In this guide, we will be breaking down the differences in track & field footwear for a wide range of events.
Track & Field has the most participants of all high school sports offered in the United States. Even with the high level of participation, it can be confusing to know what shoes you should wear for the event(s) you will be competing in. This guide will help break down the different types of footwear to help you decide what will be best for you.
If you are new to track & field, you will probably wonder if you even need track spikes. Track spikes are not a requirement to run on a track. You can wear normal running shoes or trainers to practice and race in, but if you want to have a competitive edge, track spikes will surely provide that. Track spikes come in different styles, designs, and price ranges. We will break down the differences below.
Track & field events
Events include the 100m, 100/110m hurdles, 200m, 300m hurdles, 400m, 4x100m relay, 4x200m relay, and 4x400m relay. The footwear construction and design tend to include a larger and more prominent spike plate, barely any cushioning, and less of a heel or no heel to help keep you on the balls of your feet and in sprinting form
Long Distances (can be further broken down into Middle & Long Distances)
Middle distance events include the 800m, 1500m, and 1600m. Long distance events include 3000m, 3200m, and 5000m (5k). Footwear for long distance events are smaller and less pronounced spike plate with some cushioning, and more of a heel to help with repetitive mid and heel striking.
Throwing (aka Rotational)
Events in throwing include discus, shot put, hammer throw, and javelin (which would not be considered rotational). Throwing footwear is designed for spin and gliding techniques with more durable construction to handle heavy wear and tear. These do not have a spike plate.
Jumping events include the high jump, long jump, triple jump, and pole vault. Footwear for jumping events have a substantial spike plate, barely any cushioning, and less of a heel or no heel to help keep you on the balls of your feet to sprint and take flight.
What makes track spikes different?
Track spikes are constructed with fewer materials to keep weight down. The less weight on your feet, the faster you become. All track surfaces are constructed with a rubberized material. Since you are running on rubber, you don’t need rubber on the outsole of your shoes. Plastic is lighter than rubber. Hence, the reason for having more plastic on the outsole than rubber. Spikes are not designed for prolonged use and will not last for as many miles as road and trail running shoes.
By design, Cross Country spikes/shoes will have some rubber on the outsole and will weigh slightly more compared to track spikes. You run on grass, dirt, and gravel during cross country and over longer distances; therefore, they are designed to be more durable and comfortable over the miles. You can still wear Cross Country spikes for track events. You will not have as much of a competitive edge compared to wearing track spikes.
Track & field footwear experience level tiers
There are typically 3 tiers of track spikes:
- Entry Level: prices range from $80 and below. Great for all ability levels even though it is classified as “entry-level.” Construction material and uppers may not be as comfortable or easy to break in as more expensive styles.
- Intermediate Level: prices range from $80 – $150. Made with higher quality materials that shed weight while keeping durability. Shoes may feel more comfortable right out of the box with a shorter break-in period.
- Elite Level: prices range from $150 and higher. Made with the highest quality materials. Designed to give you the most competitive edge when every millisecond and centimeter matters!
Fit and feel of track and field footwear
The most important thing to keep in mind is comfort. All brands and styles will fit differently since our feet are all unique shapes and sizes. Try on different styles to compare fits and feels.
Sprinting, jumping, and throwing spikes/shoes should fit like a glove. There should be minimal open space inside of the shoe. When moving at faster speeds, you do not want your foot sliding around inside of the shoes. Your toes should not be jammed up against the end, but close to it.
Distance spikes can have a little more room on the inside but not as much as your daily trainers/practice shoes. The extra room will provide the space needed for additional swelling. You will not be moving as quickly, and comfort will become more of a factor during longer races.
Keep in mind that your feet do swell and expand as your blood flow increases and during hotter days. Account for all those factors when trying on spikes and shoes.
Choosing for multiple events
If you are a multi-event athlete, you may question which type of spike to purchase if you only want one pair. Here’s a break down of what may work best for you with some of the different combinations:
|Event Combinations||Recommended Footwear|
|Sprints/Jumps/Distance||Mid or Long-Distance spikes- you can sprint or jump in “distance spikes” but it will not be comfortable to run distance events in sprinting or jumping spikes|
|Sprints/Throws||Unfortunately, there is no one shoe that works for both. Choose for the event you will specialize in the most and wear your training shoes for the other event|
|Distance/Throws||Unfortunately, there is no one shoe that works for both. Choose for the event you will specialize in the most and wear your training shoes for the other event|
|Jumps/Throws||Unfortunately, there is no one shoe that works for both. Choose for the event you will specialize in the most and wear your training shoes for the other event|
Types of replacement spikes
Spikes come in different shapes, designs, and lengths
- Pyramid spikes – The most versatile type of spike. 1/4” pyramids spikes are the most widely accepted on all tracks
- Needle – Also called “slim”. Needle spikes give traction on all-weather tracks. 3/16 is the ideal size, any larger and they tend to stick into the track when you lift your foot
- Christmas (X-mas) tree – Also called Compression spikes. These look like a Christmas tree and are used for rubber and tartan surfaces. Use in place of longer needle spikes to avoid “sticking”
- Studs – Also called “blanks”. They have no spike on them. They are used for cross country and sometimes asphalt to keep dirt out of the screw-in holes.
Don’t forget socks! There are tons of great socks for running, find out which will work best for you.