What you need to know about XC Spikes
The do's and don'ts of XC spikes.
Why do I need XC spikes?
Cross country spikes are an essential for every athlete looking to perform their best on race day. The benefits of a spike are so fundamental that no elite cross country runner competes without them. They’re significantly lighter - which means you have to haul less weight through the mud and grass. Spikes also have traction designed for rugged terrain to reduce the effort you put in to run at a fast pace. Additionally, they’re far more responsive than regular trainers; you won’t need to sink into a cushioned shoe on grass that is already very soft! It’s time to run fast.
Who should invest in XC spikes?
If you’re serious about attempting a PR or racing a consistent season, choosing to invest in a pair of spikes is one of the smartest things you can do as a competitor. Combine them with a really lightweight pair of socks that don’t contain cotton (Balega’s Weightless or Feetures’ Ultra Light socks are loved by many elite athletes) and you’re good to go!
Do I train regularly in my XC spikes?
No. It is highly unlikely that your coach will have you do much besides race in a pair of XC spikes. If anything, doing a few strides in a new pair of spikes the day before a race to test them out and loosen up can be a wise choice if your coach recommends it. The reason any more use than this is typically avoided is relatively simple; spikes don’t offer as much support as high-quality running shoes. As a result, training in spikes regularly can expose your body to injuries that could otherwise be avoided. Think of spikes as strictly performance-based!
Can I run in them on concrete?
Most XC spikes are made with a combination of materials that are designed to be ready for any terrain. That being said, the metal spikes screwed into the bottom are not meant for more than a few steps on concrete. (Try it out and you’ll see exactly what we mean!) Thankfully, a cross country course with more than a few meters of concrete is rare, so there shouldn’t be much to worry about.
On what surfaces can I use my XC spikes?
Cross country spikes are meant for soft surfaces. Grass, turf, dirt, mud, even sand are all in a good spike’s capacity. Avoid concrete and rocks if you can but, even then, the most common outcome is for the metal spikes to wear down prematurely. The spikes are replaceable for 25¢ a piece (most shoes come with 4-7 spikes on each foot). Many athletes purchase longer spike needles (up to ½”) to handle those particularly slippery or rough courses.
Can I wear my XC spikes for track season?
Yes! XC spikes are known for their durability. They’re designed for the rough and tumble of cross country - they’ll be just fine on a flat, firm track. However, they’re certainly best suited for distance events like the 2-mile (or up). They’re slightly more cushioned and not as aggressive. If you’re planning on competing in shorter events, a spike designed to get you up on your toes and snap you forward will produce faster results. And if you’re competing in events like shot put, pole vault or high jump, check out a shoe designed specifically for PR attempts in those events.
Can I wear my track spikes for XC season?
This is not recommended! Track spikes are designed with lighter, less durable materials featuring spike plates that are more aggressive. Taking these to the XC course can result in more stress being placed on your body than is necessary. The cushion and durability of XC spikes is designed for those longer races over rough terrain. Leave the track spikes to track!
How should my spikes fit and feel?
Unlike the shoes you’re training in, comfort is less of a priority in spikes. Keep in mind that you’re only in them for less than half an hour once or twice a week - performance is what matters! Spikes all fit more narrow than training shoes as they’re meant to feel like part of your foot. You’ll also feel that they push you up on your toes. Ensure that there’s about a half-thumbnail’s length between the end of your toe and the spike. Ultimately, when trying them on, choose the spike that makes you the most excited to run fast. This can be a vague way to measure but, truthfully, the spike chooses the athlete! This is why it’s important to come in to a specialty store and pick through the options brought out by a trained pro.
Can I wear insoles with my spikes?
You may have a hard time inserting your orthotic insole in a racing spike. Spikes are meant to hug your foot, almost providing the feeling of being barefoot. If the orthotic is 100% necessary, you'll likely be able to fit it in. But keep in mind that one of the main advantages to racing in a spike is the weight reduction. Adding a full-length medical orthotic will add weight and also minimize the effectiveness of a spike's torsion system (what is bending and snapping you forward every step). There's no harm in trying them out; put your orthotics in a wider fitting pair of spikes (Nike's Zoom Rival XC or New Balance's XC7, for example) and take them for a few strides! A local running store (like us!) can also help you try out spike/insole combos that will work for you.
How should I care for my spikes?
Cross country is a brutal sport and your spikes go through as much as your legs and feet do! There are ways to thank them for the work they do. In wet conditions, take the spikes out after the race and clean out the mud and grass to prevent the needles from rusting in. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to replace a few spikes than the entire shoe. Stuff the shoes with newspaper to absorb moisture that would turn to odor or start to break down the materials. Anti-bacterial spray by a great brand like Sweat-X can be used to keep the funk out. Air-dry the shoes and get them ready for the next race!