The New Balance XC Seven
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Tried, Tested and Reviewed: New Balance XC Seven v4

The first time I wore a pair of spikes was a 3,000-metre race at a high school track meet.

I can’t remember if the calf pain began during the run or the following morning, but I was quite uncomfortable for days afterwards.

Ever since, I’ve been wary of spikes, which can cause calf pain because of the negative drop between the toes — which are raised by metal spikes — and the minimalist heel. But when I decided to race cross country as a masters athlete last year, I knew I needed to get over my aversion for the shoe.

Spikes are a huge asset when running cross country races, which typically take place on uneven grassy surfaces with mud, hills and tight corners. The metal spikes underneath the forefoot provide the traction needed to stay upright in the slickest conditions. Unlike track spikes — which typically have a smooth, plastic outsole — cross-country spikes have a textured rubber outsole to maximize grip on most surfaces.

I raced the 2021 Canadian Masters Cross Country Championships in a pair of lightweight, minimalist and aggressive spikes which were not at all like the plush carbon-fibre shoes I have grown to love for road training. They did the job, but I was desperate to get them off my feet when I finally made it to the finish chute. Sadly, after three stream crossings in sub-zero temperatures, my laces had frozen and I had to hobble several hundred metres to the parking lot to thaw them out in my car.

The New Balance XC Seven
The New Balance XC Seven

I felt like I had unfinished business in cross country and was keen to give the sport another shot this year. So when Brainsport advertised they were stocking the New Balance XC Seven v4 – advertised as “designed specifically for the emerging cross country runner” — I had to try a pair.

This spike, reportedly named for the top seven runners who score for a team in a cross-country meet, has a six-pin spike plate and is notable for its thin layer of New Balance REVLite foam in the midsole, including at the heel. It’s not exactly a plush carbon-fibre shoe, but it’s closer than other spikes on the market.

I took the XC Seven for a spin in a grassy park near my house after a rainy night. I ran up and down hills, did some accelerations and practiced cornering around some trees. The shoes kept me upright – and didn’t leave my calves in agony. The REVLite midsole provides noticeable comfort compared with my other, more minimal, spikes and makes them reminiscent of racing flats. I also appreciate that the relatively thick upper provides a bit more warmth than can be expected from other almost slipper-like spikes.

The New Balance XC Seven
The New Balance XC Seven

I posted about my run on Strava and Jaira Cross Child — who runs cross-country for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies — commented that the cushioning of the XC Seven made it more pleasant for her to move up in distance from four-to eight-kilometre races a few years back. “I love the XC Seven,” she wrote. “With injury-prone shins, they feel great.”

The XC Seven is a unisex shoe and comes in men’s sizes. If you’re used to women’s sizing like me, New Balance has a sizing chart on its website which outlines what the conversion is. I wear a women’s size six in other New Balance shoes (the 880 is one of my favourite trainers) and wore a 4.5 in the XC Seven. I found the unisex shoe to fit a bit larger and wider than New Balance’s women’s-specific shoes and may have benefited from going down a half size; trying on a pair in store is always the best way to guarantee a good fit.

I don’t think I’ll ever love spikes, but the New Balance XC Seven is a good option for cross country races when my plush road racing shoes would probably have me eating mud within the first kilometres. With some midsole cushioning and a thick, cozy upper I suspect they’re a bit heavier than other spikes available, but I’m happy to make that sacrifice for more comfort. As advertised, these are a great option for new cross country runners and road runners like me who want to try something different while holding on to some familiarity.

The XC Seven v4 is available in two colours: electric red/victory blue and pixel green/cyber jade. Both cost $110.