What would you say if someone told you there was a race on the track that was unlike any other? A race that uses endurance to run far, strength to jump, and swimming abilities to not drown? Okay, well the swimming part is a stretch. What I’m talking about is the steeplechase; one of the most fun races to participate in, and watch, on the distance side of track! The cool thing about this event is that it didn’t even start out on the track. It was first a race between two church steeples with natural obstacles, like logs and rivers, along the route. It wasn’t until the 1900 that the steeple was introduced as an Olympic event for men. One hundred and eight years later, in 2008, the steeple became an official Olympic even for women (that’s a long time to wait, huh?!).
So, now you have a little history lesson under your belt, but you may be saying to yourself “Yeah…but what is the steeplechase?” Well it is usually a 3,000 meter event, however, many times high school meets offer a 1500 meter steeplechase. Each lap holds five barriers placed systematically around the track. The hurdles are the same height that typical male/female hurdler’s use. The barriers look like big balance-beams lined up across the length of the track. They are solid, striped, and make your knee swell up like a softball if you hit it! One of these barriers directs you to the fun part, the water pit! The water pit is just that, a pit filled with water (and sometimes goldfish if you’re lucky!). The deepest part of the water pit is 2.3 feet, but the pit slopes shallow the farther you get from the barrier, so trying to jump far is the goal! Most of the best steeple runners learn how to hurdle the barriers instead of stepping on them; however, it is very typical to step on the water barrier in order to use all your strength to push off and land in the shallow end.
There are three important factors to be conscious of when training for the steeplechase. First: mileage. When you are training for the steeplechase, you should train just like you would for any other distance track event by running consistently. Second: strength. Having to push yourself off the ground in order to hurdle 16-35 hurdles (depending on the length of the race) requires strong legs and a strong core. So lift those weights and do those abs! It really pays off. Lastly: technique. Learning how to properly hurdle can help shave seconds off your finishing time. There are many drills to try. These drills should be done one to two times a week after your regular runs. Ask some of the sprint hurdlers for drill idea’s or check out these drills to prepare yourself for the steeplechase. It may seem hard, and you may feel uncoordinated the first couple times you try the drills (everyone does!), but if you practice, practice, practice and you will become a pro!
STEPHANIE is a "Division III National Champion Steepler, advocate and for women's equality, blogger, all around running lover!" Watch for regular tips and stories from Stephanie at Youthrunner.com