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In high school, virtually all of the distance runners that I've observed used regular running shoes. However, elite level distance runners all seem to use track spikes.

Have there been any studies that have quantified the benefits of using track spikes versus regular running shoes in longer distance track and field events (I'm thinking 1500+ meter/1+ mile)?

  • 1
    One factor not to be ignored is simply cost. Not all athletes are sufficiently committed to the sport to allot significant resources to a specialized pair of shoes which can only be used in very limited contexts (track and XC racing, track workouts). (And, I might add, there's nothing wrong with this; one of the virtues of the sport is that this kind of commitment is not required up front.) – pjmorse Aug 1 '16 at 14:25
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Not sure where you've been watching track, but when I was in high school, nearly everyone wore track spikes (and xc spikes for cross country). The advantage isn't just in the traction, it's as much in the weight. I haven't found any serious studies on it, but the rule of thumb seems to be about 1-2 seconds/mile for each ounce of shoe - 10-15+ seconds/mile, 30-45+ seconds off a 5k. Now, is there absolute proof for this? As I said, not that I can find, but take a 5-ounce shoe in one hand and a 15-ounce shoe in the other and lift them both up and down a few thousand times and tell me which hand gets tired first.

  • High school track was quite a while ago for me - the observation was of my teammates and competitors. Back then, only the sprinters wore spikes. Things might be different these days. :) – JW8 Feb 29 '12 at 16:49
  • I'm suspicious of the "1-2 seconds/mile per ounce of shoe" guideline. I've heard "2 seconds per pound per mile" applied to the net weight of the entire runner, which is an order of magnitude less effect than you're describing. But, as you illustrate, the placement of that weight (at the feet instead of close to the center of mass) makes a difference too. – pjmorse Aug 1 '16 at 14:20
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The entire purpose of using track spikes is simply to increase the traction you have on the track surface.

Imagine you tried to run on ice with your running shoes. You're not going to have any traction and you're not going to get very far. Actually you'll probably slip. If you were to use track spikes, the spikes would dig into the ice and you would gain significantly more traction.

It is the same principal when running on the track surface. The spikes catch the surface and give you more traction. Thus there is less "slipping" of your shoes on the track surface.

All in all, it is basically used for performance optimization. I'm not sure if there are any studies done on whether or not they actually increase performance, but I personally would suspect they do.

  • Given that there is very little slippage between the shoe and the track surface with regular running shoes - so little as to be almost unmeasurable - I suspect the weight aspect has a lot more to do with this in distance races. The effect of the spikes themselves is to increase the athlete's ability to transmit force to the track (and thus push themselves forward), so grip is definitely a factor, but I doubt it's because anyone is slipping in regular shoes. – pjmorse Aug 1 '16 at 14:23
  • @pjmorse There is little slippage at the beginning or middle of the stride, but at the end of the stride, when the force of the runner is applied to the surface at an angle, spikes have considerably more traction. Thus, spikes stay in contact with the track longer and allow the runner to exert more force with each stride. – jmcampbell Sep 19 '17 at 21:36

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