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Super Spikes Hit the Track in Tokyo

Super shoe tech has made its way to the track. Here’s a roundup of the foam-and-plate super spikes for racing 800m and longer that you may have saw on the feet of Olympians in Tokyo.

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At the Olympic track and field competition in Tokyo, we finally got a glimpse of all of the next-generation super spikes in action.

The high-end competition spikes for track races from 800m to 10,000m have followed the new performance-oriented shoe design shift that was pioneered with modern road racing “super shoes” over the past five years. Integrating super-resilient foam with a lightweight, rigid carbon-fiber plate in competition spikes, these models represent a propulsive evolution similar to which road shoes for 10K to the marathon have undergone since 2016.

While sprint spikes have always been built with a rigid construction, the modern designs have most emphatically impacted middle-distance and distance spikes. The higher stack height of midsole foam — ranging from about 8mm to 20mm — provides some degree of added comfort for a 1,500m or 10,000m race, but, more importantly, it also adds energy-returning efficiency in every stride. 

“Obviously there has been a paradigm shift in the world of racing, not just in track field, over the past four years,” says Paul Lang, senior merchandise manager for ASICS in North America. “The interesting thing is that with the Paris Olympics just three years away, everyone is pushing, and it’s literally become an arms race in track and field.”

Nike and New Balance were the first to debut super spikes when its athletes wore prototypes of their new models at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, briefly creating a controversy that suggested the athletes wearing those shoes had an unfair performance advantage — especially as men’s and women’s 5,000m and 10,000m records were broken.

But World Athletics has twice come out with new regulations and a pre-approval for competition shoes for the track, mandating a 25mm maximum midsole height for shoes for the 800m to the 10,000m and 20mm for events below 800m. (The maximum midsole height for road racing shoes was set at 40mm in January 2020.) 

While not every brand has caught up yet, Nike, New Balance, ASICS, HOKA One One and Adidas will all have their high-performance middle-distance and distance spikes on athletes in Tokyo beginning this week. Puma teamed up with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 to develop the new EvoSpeed Tokyo Future Faster+ and Nitro+ sprint spikes that will debut in Tokyo, but its super spikes for 800m and longer are still in the works.

Only a few models of the middle- and long-distance super track spikes are available to purchase this summer, but there will be greater availability and additional models coming from Brooks, On, Under Armour and Saucony by early 2022. 

New Zealand’s Nick Willis, who is sponsored by Tracksmith and not a shoe brand, says he tested out several models of super spikes in training this year and will decide which one he’ll wear in the days before he lines up for his 1,500m preliminary heat on Aug. 3.

“The foam seems to make the magical difference, and every brand seems to be able to do that in slightly different ways,” says Willis, who is competing in his fifth Olympics. “It seems like they’re all coming towards the mean. I am confident in a couple of years that there really won’t be any difference between the brands.

“All I care about is having a level playing field in the sense of what you push off your feet, although I also don’t think it’s good to have athletes who are bound to contracts being restricted because they’re stuck with a brand that doesn’t have that technology yet.”

Adidas AdiZero Avanti Tokyo super spike
Adidas AdiZero Avanti Tokyo Photo: adidas

Adidas AdiZero Avanti Tokyo, $180

Spec weight: 5.9 oz. (men’s size 8.5)

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Adidas Adizero Ambition Tokyo super spike
Adidas Adizero Ambition Tokyo Photo: adidas

Adidas AdiZero Ambition Tokyo, $120

Spec weight: 5.9 oz. (men’s size 8.5)

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Released just in time for Tokyo, the AdiZero Avanti Tokyo is the new premier long-distance spike from Adidas, joining the previously released AdiZero Ambition middle-distance shoe. The Avanti is built on a full-length Lightstrike PRO ultra-lightweight midsole foam infused with carbon-fiber rods that store and return energy in the same way that system does in the Adidas Adios Pro marathon racing shoe. (The previous edition of the Avanti featured a thin layer of Adidas Boost foam.) The bottom of the shoe has a modern, web-like carbon-fiber plate that anchors six screw-in spike portals and also serves as a rigid propulsion-generator at the toe-off phase of a stride. 

The Ambition is a more traditionally built shoe with a large wedge of Lightstrike PRO foam under the forefoot and a thinner layer of lightweight EVA foam in the rearfoot. The Ambition has a traditional spike plate with five screw-in spike receptacles.

 ASICS MetaSpeed LD 0 super spike
ASICS MetaSpeed LD 0 Photo: Asics

ASICS MetaSpeed LD 0, $250

Spec weight: 4.2 oz. (men’s size 8.5)

ASICS used some of the design elements and materials utilized in development of its road racing super shoes — the MetaSpeed Sky and MetaSpeed Edge — to produce its long-distance racing spikes. The MetaSpeed LD 0 spikes utilize the same FlyteFoam Blast Turbo midsole foam with a stack height about 10mm higher than its previous distance-oriented spikes. The other main component is a full-length carbon-fiber plate, part of which is embedded under a wedge of FlyteFoam Nano cushioning at the heel, and the other part of which doubles as the actual exterior spike plate. Unlike other models of spikes, the MetaSpeed LD 0 doesn’t have individual metal spikes that screw into the bottom of the shoe. Instead, ASICS developed an array of variable-sized directionally shaped points known as HexaClaw technology that provides full ground coverage, allows for quicker stride transitions and more propulsion.

“Ultimately, it’s going to give you a longer stride with less effort,” Lang says. “It sounds really simple when we say it like that, but the reality is that if we can make that come true we can make a lot of runners a heck of a lot faster really quickly. The foam provides a lot more energy return with more pop and allows a runner’s legs to feel fresher and the design of the spikeless plate helps get the foot off the ground as efficiently as possible.

Hoka Cielo X LD super spike
Hoka Cielo X LD Photo: Hoka

HOKA One One Cielo X MD, $160 

Spec weight: 4.5 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

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HOKA Cielo X MD
HOKA Cielo X MD Photo: Hoka

HOKA One One Cielo X LD, $160

Spec weight: 3.7 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

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HOKA created its new top-level middle-distance and long-distance spikes with learnings from how it developed its Carbon X and Rocket X carbon-fiber road racing shoes. Both track spikes incorporate a light, soft and resilient compression-molded EVA midsole foam to create a smooth ride and encourage propulsive action from a three-quarter-length carbon plate that stretches from the arch and loops around the Pebax spike plate. Although the Cielo X MD weighs a fraction of an ounce more because it has six spike receptacles (as opposed to four on the Cielo X LD), it also has a hollowed-out cutaway section for the greater propulsion required in shorter events. Given the length and coverage underfoot of the carbon plate, the design is more about the Cielo X LD and Cielo X MD limiting energy loss through the midsole than it is about true energy gain, says Colin Ingram, director of product at HOKA One One. The overall rigidity of the shoe also provides the runner greater ground-to-foot proprioceptive feedback.

“The three-quarter length carbon plate provides stability through the midsole and enables more power transfer into the spike plate,” Ingram says. “The angle of the plate is more aggressive than that of the Carbon X and Rocket X due to the nature of the athlete needing more of a forefoot focus to their stride.”

New Balance FuelCell MD-X
New Balance FuelCell MD-X Photo: New Balance

New Balance FuelCell MD-X, $180

Spec weight: 4.4 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

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New Balance FuelCell SuperComp LD-X
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp LD-X

New Balance FuelCell SuperComp LD-X, $180

Spec weight: 4.7 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

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New Balance started its super shoe development process in 2018 when it began the development of the FuelCell 5280 road mile racing shoe. They then transitioned the process, data and result into the development of its track spikes, while also incorporating those learnings into the development of the FuelCell RC Elite marathon racing shoe. (In fact, the carbon-fiber plate of the FuelCell MD-X spikes has the same shape as the one in the FuelCell RC Elite v2.)

Both the middle-distance MD-X and long-distance LD-X use a variation of FuelCell foam material, but the foam varies based on the end use of the spike. In New Balance sprint spikes, the foam has additional density and high energy return for explosiveness, and in the middle-distance and long-distance spikes the foam balances its lightest weight and energy return for optimal economy/efficiency, says Danny Orr, general manager of the performance footwear category at New Balance.  Similar to the foams, the plates have different shapes and stiffnesses in the sprint, middle- and long-distance spikes to promote power and explosiveness in sprint and economy/efficiency in the middle and long distance.

Both the LD-X and MD-X have built-in titanium spikes that can’t be removed, a design feature implemented to reduce weight and promote smoothness through the toe-off phase.

“The plate shape is something that makes the spikes really special as we were one of the first brands to use carbon fiber directly on the track surface. This combines both traction, stiffness and reduces weight,” Orr says. “We are really happy with the data that we have on the new spikes, and we feel confident that all of the New Balance athletes stand on the start line knowing that they are wearing the best in innovation. The number of victories, PRs and records from team NB athletes since 2019 really backs that up.”

Nike ZoomX Dragonfly spikes
Nike ZoomX Dragonfly spikes Photo: Nike

Nike ZoomX Dragonfly, $150

Spec weight: 4.7 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

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Nike Air Zoom Victory 2
Nike Air Zoom Victory 2 Photo: Nike

Nike Air Zoom Victory, $180

Spec weight: 4.7 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

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The Air Zoom Victory is Nike’s shoe for 800m to 5,000m races. It has a dual-material midsole comprised of ZoomX foam in the rear and Air Zoom pods in the forefoot, both of which sit below a full-length, curvy carbon-fiber plate.

The ZoomX Dragonfly, built on a full-length ZoomX midsole, is Nike’s shoe geared for racing 1,500m to 10,000m on the track. These shoes are slightly heavier than some of its contemporaries, largely because both shoes have a somewhat traditional Pebax spike plate with six screw-in spike receptacles and a Shockwave thermoplastic element in the heel for increased traction.