Spikes - by Bob Wischnia
Let's face it, if you're racing cross-country or track and you want to run your absolute best, chances are you'll want to wear spikes. Running in spikes can provide that little extra edge that can mean the difference between winning and losing a race because of one simple factor: Traction.
Whether it's on a slippery, grass cross-country course, a Tartan track or even a cinders track, spikes provide much better lightweight traction than an ordinary racing flat. Spikes also provide much better toe spring than flats. This is important because it's easier to run faster in spikes-think PR!-than in racing flats because it's easier to get up on your toes for the final push to the next stride. Almost all serious racers wear spikes. You should too. Assuming, that is, if you can. Some state federations don't allow them in track or cross-country so consult with your coach before buying a pair.
But if you're interested in wearing them, read on. Here are some things you should consider when making your racing-shoe selection.
Different spikes are for different races. Cross-country spikes can be different than track spikes in several ways. Cross-country spikes have more forefoot cushioning and rubber covering the spike plate than track spikes. Most shoe companies that make spikes offer two versions: one with replaceable metal spikes and another one with non-replaceable rubber studs. To determine which one is best for you, consult with your coach who can advise you on the best one for the type of courses you're likely to race on.
If you ran track in the spring and wore spikes, try the same ones on in cross-country practice to see if they still fit. If they do, you might find them OK for cross-country too. Many runners prefer the hard plastic spike plate of track spikes to the extra weight of a cross-country shoe. It should be obvious too that you need to wear the right type of spike. That is, if you're a sprinter, you want sprint spikes. A high jumper needs jump shoes. Distance runners need distance spikes. Make certain you're wearing the right type. Questions? Ask your coach.
The rubber studded, non-replaceable cross-country "spikes" are the most versatile. Generally they work well for track running or cross-country. For cross-country, they work best if you run on hard-packed dirt trails or on cross-country courses that cross bike paths. Rubber spikes are also less expensive than metal spikes.
Shopping for spikes isn't quite as simple as buying a new pair of training shoes. Training shoes are widely available; track and cross-country spikes aren't. But many of the top running stores have a decent selection, but you will have to go to a running store and not a mall-based general sporting goods store.
When you find a store that has the type of spikes you're interested in, fit is just as critical as it is in training shoes. But it's a different type of fit you need to look for. Cross-country or track spikes need to fit like a glove. The ball of your foot needs to fit on the spike plate, not behind it. If you're still growing and want some growing room in your spikes, consider waiting a season before you buy a pair and buy a lightweight, performance trainer instead.
However, if you've decided to wear spikes this season and can't decide between the various brands, start first with the brand of training shoes you normally wear. Try that brand's spikes on first. Chances are good that if you're accustomed to the fit of that brand's training shoes, its spikes will also work well for you. If that brand doesn't offer spikes, try on as many different models as you possibly can to find the one that fits your feet perfectly.
It may surprise you to learn that most of the spikes are very similar in design, weight and traction. The big difference is fit. Remember: don't go with the hottest colors or the brand your favorite runner wears. Try on as many brands as possible. Some brands fit wider in the forefoot or narrower in the heel. Most cross-country and track spikes are offered in unisex sizing or just men's. Girls need to pay particular attention to fit. Most girls will need to go down a size to find the ones that fit the best. If you ordinarily wear a size 7 in women's shoes, you'll probably wear a size 5.5-6 in spike sizes.
If at all possible, try the shoes on before buying them. You might have to buy them from mail order if your local store doesn't carry the spikes you're looking for. If you do have to go the mail-order route, make certain they are easy to return for another pair if they don't fit properly. Most mail-order companies are generous with exchange policies but don't wear them if they don't fit properly.
Try to make absolutely certain the pair of spikes you buy matches the surfaces you'll be racing on. Again, your coach is the best source for this type of information. But if you race on rocky cross-country courses that have hard, baked surfaces, don't torture yourself with spikes. Instead, go for a more protective flat or one with a waffled outsole.
But if you race on soft grass or loose dirt trails, a cross-country shoe with a metal (or rubber) spikes are your best bet. Most of the shoe companies offer two versions of the same shoe: one with metal spikes and another with rubber spikes. If you use metal spikes, you should have two or three sets of spikes in various lengths to maximize your traction on different surfaces in different conditions.
After discussing with your parents and coach whether you should buy a pair of spikes for track and cross-country and you decide to go ahead with a purchase, the good news is you probably won't have to spend as much money as you did for a good pair of training shoes. You can buy a good pair of spikes for $45-60.
Does every cross-country and/or track racer need to buy a pair of spikes? Nope. Some runners simply can't safely wear them. For them, lightweight trainers or road-racing flats are fine for races. But please: no tennis shoes, cross-trainers or basketball shoes on the track or cross-country courses. Not only will you run slower, but you'll also increase your chance of injury (and lessen your enjoyment) by wearing them.
Be proud. You're a cross-country racer and distance runner. Wear the right shoes for the right surfaces and you'll run your best this year.
Consider the Spikes on Which You Run!
The time in which most runners spend in track spikes is sometimes minimal when compared to the time that most of us wear shoes. Despite this, several injuries are associated with the use of spikes and this is more so prior to and during the domestic track season. Track spikes generally accentuate the load on the lower leg muscles and the common injuries associated with this include calf muscle injury, achilles tendon injury and shin pain.
The design of track running spikes is obviously extremely different to training flats. The major difference being the heel pitch. In all training flats the heel is raised above the horizontal, so the heel is raised higher than the forefoot. Track spikes are designed so that the rear of the shoe is lower than the spike plate region when the foot is in contact with the surface. This gives a ?negative? heel effect. This negative heel position is evident in both sprint and distance running spikes.
The main function of the calf muscles during running is to decelerate the forward progression of the leg over the foot when in contact with the surface. Running in a shoe with no heel lift requires greater flexion of the leg over the foot. This greater range of flexion at the ankle joint accentuates the load on the calf muscles and achilles tendon.
Clinically, problems associated with running in spikes are quickly assisted with simple modifications to ?balance? and raise the heel pitch of the spiked shoe. By removing the rubber outsole and adhering additional foam to the rear of the spike, a heel height greater than the horizontal can be achieved.
Athletes who need to train consistently in spikes and have a propensity to lower limb injuries, should consider wearing spikes that are balanced with greater heel lift.
Jason Agosta is a Podiatrist and practices at Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre and has represented Australia in the World Cross Country Championships in the past. He is currently investigating the effects of spikes on the load on the lower limb for a Masters Degree.
(Edited by wojtek at 1:44 pm on Nov. 28, 2001)
(Edited by wojtek at 2:00 pm on Nov. 28, 2001)
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