Q We’ve just moved to a new – less urban – area, so my 15-year-old son is changing schools. This new school has a large athletics and running programme, and my son is hoping to make the school cross-country team this autumn. Does he really need a pair of cross-country spikes, or can he run in his normal running shoes?
A It depends on several factors. There’s no doubt that cross-country spikes will provide more traction and speed on grass, dirt and soft-surface courses. But spikes aren’t for every runner.
First, since spikes cost £30-£70, consider your son’s level of commitment to cross-country. If he’s going to be training on an off-road course every day and racing every weekend, then spikes are a good idea. If he’s just running cross-country once in a blue moon, he’ll be fine in everyday training shoes, even in races.
Even if your son decides he wants to be the next Paul Tergat, consult his coach about the types of courses he will be racing on. Nowadays, cross-country courses are rarely pure mudbaths and often include hard or rocky stretches, and some also have long sections along bike paths, pavements and roads. These aren’t the place for metal spikes.
So you could consider off-road racing shoes such as the Inov-8 Mudroc (£60) or Adidas Swoop (£60) that grip mud almost as well as spikes, but won’t be as uncomfortable on the hard stuff. In fact, the wisest choice may be a pair of ‘hybrid’ shoes – such as the New Balance 706 (£50) or the Mizuno Wave Redhawk (£50). These provide plenty of grip, but are perfectly comfortable for a bit of road running too.
— Rob Spedding, Assistant Editor