A Fan's Guide to the Hurdles

A special thanks for Ben Hinckfoot for taking time to write this article. Ben was a multi time All-American in track in field at Concordia Nebraska in track and field. After graduating in 2014 he returned to his high school alma mater, The Classical Academy, where he is currently an assistant track coach and high school history teacher. Photo by Alan Versaw.

I have run over more hurdles in my life than I care to count. I have hurdled under the hot sun in the foothills of Colorado, in the rain in Indiana, and with the swirling snow in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska. I love hurdling and the joys and challenges that sprinting over obstacles can bring. As my running days are now over I get to enjoy hurdling from the sidelines as both a coach and spectator. The hurdling events are one of the more exhilarating events on the track to watch as athletes are not only sprinting as fast as they can but also forcing their bodies to overcome metal objects standing between themselves and the finish line. As a spectator it can be daunting trying to keep track of what is going on. The main hurdle events in the high school athletic circuit are the 100/110 high hurdles and the 300 intermediate hurdles, each with their own unique rules, techniques and strategies.

The 100/110 high hurdles are one of the shortest events on the track. The high hurdles typically take place at the beginning of a track meet to allow for hurdles to fully recover before the other main sprinting events and the 300 hurdles. The 100 hurdles is a girl's only event, while the boys run an extra 10 meters. The girls hurdle race is fast paced and as close to a pure sprint as possible. The rules for the girls 100 hurdles are simple. Girls must make an attempt to clear every hurdle in their lane and not impede another runner with bodily movements or by knocking a hurdle into a competitor's lane. Girls use several techniques and strategies to get the edge in a race. Most female athletes at the high school level take 8-9 steps from the starting line to the first hurdle and 4 steps over each hurdle until all ten have been cleared. There are more elite runners that are able to take only 7 steps to the first hurdle and take three steps over each consecutive hurdle. Athletes that are able to keep their sprint speed and three steps over each hurdle have a major advantage.

The 110 hurdle race is the boy's event that takes place immediately following the girl's high hurdle race. The main rules for the boy's race are the same as the girls. Athletes must make an attempt to clear all ten hurdles in their lane without impeding another runner. The boy's race is much more about technique and strategy compared to the girl's hurdle event. Boys are forced to clear a barrier set at 39 inches compared to the 33 inches the girls must clear. This slows the race down and causes boys to focus on their steps and how much time they spend in the air. Boys typically take eight steps to the first hurdle and take three steps between each hurdle. Again, some elite and longer limbed athletes way only take seven long steps to the first hurdle.

While the high hurdles are all about speed and technique, the other hurdle event on the track, the 300 hurdles, is a whole other animal. As a spectator the 300 hurdles may the most entertaining event on the track. Athletes must clear eight hurdles while sprinting for almost an entire lap. The girl's run over 30 in low hurdles while the boys must conquer 36 in hurdles on their way to the finish line. The main technique used by both female and male athletes is a leg alternating sequence where the athletes dominant leg leads the body over the hurdle on the straight away and their inside left leg leads on the curve. The purpose behind this technique is to hug the curve as tightly as possible so that at 150 meters, athletes can begin their kick and finish as fast and strong as possible over the last hurdles on the home stretch. Some call this event the toughest in track and field. If you go out too hard, the home stretch will seem to last forever. If you go out too slow the race isn't long enough to make up real estate. Much like the 800m, pacing it properly requires a special blend of speed and endurance. As a spectator pay careful attention to watch for athletes to spend as little amount of time in the air as possible so that they can push themselves down the track with a powerful sprint stance, this will also leave the contestant more energy for the for home stretch.

The hurdle events in high school athletics are a joy to watch and compete in. Hurdlers are a unique group of individuals that excel at multiple events on the from the 100 meter dash all the way up to the 800m. The 100/110 hurdles are all about speed and precision while the 300 hurdles there is a focus on endurance and strategy. Next time you head to your neighborhood track meet find a comfortable spot and watch the hurdle events unfold in all their splendor and glory.