Other than your training shoes, competition shoes are a track & field athlete's most important piece of gear. Well-fitting shoes that are appropriate for your events can give you the push you need to compete at your best.
Sprinters are the fastest runners on the track, so they need the fastest shoes. The spike plate on the bottom of their track shoes is designed for speed, not comfort. Built to hold a slew of replaceable metal spikes - and molded with additional traction-enhancing spikiness - the rigid plate helps sprinters maximize traction and leverage in every stride. But it's not just for grip and leverage. The spike plate also gives the shoe shape. For shorter distances — usually up to 400 meters — the plate helps keep a runner's heel higher than their toes. The forward position optimizes a sprinter's momentum during a race, and since sprinters don't land on their heels, sprint spikes have minimal cushioning, which shaves precious ounces from the shoe's overall weight. "Sprint" spikes are also excellent for long jumpers and short hurdlers due to their light weight and lack of a heel. Every centimeter can make a difference in track & field, so catching the sand a bit early or clipping a hurdle with a thicker heel is a consideration.
Mid-distance and distance racers run differently than sprinters, so they need different shoes. While sprinters spend their races on their toes, distances runners typically have more of a mid-foot strike. Mid-distance and distance spikes still use spikes to give runners grip on the track, but the plates that hold the spikes are less rigid and less "angled" than their sprinting counterparts. The extra flexibility and decreased heel-to-toe drop make the shoe more comfortable over the longer distances. So, too, does their additional cushioning, including the presence of a heel. Typically, 800m specialists gravitate towards a spike with a plastic plate and 3200m specialists prefer the rubberized forefoot found in dual cross country/track spikes. Pole vaulters, high jumpers, and long hurdlers often prefer mid-distance spikes because the presence of the heel provides protection and a more level, stable platform.
Two of our favorite distance spikes, the Hyper XC and Hyper Rocketgirl XC from Asics ($70 MSRP)
Throwers require a durable, low-center-of-gravity shoe that allows them to spin or glide without "catching an edge" and risk rolling their ankle. To be most efficient, the platform of their shoe should be long and wide enough to accommodate the foot but be comfortably snug through the midfoot to prevent the foot from rolling inside the shoe.
Our favorite throwing shoe, the Saucony Unleash SD 2 ($100 MSRP)