Cross-country runners should buy pyramid spikes.
When it comes to picking the right length for your cross-country spikes, the options sound more like holiday specials than implements for your shoes -- pyramids, needles, Christmas trees, tartans and blanks. Fortunately, cross-country runners need only pay attention to one of these options: the pyramid. Pyramid spikes come in a variety of lengths, so knowing your spikes and what they're designed for will help you feel confident and ready before your race and ensure that you're at your best once you're on the cross-country course.
The Pyramid Spike
Pyramid spikes are classified by their length from the shoe plate to the metal tip when the spike is screwed in and tightened with a spike wrench. When taken out of the shoe, the spike will be slightly longer than its assigned measurement. Named for their triangular shapes, pyramid spikes range in length from 1/8 to 5/8 inch, with the shortest length used only in track and field.
The 1/4-Inch Spike
Designed for dry, firm cross-country courses -- even those that include a little pavement -- the 1/4-inch pyramid spike is likely to be the one you use most often at the beginning of the season. This length is great on gravel and firm dirt. Keep a set of 1/4-inch pyramids in your spike bag at all times. If you're ever in a bind and forget to buy implements before a race, this length will do the job for any non-pavement course you run.
The 3/8-Inch Spike
If you're certain that you won't be running on pavement and your cross-country course includes grass and some gravel or dirt, 3/8-inch pyramid spikes will give you adequate grip and comfort. This is the most common spike used for the bulk of the cross-country season when the ground is not yet muddy. Never wear it on pavement, a track or any other overly firm surface.
The 1/2-Inch Spike
The more it rains, the longer your spikes need to be. Once cross-country courses get muddy, shorter spike lengths will be inadequate for preventing slipping and sliding. The 1/2-inch pyramid should be your go-to spike on any course that has mud and soft grass. If the course is muddy but has some pavement, stick with the 3/8-inch spike, since the longer spike length will be very uncomfortable on firm surfaces.
The 5/8-Inch Spike
The granddaddy of pyramids is the 5/8-inch spike, designed for the muddiest, messiest cross-country courses. For cross-country runners in drier, cooler climates, the 5/8-inch pyramid is almost never needed. But if you live in a place where it rains often during the autumn and early winter months when most cross-country races are held, you'll want to have a set of these on hand.