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Pyramid or Needle: Choosing the Right Spikes

Pyramid or Needle: Choosing the Right Spikes

First and foremost, ask your coach what spikes you should wear. Some event directors will only allow certain spikes on their track, particularly if the track has been resurfaced or is comprised of a state-of-the-art material.


Pyramid Spike


These classic spikes can be used for track and cross country and perform well on grass and rubber. When in doubt, go with these. 1/4" length should do the job for a track meet or for a dry cross country race.

Needle Spike


Slimmer than pyramid spikes and usually available in 3/16" length. These sink deeper into the track and may serve a lighter runner better than a heavier runner. Longer needle spikes (1/4" or 3/8") are more common on dirt/grass cross country courses or on cinder tracks, but these lengths are not as common.

Christmas Tree Spike

Christmas Tree

The staggered design helps prevent the spikes from sticking into the track as much. Many runners are now favoring needle spikes to these.

Tartan Spike


A blend of a pin and a pyramid spike, relatively thin and designed for rubber surfaces only.



Also known as "studs,” these are a great option for races on surfaces where spikes aren't allowed (usually indoors). Very effective on cross country courses that have asphalt.


Comparison Chart

Spikes come in a variety of sizes: 1/8 inches - 5/8 inches; however, when in doubt, purchase 1/4" spikes. Spikes longer than 1/4" may tear up some track surfaces. Check with your coach if you are not sure which ones you should use. For cross country runners, 1/2" or 5/8" spikes will give you an edge for courses that are wet and muddy, giving you the upper hand on Mother Nature and your competition.

We do not currently carry any track and field spikes or shoes, but please shop our running shoes collection for your everyday trainers.

Check out our other posts about spikes and track and field shoes: What to Look for in Track and Field Shoes and Answers to Your Track Spike Questions.

What to Look for in Track Spikes & Field Shoes

What to Look for in Track Spikes & Field Shoes

Spikes are designed to meet the needs of runners of various event disciplines, not merely for runners in one event. It is rare to see a spike that is only compatible for the 400m, 800m, 5000m, or any singular race. Spikes are manufactured to fit the needs of athletes who fall into five categories: short sprints, long sprints, middle-distance, long-distance, and cross country.

Field shoes and spikes are tailor-made for specific events, making them easy to spot. Usually, the names of the models will represent the event for which they are worn. For example, the Saucony Uplift HJ is used for the high jump. Abbreviations such as "TJ" for the triple jump, "SD" for shot put and discus, and "Jav" for javelin are very common.

Which track spike is best for my event?

Sprint Spike


For sprinters, forward propulsion, minimizing the time spent on your feet, and your drive phase is of vital importance. Sprint spikes are designed to enhance your form and speed from the starting blocks to the finish line.

How a sprint-specific spike can help you
You can quickly detect a sprint spike by observing the plate on the outsole. They often sport an aggressive plastic mold underneath the forefoot to force runners on their toes and to decrease foot contact with the ground--exactly what speed demons need to shave valuable fractions of a second.

Spikes designed for sprinters of the linear variety--55m or 100m dashers--have a full-length plate--one that spans from the forefoot to the heel. These best serve runners who compete in events that have one or no turns—the shoe is designed for sprinting down straightaways and are relatively stiff.

Sprint models with 200m-500m runners in mind usually do not contain a plate that covers the heel and are more flexible.

Both short and long sprint models employ a firmer spike plate beneath the forefoot to yield a "recoil" effect, so that with every step, the shoe is responsive enough to give you some more "spring" in your stride. More spring = quicker steps.

The outsole is largely made of plastic, so it will feel firm and rigid upon first wear. The overall fit feels more comfortable and natural when running on a rubber track surface.

The upper of the shoe is designed with sprinters' needs in mind as well. The upper in any spike is, generally, more narrow than what athletes are accustomed to in running shoes. Sprint spikes grip the foot firmly to lock it in place to encourage better running economy. Some models may even employ a strap above the shoe tongue or a zipped upper.

The spikes
Now let's talk about actually wrenching the spikes in. As a rule of thumb: The shorter the event, the more spikes you'll need.

Traditionally, short sprint spike plates will have about 7-10 pins per shoe to foster greater traction. Since flexibility is a greater concern for longer sprints, spikes for these athletes will only have 6-8 pins. Wrench the spikes in securely lest they fall out mid-race. Do not wrench them too tight as you may risk stripping the spike wrench.

NOTE: Long sprinters may prefer a full-length plate, which is prefectly suitable for the 200m and up. Just make sure that you're comfortable. You don't want to question yourself while you're on the blocks.

Middle Distance Spikes

Middle Distance

For the runner who has found his or her home in the 800m or 1500m/1600m/Mile (herein referred to as "the mile"), shoe companies have built spikes with both your leg speed and endurance in mind.

How a middle-distance spike can help you
For those running a multi-lap race and making at least two turns (yes, I'm directing this to the half-milers and milers that have a spot on the 4x400m relay) middle-distance spikes will have an appropriate blend of flexibility, torsion (ability to turn and flex), and rigidity. They will be less rigid than sprint spikes, so they should feel less stiff.

Take a look at the middle distance spike plate. Compare it to the plates you see on both sprint varieties. You may notice that the forefoot is not completely covered in plastic. You may also observe that the shoe looks a tad softer underneath the arch. Unlike sprint spikes, mid-distance performance shoes have a very thin layer of ultralight EVA foam to provide a small dose of cushioning. After all, you're spending more time running your event, so you need to be a little comfier.

Manufacturers create inlets of the EVA foam in the spike plate to allow some flexibility and torsion--a necessity for the proper toe-off in each stride. With a semi-aggressive spike plate and a razor-thin midsole, you have a perfect shoe for control in the early stages of the race as well as some pop for your finishing kick. You'll be glad you're in the proper footwear when you're driving home in the final 150 meters. Just be sure to shake your competitors' hands after you win.

Most importantly, these bad boys are light. Technology has vastly improved in the past few years, leading many to marvel at the featherweight nature of middle-distance and long-distance spikes. Some shoes are as light as three ounces; you may even forget you have them in your bag.

Ultimately, a middle-distance spike is firm enough to keep you on your toes when you need to be, but flexible enough to go the distance.

The spikes
Spikes for 800m runners and milers often come with a 6-pin plate and can be worn by an athlete who dabbles in the 400m too. Less pins = lighter weight.

Wrench the spikes in firmly. The longer the distance you’re running, the greater the chance of losing a few. Don’t forget to take the time to clean the spike plate. Middle distance and long distance runners manage to accrue dirt and debris around the spikes. If not cleaned properly, it can make removing old spikes quite difficult.

Long Distance Spikes

Long Distance

When endurance is the name of the game, every bit counts: You want a shoe to be light, flexible, and durable.

How long-distance spikes can help you
For long-distance spikes, manufacturers introduce a bit more foam than they do at the middle-distance level to achieve greater flexibility. Likewise, shoe companies implement slightly larger foam inlets in the spike plate for pliability's sake. A less aggressive plate is especially important for those competing in the 5,000m or 10,000m. Being propped up on your toes for 3.1 miles or more may result in calf pain and soreness, among other injuries.

The upper of the distance spikes is also important. Luckily, shoe durability is improving along with shoe weight. Each company uses special techniques to ensure that the mesh in the upper is durable but also breathable--and more importantly, really light. So, even on those hot days (when the track is 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature), the shoe will ventilate efficiently.

Long-distance spikes are often a few fractions of an ounce lighter than middle-distance spikes.

The spikes
The spike plate for distance runners requires the least maintenance: There are usually only 4-6 pins.

Long distance runners should monitor the condition of the spikes. Since these runners are covering the longest distances at meets, the spikes will dull at a much quicker rate. Remove the spikes before they become too dull. Otherwise, the spikes (or what used to be spikes) may be stuck for good.

NOTE: Some athletes will opt to wear a middle-distance shoe for long-distance races and vice versa. This is perfectly fine, as long as you can do so without injuring yourself.

NOTE: Some athletes will opt to wear a middle-distance shoe for long-distance races and vice versa. This is perfectly fine, as long as you can do so without injuring yourself.

Cross Country

If hill and dale is your bread and butter, make sure you have the appropriate performance shoe. You may wear cross country spikes on the track. While taking your track spikes to the dirt is much less common, many elite runners opt to do so because they must have their ultralight spikes for all races.

If you're running cross country, odds are you're tough, gritty, and have formidable stamina. Your spikes should reflect this.

How cross country spikes can help you
Cross country spikes will have the thickest foam midsole to offer the necessary cushioning for covering long distances over a multitude of terrains. The foam midsole is protected by a rubber outsole designed to take a beating from trails, grass, and mud. Additionally, the upper of the shoe is very breathable and will hug the foot well to provide some stability. Special meshes are used to keep dirt, wood chips, and other earthy interlopers from invading the shoe.

The spikes
Most spike plates will only have 4 or 5 pins to minimize weight while still yielding great traction. Cross country spikes are not quite as light as long-distance spikes, but you'll be pleased with the durability when it comes to race day.

Have questions about track spikes? Check out our "Answers to Your Track Spike Questions" post.

Answers to Your Track Spike Questions

Answers to Your Track Spike Questions

Last weekend I attended the Pikesville Track Invitational at Pikesville High School. I showcased several pairs of running spikes and was thrilled by the great questions the runners and their parents had. Hopefully, these questions about track spikes will help you find the right pair for your next event.

Q: I run both sprint and middle distance events. Do I need a special type of spikes?

A: Many 400m and 800m runners will find themselves at a crossroads between being a sprinter and a middle-distance runner. You will want a pair of spikes that has a fairly aggressive spike plate so that the shoe recoils and propels you forward without compromising flexibility. The Saucony Velocity 5 is a great option if you fit this mold. If you become more advanced and are looking for optimal performances in both long sprints and middle distance running, you may want to purchase two different pairs: I like the Saucony Spitfire 4 for sprints and the Hoka One One Rocket MD spike for middle distance.

Hoka One One Rocket MD

Hoka One One Rocket MD

Saucony Spitfire 4

Saucony Spitfire 4

Q: I run both middle distance and long distance events. What shoes should I buy?

A: For high school runners, the longest competitive distance is 5,000m. Athletes who compete in the 5,000m may also run distances like the 800m. The adidas adiZero Avanti is a perfect fit for such runners. Some prefer to have a pair of spikes solely for middle distance racing, much like the Hoka One One Rocket MD spikes.

Q: Can I wear cross country spikes on the track?

A: Of course. They are meant to withstand tougher surfaces than a 400m rubber oval, particularly the Saucony Havok XC. Be careful with wearing track spikes for cross country, though. The thinner foam midsole may be damaged easily. Many long-distance runners own different shoes for cross country and track.

Saucony Havok XC

Saucony Rocket MD

Q: How are track spikes so light?

A: Shoe technology is improving rapidly, and the vast majority of running spikes are less than 6 ounces. Some models, like the Hoka One One Rocket LD Spikes, are approximately 4.6 ounces. Manufacturers design the shoes so that your feet only have what they need; there are no extraneous materials. Fused uppers, ultralight fabric, and special outsole constructions are all reasons for featherweight footwear. Some long distance spikes, such as the Puma Complete SLX Zone, only include four spike pins to reduce weight even further.

Q: Will these hurt my feet?

A: With shoes so light, it is natural to think that they may be uncomfortable. Remember that track spikes are only meant to be worn on the track. Running on a rubber surface will help decrease impact and will allow spikes to fit more comfortably. Cross country spikes are built with a thicker foam midsole and a rubberized outsole to produce more comfort and durability over longer distances and mixed terrain.

Shop Cross Country Spikes

Q: How many spikes do I need?

A: By “spikes,” we are referring to the actual pins you wrench into the outsole. The shorter the event, the more spikes you’ll need. Sprinters will need more spikes (6-10) for greater traction, and long distance runners only need a few (4-6) to shave weight off of the shoe. Middle distance runners use about 6. Each pair of shoes will come with a fixed number of pins in the plate underneath the forefoot. You can use as many or as little individual pins as you like, depending on what makes you comfortable. Just remember that removing spikes may result in less traction.

Q: What type of spikes (pins) should I put in my shoes?

A: If you’re concerned about the type of spikes to wear, ask your coach.


We do not currently carry track and field spikes, but please shop our running shoes collection for your everyday trainers.

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