What is the Difference Between Cross Country and Track?

What is the Difference Between Cross Country and Track? Spikes for cross-country and track are used to get more traction on the surfaces being raced on. Because they have less support, they are lighter than training shoes. In addition, spikes have an upward curve in the toe to push the runner onto their toes.

Short distance vs. long distance, 400 meters vs. 3200 meters and sprints vs. endurance. Cross country and track are more like distant cousins than sisters, even though their names are often confused by non-runners. The workouts, races, and overall experience of each sport are quite different.

Cross country races consist of the 3200-meter, which is about 2 miles, and the 5K, which is 3.1 miles. It is common for runners to race the 2-mile because of the shorter distance and the better chances of setting a personal record.

There are short distance track races ranging from 100 meters to 800 meters. The 1600-meter and 3200-meter distances are long distance races. Teams of four runners compete in relay races, each running the same distance and passing along a baton to the next runner.

Anna Fent ’21, a varsity cross country and track runner, said, “The race experience differs greatly between track and cross country.”. Cross country meets consist of a singular race along an uneven course that can be shorter or longer than its set distance, whereas track meets are a more uniform experience, especially when it comes to the race itself.”

Due to the variability of a cross country race, a smart strategy while running is to take tangents whenever the course turns or curves. Running a longer distance than necessary to reach the finish line is prevented by this practice. Track races, on the other hand, are much simpler, as they take place on a dusty red track that is the same no matter where the meet takes place.

Track and cross country require mental strength no matter what.

β€œIn the track 3200, much of the mental focus is on meeting goals for split times, whereas a cross country race for that same distance is more about enduring through whatever the course throws at you while maintaining a pace that will allow you to PR,” said Katherine Reynolds ’22, another varsity runner.

What is the Difference Between Cross Country and Track
What is the Difference Between Cross Country and Track

Track Spikes

The lack of heel support in track spikes forces runners to run on the balls of their feet.

Track spikes are lightweight shoes that provide a stronger push off from the track. Track and sprint spikes have little heel support since the toe plate has an arc so high that it forces 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

As well as cross-country races, cross-country spikes can also be used for distance races on the track.

Because cross-country runners do not want to run the entire race on the balls of their feet, cross-country spikes provide more support on the heel. The toe plate still has a slight upward angle, but it is not as pronounced as on the sprint or track spike. Cross-country spikes are not necessarily needed for every runner on every cross-country course. The muddier or more hilly the course, the greater the need for spikes and cross-country shoes.

Spike Length Differences

Track spikes are shorter than cross-country spikes and have more regulations regarding what can be used on each track. Most tracks state that spikes can only be 1/4 or 3/16 inch, or smaller. Using longer spikes on a track surface will tear the surface and ruin the track.

As cross-country spikes are designed to gain traction on high grass and through mud, they tend to be longer. On average, cross-country runners wear 1/4- to 1/2-inch spikes, depending on the terrain.


For longer races, such as those between 3,000 m and 10,000 m, cross-country runners often use their spikes from cross-country races on the track. More of an arc in the toe is needed on anything under 3,000 meters, as is less heel support. To ensure that the shoe fits properly, athletes should put both spikes on and run around the store or down the sidewalk before buying.

Spikes should not be worn every time you work out, but should be worn a few times before a race. Spikes are not as comfortable as running shoes and can cause foot and lower leg pain if your feet are not used to them.

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