From track and field to cross-country: our pick of the best running spikes

·5-min read
Photo credit: Soobum Im
Photo credit: Soobum Im

Whether you’re looking to set a raft of new PBs on the track or are preparing for the cross-country season, running spikes can make a huge difference to your performance. For a relatively small investment, you can buy a pair of spikes that will benefit you on race day by reducing weight and adding traction, propulsion and energy return to your competition-day events.

What are running spikes?

Running spikes are trainers with spikes on the sole for increased grip, helping you to turn your legs over faster without slipping when racing on the track or cross-country. Like a football or rugby boot with studs, the spikes can be unscrewed to change for different lengths and configurations for various distance races.

What are the benefits of wearing running spikes?

The main benefit of running spikes is grip. Whether it’s on the track or in the mud, the spikes aid traction, thereby propelling you faster. They also provide extra grip in wet track conditions and slippery cross-country races. Most spikes offer the option to change the spikes and reconfigure the layout for different track distances.

Their lightweight, stripped-back design also means they aid in boosting your speed simply by reducing the weight on your feet, which is particularly helpful on the track where every gram counts.

When would you choose to wear them?

Running spikes are mainly used for racing on the track and cross-country races in autumn/winter.

Track spikes are usually divided into sprint spikes and middle/long-distance spikes. Sprint spikes are incredibly lightweight with minimal cushioning, so not designed for longer runs. They feature six to eight spikes on the forefoot for maximum traction and acceleration. Longer-distance spikes usually feature six spikes and increased levels of cushioning.

Cross-country spikes are designed with more cushioning to support you over longer race distances and uneven terrain, as well as featuring a breathable mesh upper and more stability features such as rubber heel grips and grip for inclement conditions (which if you’re running in the UK, is most weekends through winter). Spikes usually number six, and are arranged in a horseshoe configuration. They are longer than track spikes to help cut through the mud and turf, and can be anywhere from 9mm-15mm in length.

Are they just for elite runners?

Spikes can help improve any runner's performance, not just elites. They are especially useful if you are a member of a running club and want to try your hand at some track races or cross-country.

The best track spikes

Sprint spikes

Weighing a meagre 119g, and with a six-spike configuration to increase grip on the curves, strategically positioned on a propulsive, ultra-thin spike plate, these are built to help get you up to full throttle as rapidly as possible when sprinting.

A full-length carbon plate makes this an enticing prospect for 100m-400m sprinters or hurdlers: the stiff plate boosts responsiveness, stability and springiness, helping provide added flex when moving from heel to toe at high speeds. Seven spikes in a circular pattern provide the grip required as your legs up the torque levels.

If you like plenty of spikes underfoot, these are for you – eight spikes in three rows help get you up to full acceleration as quickly as possible. The sole features the brand’s Rapidagilty soleplate that adds rigidity and flex, meaning your legs pump faster by aiding energy return. Weight comes in at 164g, so it's not the lightest sprint shoe, but this in part is due to the synthetic leather upper which is designed for a snug fit.

Middle distance

Built with Nike’s AtomKnit one-piece upper for a close, comfortable fit and extremely lightweight feel. In fact, it’s so lightweight, the upper is almost see-through, meaning you can show off your running socks (or feet, if you prefer no socks). It’s built on a carbon-fibre plate for increased stiffness and energy return, creating a bounce and propulsion you can feel. Designed for distances of 800m-5000m.

This is suitable for a number of different distances, making it versatile as well as lightweight (the six-spike configuration means it’s best suited to races above 400m). At 145g, it’s light enough to be almost unnoticeable on your feet, and a comfortable cushioned midsole reduces impact issues.

Constructed as an external carbon-fibre plate with six built-in spikes, the FuelCell MD-X is a high-end shoe made for prolonged sprinting. Its pared-back design means it weighs just 124g, and the sock-like upper makes it hug your feet. The midsole's also designed with increased ‘high-rebound’ technology, offering a minimum of 39 percent more rebound than New Balance’s Revlite midsole, according to the brand.

Long distance

A classic for all the right reasons: with six spikes and a Pebax spike plate for increased rigidity, the Dragonfly works its magic in middle-to-longer distances races from 1500m to 10,000m. The design pushes you up onto your forefoot so you feel light and speedy, meaning those PBs will soon be annihilated.

A versatile running spike for those looking for an entry-level shoe for longer distances, the Vendetta’s six-spike design and low weight (150g) make it ideal if you like to run different distances. The low price also makes it attractive to those on a budget.

The best cross-country spikes

The design is basic, but if you are looking to enter the cross-country spike running market, this is a decent place to start. They come with six 12mm spikes for wet-weather cross-country, weigh 224g and have cushioning built into the heel.

Lightweight (169g, women's), six-spiked with a grippy sole, these are popular as an intro shoe for those new to cross-country/spikes. The lacing system locks down the shoe tightly so there’s little room for slippage, and the midsole provides plenty of cushioning over rougher terrain. A durable stalwart.

Features the standard six spikes and a design that's built more for durability and stability than cutting weight. Despite this, they offer plenty of grip and propulsion. They also offer something few other running shoes offer: the ability to customise them with a pen. Our only quibble is the colour: white is never ideal for ploughing through the mud.

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