot is in the shoe on top of the orthotic no velcro is needed since the orthotic won't slide. This simple system, however, helps enable a triathlete to remove some of the barriers to them wearing an orthotic.
Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
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