Running Spikes | Beginners Guide

What do all of the worlds top track athletes have in common…well apart from being very fast?!

They all race in track spikes! Once reserved for only the best athletes, these days running spikes are fairly inexpensive and quite accessible to anyone looking to improve their performance on the track.

Hopefully our basic guide to running spikes will help you to understand the different types of spikes available and why it’s worth considering spikes over normal running shoes.

Spikes are much lighter than standard running shoes as their primary focus is performance and speed over anything else, with this in mind spikes don’t offer the same biomechanical support that can be found in most running shoes; however this disadvantage is often overlooked as the time spent in spikes and the distances covered are generally much less than a training shoe.

Generally most athletes will put their spikes on for their warm-up, compete their event and then slip their comfy trainers back on, this being said if you have complicated biomechanics then it may be worth getting some in-depth advice before you spend money on running spikes.

Running spikes also need to fit much tighter than trainers, the idea being that the spikes are an extension of your foot, this is great for short periods of time; however anyone who has trained for extended periods of time will attest to the fact that having a bit of spare room in your trainers is very important; again this difference is offset by the fact that you should only be wearing them for short periods of time.

A typical spike plate
A typical spike plate

Running spikes consist of:

  • A  spike plate (either plastic or rubber) under the forefoot which contains several (normally between 6-8) spike wells, each is basically a small threaded metal hole that accepts the spikes.

*Quick tip here: “always add some lubricant to the threads before inserting new spikes, this will make the job of removal/replacement so much easier – in some cases it’s the difference between a new set of spikes or a whole new pair of running spikes”

  • A very thin, lightweight upper, designed only to hold the spikes to your foot and providing breathability, most uppers  offer minimal support compared to their trainer counterparts.
  • A basic outsole that covers the areas in contact with the ground that aren’t covered by the spike plate, this is normally rubber similar to that of a running shoe.
  • A thin mid-sole for basic cushioning, although some sprint spikes abandon the mid-sole altogether in exchange for a full length spike plate and therefore more rigidity.

It’s worth noting that generally all spikes carry the same thread pattern these days, so you don’t need to worry about buying the correct size replacement spikes for your model, you only need to consider the length of spike as most tracks/events will have restrictions.

There are 2 main categories of athletic running spikes that are available; these are Cross Country Spikes and Track Spikes. Within the track spike category there are 3 different types to choose from. There are Sprint, Middle Distance and Long Distance spikes. So what are the key differences?

Cross Country Spikes (XC)

Cross country events are run over long undulating courses. The footwear is therefore designed to cushion and support the foot. This is achieved by having a flat profile that keeps the foot close to the ground with a thin layer of full length cushioning for added comfort and protection.

The cross country season runs through the winter months, so the courses tend to be wet and muddy. To help combat this the out-sole/spike plate of the footwear is made from rubber.

The rubber is tacky to help with traction and they  come with 9mm length spikes. In extreme conditions many runners will change over to 12mm spikes for extra grip.

Sprint Spikes

Sprint spikes are designed for speed. They are used for events no further than 400m in length. Sprinters will not be landing on their heels, so there is no cushioning under this part of the foot.

The spike plate is rigid and angled up at the front. This design encourages the runner onto their forefoot for a more powerful running posture. The plastic plate also helps gain more traction on the track.

The upper of the footwear is usually a thin synthetic vinyl to grip the foot as structure is more important than breathability. These features help to make the footwear as light as possible.

Middle Distance Spikes (MD)

Middle distance spikes are used for events ranging from 400-1500m (although top athletes regard middle distance as anything up to 5000 meters). They are very similar to sprint spikes in that they are elevated at the front to encourage the runner onto their forefoot.

They do however have a small amount of cushioning under the heel section and are less rigid that a sprint spike. This makes them more forgiving and offers a little protection and more comfort on the longer distance events.

Long Distance Spikes (LD)

Long distance spikes are usually used for events of 1500m or more. They have a similar design to cross country spikes as they are flatter with a full length cushion under the foot.

A mesh upper increases breathabilty. Although they are heavier than the other track spikes they are still much lighter than traditional running shoes; and like the other track spikes they will be supplied with either 5mm or more commonly 6mm length spikes.

Head over to Alexandra Sports and take a look at the huge variety of track spike we have avaialable – Running Spikes

If you have any questions on anything related to spikes then please don’t hesitate to contact us or reply to this post.