Track spikes, or just spikes, are pointed protrusions usually made of metal, ceramic or plastic that are screwed into the bottom of most track and field shoes to increase traction and minimize the likelihood of slipping. The term "spikes" can also refer to track shoes featuring such protrusions. Spikes are similar to studs which are used for team sports, although generally smaller and with a sharp point.
Track spikes had become popular in England by the 1860s, but the concept of spikes in shoes to give running traction has been around much longer. As written in the 1852 publication of Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible regarding military arms at the time of Paul the Apostle (c. 5 - c. 67):
"Having the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;" not iron, not steel; but patient investigation, calm inquiry; assiduous, laborious, lasting; if not, rather, with firm footing in the gospel of peace. Whether the apostle here means stout, well-tanned leather, leather well prepared, by his "preparation of the gospel of peace" or shoes which had spikes in them, which, running into the ground, gave a steadfastness to the soldier who wore them, may come under remark hereafter. We shall only add, that Moses seems, at least according to our rendering, to have some allusion to shoes, either plated, or spiked, on the sole, when he says, (Deut. xxxiii. 25.) "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days shall thy strength be."
In 2012, a field research study was conducted by personal trainer and running expert, Ray Mellam. Dr. Mellam's study argued that track spikes can slow a runner down when participating in certain events, particularly the 400m hurdles. This discovery has yet to be peer reviewed.
The front of the sole features a rigid or semi-rigid spike plate containing between 3 and 9 threaded holes called spike wells. Spikes can be screwed into each well using a spike wrench. With the exception of high jump and javelin shoes, track shoes generally have no spike wells along the mid-foot or heel. Some shoes have permanent or "fixed" spikes which are not meant to be removed.
Track shoes are exceptionally light, some shoes weighing less than five ounces (142 grams) each, half the weight of many standard running shoes. However, as this is achieved through reducing the amount of material used in the soles and sidewalls, spikes offer less cushioning and support than a standard running shoe. Thus, constant use in training may result in the shoes not lasting as long.
In most track shoes, the toe region bends up to allow space for protruding spikes and to encourage athletes to run on their toes. This upward angle, known as "taper," varies widely depending on the intended use of the shoe, and the taper angle can be rigid or flexible. Shoes with a large taper are said to be "aggressive."
Types of Shoes
There is considerable variation among track shoes depending on their intended use.
Sprint spikes generally have a very stiff spike plate with the greatest number of spike wells. The taper is highest and most rigid in sprint spikes, maximizing the efficiency of energy transfer with each stride. Very little heel support is needed because sprinters spend most or all of their time on their toes. Sprint spikes may have a zip-up cover instead of or in addition to laces to improve aerodynamics. Sprint spikes should fit tightly but they should not be too tight to the point that the runners toes are cramping and they should not be too lose that will result in the runner losing power and speed. They should fit tighter than regular athletic shoes yet still comfortable enough to perform in.
Distance shoes have a more flexible spike plate with less taper and fewer spikes. Because of the longer race distances, support through the mid-foot and heel is as important as efficiency with distance spikes. This means that distance spikes generally have a softer, more durable sole, particularly through the heel region. Although still “glove-like,” the fit for distance spikes is generally slightly looser than for sprint spikes, given the longer race duration.
Middle distance spikes are a hybrid of a sprint shoe and a distance shoe, featuring an intermediate level of taper, spike plate rigidity, cushioning and support. Certain middle distance spikes are also popular among hurdlers because they have a relatively steep taper for sprinting and a cushioned heel for landings.
Cross country spikes usually have no more than six spike points and are similar to distance spikes in many respects. However, given the wide range of terrain encountered off-track, cross country spikes have a more durable rubber sole and supportive mid-foot to provide a level of cushioning and stabilization not required on a track. Depending on race length, surface types and personal preference, cross country spikes may be abandoned in favor of racing flats.
Shoes for field events and specialty events vary widely depending upon the specific requirements of each event. For example, long jump shoes are most similar to sprint spikes to provide good top speed, high jump shoes have flat bottoms and heel spikes to allow energy transfer through the entire foot, and steeplechase shoes are predominantly a water-resistant mesh for exceptional ventilation. While shoes for shot put, discus and hammer throw have flat rubber soles with no spikes, they may still occasionally be referred to as "track spikes."
Types of Spikes
While most spikes are between 3/16 inch (5 mm) and 1/2 inch (12 mm) long, the most common being 1/4 inch (6 mm), there are a number of specialty lengths, as well as minimal "blank" spikes used to cover a spike well. Spikes are generally metal or ceramic and come in three main types: the pyramid, the needle (pin), and the compression tier (Christmas tree). Pyramids are conical spikes that taper to a sharp point. They normally have a maximum diameter nearly equal to the diameter of the threads of the spike. Needles also have a sharp point, but a thinner cone diameter. The purpose of each is to derive traction by penetrating the track surface. Some tracks do not allow pin spikes and limit the length of pyramid spikes to minimize damage to the track. The alternate variant for synthetic tracks is the Christmas tree spike. It uses a terraced cone shape with a flat end to compress rather than penetrate the track below it and use the track's reaction force to return energy to the runner, increasing the runner's speed. It also reduces wear on the track and is less injurious to other runners in the event being "spiked."
- Janssen, Frederick William (1888). A history of American amateur athletics and aquatics: with the records. Outing company. p. 126. OCLC 38503721. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
- Calmet, Augustin (1852). Charles Taylor, Edward Robinson, eds. Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible, as published by the late Mr. Charles Taylor, with the fragments incorporated (9 ed.). Crocker & Brewster. p. 100. OCLC 12301476. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
- Warner, Glenn Scobey; Frank J. Taylor (1934). "Pop" Warner's book for boys. R.M. McBride & company. p. 125. OCLC 4198647. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
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