Steeplechase Technique

By: Chick Hislop, Weber State

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The steeplechase is a distance race with barriers. I have changed my philosophy and decided that the steeplechase is a hurdle distance race.

If you compare the flat times in the 2 mile or 3,000 meters to the steeplechase time it will reveal a very startling fact. Most coaches say that the 2 mile time and the steeplechase time will be within five or six seconds of each other or about the same time.

  1. I believe there should be about a 20 seconds variance between the 2 mile time and the steeplechase time.
  2. A 9:00-2 miler should be able to run an 8:40 steeplechase time, for a 20 second variance between the flat 3,000 time and the steeplechase time instead of the 40 second variance that most coaches hold to.

In order to get this variance or in order to knock this variance down so that you only have this length of time between the two races:

  1. We have to look at some of the difficulties in hurdling; and
  2. Then we have to work at attempting to cut these difficulties down and to minimize them as much as possible.

One difficulty is hurdling in the steeplechase because it is at a slower pace, and the slower you run the more difficult it is to hurdle. If you have a video tape recorder, I would suggest that you:

  1. Have your steeplechaser or your distance runners run a 70 second pace,
  2. Then put your intermediate hurdler next to him and have your intermediate hurdler run along with him at the 70 second pace over five hurdles,
  3. Then check and see the adjustment that the intermediate hurdler has to make going over the five hurdles at 70 second steeplechase pace.
Gymboss Timers

If a beginning steeplechaser can run a 9:15 in his first attempt, which is a good place to start, that's only a 74 second pace. So get your intermediate hurdle runner to run at a 74 second pace and see what adjustment he has to make to run along side. This will help you decide what type of technique the steeplechaser has to use and a few of the changes that he may have to make and how you may coach him a little differently than you would a regular hurdler.

Another difficulty a steeplechaser will have is he has to hurdle in a crowd. Just think how difficult it would be for the intermediate hurdlers if they all had to go over the same barrier. A steeplechaser has to do one of three things:

  1. He has to hurdle in a crowd
  2. He has to take the lead, or
  3. He has to fall behind.

Someplace in the race he more than likely has to hurdle in a crowd anyway. If he has to do this in a race then I think it is very important for him to run in a crowd during the workout.

Another way to handle this is to have your distance runners run with the steeplechasers on the interval at the same time. Set your hurdle a half a lane out and have the runners run right together towards the hurdle so the steeplechaser cannot see it. In the last two or three strides have them veer off each side of the hurdle, the middle opens up and the steeplechaser can see the hurdle for the first time--very much the same as the situation in a race if he is running in a group.

Another difficulty in working in the steeplechase is that the athlete cannot afford to hit a hurdle. Notice that I am always referring to these as hurdles because this is what we work over. We do not work over barriers at anytime. The only time we ever go over barriers is at the water jump or in the race itself. The reason I use hurdles is that I do not want the runners to be able to step on them. If the hurdle is there they have to learn how to lead with either leg over the hurdle. In order to attempt to stop them from hitting it, because if they ever happen to hit a hurdle in practice I will come down on them very hard, very mean, and make sure that they have the fear of God in them so that they will not hit it a second time. If I have a person who is hitting it constantly, once in a while I will put a barrier out to make him know if he hits it once, he more than likely will hit it again. Most steeplechasers, if they have had the experience of hitting the barrier, that pretty well cures them.

Relating to the slowness of the pace, it is very important to attempt to hurdle for economy and not for speed. The only time a steeplechaser would hurdle for speed would be in the last 400 or in some cases, perhaps in the last 600. But most of the time you want to hurdle for economy. If you video tape and compare your intermediate hurdler, see how much he changes his form when he is running at a 70 second pace as compared to a 52 or a 50 second pace:

There's a point of diminishing returns on economy if a person is going too slow. If he is hurdling any slower than a 70 second pace over the hurdle he loses economy and he is going too slow. He is either going to slow down over the top of the hurdle or coming off the hurdle because he does not have enough momentum to carry himself through. So, if anybody is running slower than a 9 minute pace as they approach the hurdle, I still want them to attempt to get to at least a 70 second pace over the hurdle.

One of the major difficulties with beginning hurdlers is that many of them can lead only with one leg. We spend a lot of time teaching the young men to lead with either leg. I have found it is easier to teach them to hurdle with either leg during the same time, using either leg as a lead leg:

It is much easier to do it this way than it is to get them efficient with one leg then turn around in a month or two and attempt to teach them to hurdle with the other leg. It is very important for them to be able to lead with either leg, not only physically, but mentally as well. If I don't have to worry about how I am going to approach this hurdle, when I am at five steps away from it-- It's one less mental thing I have to worry about during the race. And physiologically, it is going to be easier on the runner to finish strong if he doesn't have to worry about the approach to every hurdle.

Realizing that there are possible difficulties in hurdling in a steeplechase race, there are certain drills for beginning hurdlers. With a new man, we will do these drills quite often but as the person gets more efficient then we will cut them down. We do not use more than one or two drills per session.

When I teach a young hurdler, I attempt to have no more than three people around. I want to have one experienced steeplechaser with me and no more than two new ones. If I have four or five new steeplechasers at one particular time then I will divide them into two or three different sessions. I want to have as much of a one-on-one situation as possible.

  1. Set up two hurdles facing opposite directions.

I will stand about 15 feet away from the hurdle

  1. After we're done with this we go over the complete set of hurdles. The reason I stand back 15 feet is that after a person comes by me I can stop him, talk to him, tell him what I may want him to do a little differently and then he can work on that one particular thing. The most difficult thing to work with hurdlers or steeplechasers is the trail leg--they want to bring it in directly underneath them. You will find that if you watch your top steeplechasers, they will have the trail leg in a little bit closer than high or intermediate hurdlers will because it is more economic. We do not want the trail leg directly underneath because now they would have to clear the hurdle by about eighteen inches instead of three or four inches. So to work on just the trail leg I set up what we classify as "the ten foot hurdle."
  2. We'll usually use five hurdles and set them up 10 feet apart. The hurdlers will go over the hurdle with their trail leg, take one step with the lead leg, go over the hurdle with their trail leg. Every time they take the trail leg they go over the hurdle. It works on the trail leg motion without them having to run too much. When we do these drills we usually do them on a distance day but we do them away from a regular workout. We might do them instead of a morning workout. If they have some time, they might come at noon, we might come back at six or seven o'clock, but we do it apart from the regular practice.
  3. Another drill we do about two or three times in a complete year with all the steeplechasers:
  1. The last thing I do separately with the hurdles is:
  1. The last thing we do is a lot of intervals over hurdles:


We vary this back and forth and by setting the hurdle in the middle of the line of lane one then the runner can go out and hurdle, which he very often has to go out as during a race.

He can go over the hurdle, then the next lap, if he is not going over the hurdle, he can stay on the inside and run the complete distance. This gives the runner an opportunity to hurdle during an interval workout when he is tired, much the same as during the latter part of a race.

Our workouts are broken down into two phases during the competitive season.

  1. We will have over-distance one day, then
  2. We have the interval workout the next day.

Keep in mind that we are working out at almost 5,000 feet altitude. I sometimes think that what we would do at 5,000 feet may be a little bit different than what you would do at sea level.

We do our distance work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Depending on how tough the meet is going to be on Saturday will determine the distance work we do on Friday.

We'll do our long interval work on Tuesday and our short interval on Thursday. Usually on our short intervals they are run at a different pace. For a miler type steeplechaser we will usually run the Thursday interval at a 1500 pace.

For those who are more strength type runners, for the Thursday short interval, we'll run a 5000 meter pace. Then towards the end of the season if we want to sharpen up a little we move it down to a 1500 pace.

With a steeplechaser it is very important to work with the legs a little more than by just normal running. We run stairs at the stadium that take about 15 seconds to go up. They run every other or every third stair so they have to lift up. Of course, we run hills. Occasionally when I get someone that is a little injured, we go into the training room and we put up the weight on a bicycle and have them pump a bike. We'll do different things to attempt to work on the legs-more than we would the normal distance runner.

Race strategy may be more important for the steeplechaser than for any other distance runner.

If I have a young man who is going to run an 8:45 pace I want him to start out slower than pace.

If he starts out at a 65 or 64 second pace and if he is going to end up running 8:45, sometime during that race he is going to be running a 72 or 73 second pace. If I start him out a little slower than pace for that first 200 meters before he gets to a hurdle, and when he gets to that hurdle, he knows he is going to pick up to 69 or 70 second pace. I think he can save a little energy over the hurdle and he's not slowing down on the top of every hurdle because he has enough momentum to carry himself over.

If he slows down over every hurdle, what will he have to do for the next four or five yards? He has to pick it up. I would rather have him run a little slower before he approaches the first hurdle than have to change the pattern 28 times as he goes over 28 hurdles.

The slower the athlete runs the steeplechase, the more important it is to start out slower than pace. If I am working with a beginning steeplechaser who is only going to run 9:15 or 9:30, it is more important for him to start out a little slowly and then work into pace than it is to run the first lap as if he is a 9:15 person. If he runs the first lap in 67 seconds then there is going to be some place where he is going to run 75 and 76. The slower he runs, the more difficult it is to hurdleand the more difficult time he is going to have to get over the hurdles.

Another area where I had some trouble was working on our track on a pace and then going to a different track and have the lap times change because the steeplechase start would be in a different place and the runners would be off the regular track at different distances because of the placement of the water jump.

There is a difference between running the 400 at a certain time and a lap in a certain time. Very often when a young man goes by he does not hear 400 times--he hears lap times.

If a person runs at an 8:30 pace, that's a 68 second pace for a 400. But at the University of Oregon track, which has about 47 yards difference from the starting line to the 200 line, he's got to hear a little faster time than 67--he has to run 66.8 per lap. That is what he has to average on that track because of how long he is off the regular track in order to run his pace. Mt. Sac starts back even further. If a person runs 68 seconds at Mt. Sac, he's going to end up running 8:45 instead of 8:30 because of how far back it is.

You can make up a steeplechase chart which can be used on any track with an inside or outside water jump which shows the pace up at the top and then however far back they start from the 200 line you can look across the data and figure out what time the person will hear. You can break it down all the way from an 8 minute up to a 9:40 steeplechase.

Outside Water Jump Configuration

72 seconds pace: 4:48 at 4 laps -- 9.0 last 50 meters --Total time = 8:33

71 seconds pace: 4:44 at 4 laps -- 8.9 last 50 meters -- Total time 8:25.9

Inside Water Jump Configuration

68 seconds pace: 4:32 at 4 laps -- 38 seconds last 240 meters -- Total time = 8:34

67 seconds pace: 4:20 at 4 laps -- 37.5 seconds last 240 meters -- Total time = 8:26.5

The times shown here obviously are for open elite steeplechasers. For the older athlete, the training theory is the same. Take your race time and then factor it into the above formulas.


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