Cross country is a sport defined by variability. No two cross country courses are alike — be it terrain or weather conditions. Most of the time, though, cross country takes place on grassy fields (sometimes slippery with mud), with undulating elevation under an uncertain fall sky. Gritty, right? Yep. And to do it well, you need a solid pair of spikes.
Here’s what you need to know before you buy your first pair:
Unlike training shoes, which need replacing every few hundred miles, cross country spikes should last you at least two seasons. That’s because you usually only wear them to race. So, read on to learn why.
All spikes are designed differently, whether you’re running the 100-meter dash or a 5K cross country race. So, don’t take a pair of sprint spikes out on a cross-country course. Ever. In general, cross country spikes offer more cushioning and tread than track spikes since they're designed for racing on uneven terrain.
Mostly because terrain determines footwear and, as you already know, no two spikes are created alike. So, if you tend to race in a wet climate on steep cross country courses that may have water crossings, be sure to take home a spike with aggressive traction. Or, if you live in a flat, arid climate and tend to run races along mostly crushed gravel trails, you may not even need a spike at all. A cross-country racing flat (a racing shoe without the spike pin) might just be your jam. So, pay attention to where you train and race, and match your footwear accordingly.
Just because a spike is marketed as the lightest, fastest shoe out there, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right shoe for you. For some cross country runners, a little bit of cushion and support goes a long way on uneven terrain. Other runners feel totally fine in a stripped-down-to-nothing sock with a spike pin. How do you know what works for you? Good question. Onto number five. ...
It’s one thing to research spikes online and read articles like this one. But, it’s quite another to talk to a fit expert in person, slip a shoe onto your foot and ask questions. Many local running stores offer spike nights for middle- and high-school runners in the late summer and early fall. These team shoe fitting events are an ideal place for footwear education and fun (sometimes stores host raffles, offer snacks, host talks or all of the above!). An added bonus: stores often provide discounts for student-athletes. Yep, yet another incentive to shop in-store.