This article will discuss choosing a pair of spikes and the different type of pins. I won’t discuss the infamous illegal 1968 Brush spikes worn by Lee Evans and John Carlos… I’ll save that for the documentary.
I always have 2 pairs of spikes. One is the inexpensive variety that is usually heavier and more durable for every day training. The other pair is usually more expensive and much lighter which I save for race day or time trials.
Usually you buy spikes half a size smaller as you want it to fit like a glove. Also, most people don’t wear socks when wearing spikes. I don’t want to sound like your Mama, but do trim your toe nails before meets!
Always arrive the day before a competition and check out the track surface and how “fat” the curves are. You want to know EXACTLY where you are at when you come off a turn for the 200 and 400 meters. 100 meters to go? 85 meters to go?
Always check the surface of the track (from indoor wooden boards to outdoor mondo surface) and if possible, do a warm up on the track. Get a feel for the bounciness or hardness.
Choosing a Shoe
The first criteria is usually lightness. For some, it’s the brand name. I gave a summary of some decent spikes in a previous article.
In a perfect world, you will be PAID to wear a certain brand of spikes but that’s another story.
The second criteria is flexibility, or lack of. If the spike is too stiff, it’s bad for the Achilles as it’s like a ski boot or ice skate. Your foot is anchored, and the weakest link is the Achilles. So if you have Achilles problems, consider buying a spike that bends easily.
Sprint spikes usually has no heel to cut down on the weight. Shawn Crawford’s spike is an exception (see below).
Sprint spikes also has a flexible or stiff spike plate. With all the talk about greater force production and longer toes, you may want to consider a flexible spike plate or a custom shoe from Adarian Barr.
Choosing the Spike Pins
Top 8 Spike Elements for Spikes
1/8" (3mm) Needle Track Spikes
3/16" (5mm) Needle Track Spikes
3/8" (9mm) Needle Track Spikes
3/16" (5mm) Pyramid Track Spikes
Omni-Lite 9mm Pyramid Spikes
1/4” (6mm) Thread-Resin Pyramid Spikes
Omni-Lite 7mm Xmas Tree Spikes
Asics 6mm Compression-Tiered Spike
There are generally 3 criteria when choosing spike needles or pins.
- shape of spikes: Pins (or needles), Pyramid, and Christmas Tree (also known as compression tier spikes)
- length of spikes: 5mm, 7mm, 9mm (13mm for Javelin throwers). 1/4” or one quarter inch = 6.35mm and 3/16” = 4.77mm
- material of spikes: steel, ceramic, titanium alloy
Traditionally, the maximum allowable spike length for outdoor tracks is 7mm.
They still check spike lengths at track meets, especially big meets with control areas, so prepare to have a 2nd set handy with a spike wrench (or better yet, a second pair of spikes with smaller needles). Oh yes, ALWAYS carry a set of needle nose pliers, in case you strip the spike.
For indoor running on the “boards”, I prefer using pins or needles, but some prefer using pyramid spikes. Again, check the maximum allowable length! Usually it’s 5mm.
Christmas (Xmas) Tree spikes: these were meant to NOT puncture the track, but rather compress the surface with the energy returning back to to the sprinter. Sometimes, these spikes are illegal on brand new tracks for fear of ripping it to shreds. This new style (i.e. no sharp point) helps reduce the seriousness of injury when a runner gets accidentally spiked. These are my favorite spikes on Mondo tracks surfaces.
Ceramic material: these durable spikes are 1/3 the weight of traditional steel spikes, are strong and lightweight, as well as abrasion-resistant. Just look at golf clubs today on how light they have become.
Positioning the Spike Needles
Historically, only 6 pins were allowed for Track events, so the 7th pin must be a stud
That rule has changed sometime in the early 90’s and you can now have 7 or 8 pins per shoe.
I like my track spikes symmetrical with the exception of the 200 meters.
For 200m, I like to focus on having spike pins on the inside of left shoe (by the big toe), and the outside of right shoe (by the baby toe). Why? Because we run counter clockwise and there’s a lot of centripetal force! That’s where the pressure points are. And you don’t want to slip, either.
Some like a spike right in the middle as they land on the ball of their feet. It’s all a matter of preference.
Differences in the Spike Plate
Here is a sample selection of spikes I chose for discussion purposes only.
8 pins – made to maximize ground contact with your toes as long as possible, as well as greater force output.
One of the lightest commercial spikes on the market… with only 6 pins! Ask Adarian Barr for a custom made lighter spike!
Shawn Crawford’s shoe in the 2004 Olympic Games. Note the seven permanent compression pins are not removable! Michael Johnson had a similar RETAIL pair right after 1996.
Where to Buy Spikes
I’ve been a customer of Eastbay since 1988 and never had a problem. Yes, they even ship to Canada.