Spikes for cross-country and track are used to get more traction on the surfaces being raced on. They have less support, so are lighter than training shoes. Spikes also are made with a slight upward curve in the toe to push the runner more onto their toes.
Track spikes are lightweight shoes used to give more of a push off from the track. Track or sprinting spikes do not have much heel support because the toe plate has such a high tilt or arc so as to almost force the runner to run on the balls of her feet. Running on the balls of your feet allows you to get more of a push and in turn helps you run faster.
Cross-country spikes have more support on the heel because a cross-country runner does not want to run the entire race on the balls of his feet. There is still a slight upward angle on the toe plate but it is not as much of an angle as the sprint or track spike. Cross-country spikes are not necessarily needed for every runner on every cross-country course. The muddier or more hills the course has the greater necessity for cross-country and longer spikes.
Spike Length Differences
Track spikes are shorter than cross-country spikes and have more regulations regarding what can be used at each track. Most tracks state that spikes can be only 1/4 or 3/16 inch, or smaller. Using longer spikes on a track surface will tear the surface and ruin the track.
Cross-country spikes are made to gain traction on high grass and through the mud, so spikes generally are longer. On average, cross-country runners wear 1/4- to 1/2-inch spikes, depending on the terrain.
Many cross-country runners use their cross-country spikes on the track for longer races, such as the 3,000 m to 10,000 m races. More of an arc in the toe is needed on anything under 3,000 meters, as is less heel support. When picking out spikes, athletes should put both spikes on and run around the store or go outside and run down the sidewalk to make sure the shoe fits properly.
Spikes should not be used for every workout, but need to be worn a few times before competing in races. Spikes are not as comfortable as running shoes and can cause lower leg and foot pain if your feet are not adapted to the spikes.