First time in track spikes

Tonight, I finally got to try out my new track spikes. It’s been about three weeks since I bought them (and the intervening time included more than 24 hours on planes, reading at least three novels and succumbing to one bout of stomach flu, so I don’t feel I’ve been delaying too much) but I’ve been looking forward to seeing what difference they make.

Track spikes, as the name suggests, are shoes intended for running on the track, and have spikes. That gives you more grip, which means you may be able to apply more power as you drive yourself forward, and it also makes them unsuitable for running on hard surfaces like concrete, as anyone who’s tried to jog down a road wearing football boots would probably agree.

Track spikes come in different flavours, with slightly more padding and different amounts of stiffness, depending on the distance they’re intended for; mine are Nike Rival Ds, which have a minging colour scheme and are apparently suitable from 800 to 5,000 metre events. Unlike football or rugby boots, the spikes don’t run the length of the sole, but only the front part: the spike plate, where you screw in the actual spikes, extends from the toe to just beyond the ball of the foot, which should encourage you not to rum on your heels (or if you do, you’ll reap no benefit from the spikes).

Because spikes give you more grip than other running shoes, you can hurt yourself more: more strain on the knees as you go round corners, more power going through ligaments and muscle, and of course, you have twelve fairly sharp bits of metal protruding from the soles of your shoes. Quite apart from not wanting other people to hear the embarrassing sound of my Achilles’ tendons detonating under the extra load, I also wanted some quiet time to see if I was going to be in agony from tight fitting shoes, and I didn’t want to turn up to a track meet and be the slowest person with the flashiest footwear. (Also, I have this weird nervous tic, where if I accidentally kick one of my ankles with my other foot as I’m running, I can’t concentrate until that foot has kicked the other one back – and that sort of OCD retaliation was not going to be something I wanted anyone else to see.)

Track spikes also help to make you go faster by being lighter than other shoes. That’s achieved by them having much less padding than other shoes, and being flatter (your heel is not much higher than your toe). That won’t make everyone faster, and won’t make everyone faster over all distances, as a flatter, less padded shoe is less comfortable and more wearing for some people, but that is one of those frustratingly personal things that is hard to figure out without trial and error. I would have weighed my track spikes to see how they compared to my other trainers, but it’s probably just as well that my wife didn’t allow me to keep my electronic kitchen scales, or I’d be spending my days weighing my every possession in search of minor marginal gains. Suffice it to say, they’re lighter and tighter than my other shoes.

The running track at Evans Road is surfaced with a red-brown rubbery material that gives a little bit underfoot. It’s mostly flat, apart from where it bubbles and ripples (mostly on the bend from 200 to 300 metres, where the illumination from the floodlights is dimmest). This gives it the appearance of a big rug that has something underneath it. Last summer they dug up part of the track and relaid it, but it still bubbles and ripples, giving that slightly shoddy appearance that recurs unexpectedly frequently in Singapore. (See also the patch of wall that always has flaking paint at the entrance to our apartment block, because they keep repainting it without a proper undercoat, or the railings outside where they never keyed the surface before painting so it all peels off, or …) However, today it all felt flat enough for me.

And while I might criticise the track, I was not without fault. Having failed to properly dry my bottle, there was a patch of mould in it I only discovered once at the track, and my tube of isotonic tablets had lost its top and also gone mouldy, so I had the unpleasant dilemma of either fainting from dehydration or giving myself mould poisoning tonight. I’m trusting in my immune system, which if you know me is a damn fool idea. Oh well, that bottle had lasted me since Seattle in 2014.

I did two gentle warm up laps of the track in my new shoes, then an abbreviated version of a normal Monday night session: 8 400m repeats, with three minutes to complete each one. The faster you do it, the more time you have to recover (and conversely, the more you’re struggling with each lap of the track, the less recovery time you have before you need to start running again).

What must be about fifteen year ago, I got into downhill mountain biking and bought a whole bunch of body armour. I was disappointed when I first went riding in it that I was just as terrified of the steep drops and jumps as before – I had assumed I would suddenly lose all fear, now I could do a good impression of a ballistic plastic cockroach. No, I was just as scared and slow as before.

Likewise, wearing track spikes didn’t herald a transformation into Usain Bolt. I didn’t suddenly feel a foot taller. Every stride I took didn’t feel more powerful, more certain, more athletic. I just ran a series of 1:25s or slightly faster or slightly slower, until I couldn’t any more, and then I stopped and changed back into another pair of running shoes to warm down, not wanting to do too much with a new pair of shoes immediately.

Then, I noticed the difference. My other trainers, shoes a couple of years ago I would have thought were underpadded for running, felt flabby, loose and slow. Part of that may be that they’ve been through a lot: getting fish blood spilt on them on a boat off the coast of Nova Scotia, tramping around Singapore for six months until the laces sag and begin to unravel. Part of it may be the allure of new shoes (but that placebo should surely have taken effect while I was wearing my spikes, not after?) but the rest I put down to the spikes providing some benefit for going fast.

Well, going faster. When I was fit (say about a year ago) I could have done those 400m times without recourse to spiky shoes. Or at least I think I could (somebody needs to look at his old training spreadsheet) but then a year ago I would have had the advantage of running with other people on a Monday night and having a fresher head, not sneaking out on my own on Sunday when my mental energy was beginning to vanish completely.

I suppose maybe (and it’s a big maybe) because these shoes were designed for 800m and up, I’ll not see benefits on 400m repeats, but I was wary of going too hard, too soon on these until I was confident they wouldn’t make my knees or ankles snap off. I’ll start upping the distances by week until we reach the right spot. Will they give me a winning place at the Singapore Masters’ ? One can only dream…

So it should be clear these shoes aren’t some universal panacea for not putting in enough miles. And I’m not sure it’s acceptable to turn up to a Monday night track meet wearing them. But for fifty quid in an end of year sale, I don’t feel they’ve done too bad so far.

Afterwards, sweat running into my eyes, I treated myself to a cold bottle of ginger beer, all the way from England (and conveyed to the track in the coolbag we used to use to keep La Serpiente’s breast milk cold, which still feels like I’mdoing something a bit wrong). A little bit dry for my taste, and strangely at the same time not as fiery as I’m used to, but it’ll do.

2 responses to “First time in track spikes”

  1. Mmm, that sounds promising. Looking forward to hearing more stories about the track spikes.
    I have a weird nervous tic of falling over things while road running, which is worse. It happens when I realise I’ve gone out a bit fast/I’m a bit more injured than I thought I was, and suddenly I fail to lift my foot up as much I thought I had and I’ve fallen over a piece of guttering.

  2. […] It turns out that you shouldn’t really eat cooking chocolate, or at least not as a substitute for confectionary. Maybe this is a gentle form of aversion therapy and after a month, I’ll never hanker for a Mars bar again. So far February has had mood swings and grumpiness galore, but I think that’s par for the course, especially with La Serpiente waking every night with a persistent cough and us only getting three or four hours sleep as a result. Still, think of the mental toughness at the end of this ride…I felt two weeks ago […]

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