The section of all-weather track preceding the starting line often goes ignored if not entirely unnoticed.
Athletes such as Center Grove High School hurdlers Justin Veteto and Evan Tandy know the terrain well. It represents, after all, the calm before the storm.
The boys 110-meter high hurdles are a power event in every sense. From the explosiveness needed out of the blocks
to the focus, technique, endurance and sense of strategy called on to successfully finish the race, many components become intertwined within those 14-plus seconds.
But then hurdles competitions in general are difficult.
“People are going to say their sport is the hardest. I’ve participated in them all, and the 300-meter hurdles are the toughest thing there is. It takes complete concentration, and you have to be conditioned mentally as well as physically,” Center Grove boys track coach Eric Moore said.
“I tell kids it’s like running a 300-meter race and getting punched in the stomach eight times.”
Each of the eight hurdles represents a punch. In both the girls 300 lows and boys 300 intermediates they are separated by 35 meters, with a 45-meter approach to the first hurdle.
The lone difference being that girls hurdles measure 30 inches in height compared to 36 for the boys.
Girls high-hurdle events are 100 meters, with a total of 10 hurdles 33 inches tall during high school competitions. Boys use the same number of hurdles — albeit each 39 inches — and are called on to cover an additional 10 meters of track.
“I know from my perspective hurdlers are the most versatile athletes on your track team. It seems like hurdlers a lot of times make good long-jumpers or can run the 100- or 200-meter (dashes),” Whiteland girls and boys track coach Brandon Bangel said.
“The high- and low-hurdles are really two different types of races, so typically kids will favor one over the other. A lot of it is what an athlete is more comfortable with. Body size plays a lot bigger role in the 110s than the 300s. You don’t see a lot of short guys excel in the 110s unless they’re really, really fast.”
A rangy 6-foot-5 senior, Veteto is physically tailor-made for both events.
However, margin for error is much less in the 110 highs, as the 9.14 meters between hurdles calls for three steps for every approach. The girls between-hurdle distance (8.5 meters) can be accomplished in three steps by those at the elite level, though some competitors opt for four-step approaches.
“The thing that’s most difficult is the technique. It’s very important in both races,” said Veteto, whose long stride enables him to use a seven-step approach to the first high hurdle — located 13.72 meters from the starting line.
“Endurance is so important in the 300, but I feel like I finish pretty strong. Last season I liked the 110s more, but I like them the same now.”
Tandy despite being five inches shorter than his teammate also adheres to a seven-and-three philosophy.
Both qualified for Saturday’s state meet at Indiana University in the 110 high hurdles, with Veteto seeded second (14.29) and Tandy 13th (14.87). Veteto also is seeded first in the 300 intermediate based on his winning regional time of 37.53 seconds.
NOT ALL HURDLES ARE SEEN
Athleticism aside, mastering hurdles has long meant taming the psychological beast affiliated with any fear of tripping and skinning one’s knees, arms, etc.
It’s a roadblock that in the old days of Indiana high school tracks involved cinders on which to land.
State meet lineage informs us hurdles events no longer run in Indiana are, for girls, the 80-yard (1974-79) and the 100-meter lows (1980-98).
Boys hurdling events long ago discontinued are the 120-yard highs (1904-79), 180-yard hurdles (1952-77), 200-yard low hurdles (1936-51), 220-yard low hurdles (1904-35), the 300-meter low hurdles (1980-98) and the 330-yard low hurdles (1978-79).
Falling equates to pain regardless.
“You don’t race people in the hurdles. You have to stay with your rhythm pattern. If you go too fast, you mess up. If you go too slow, you mess up,” Moore said.
“It’s like a quarterback in football facing a defense. You have to look through the trees to see the forest. If you stand there and see 10 barriers or you see eight barriers, you’re not going to win. Honestly, the best hurdlers I’ve had had some pretty nasty falls.”
“The hardest part in teaching them is making it look as much like a sprint as possible,” Bangel added. “The key to hurdling is getting yourself in a sprint position immediately after each hurdle.”
Moore tells the story of the best prep hurdler he ever coached, a 5-11, 185-pound blur named Elgin Hicks, a 1999 graduate of Port Charlotte (Florida) High School — Moore’s previous employer.
Hicks as a 10- or 11-year-old was competing in the 100-meter hurdles at an AAU event. According to Moore, Hicks tripped, and the youngster’s fall managed to remove some skin from his forehead.
Hicks gamely got up and finished the race.
“I don’t think he ever lost a race after that,” Moore said.
Today’s girls state finals includes Center Grove junior Tori Long, the 24th seed in the 300 low hurdles after being timed in 46.85 seconds while placing fourth at the Shelbyville Regional.
Long doesn’t compete in the 100 highs but will run first leg of the Trojans’ ninth-seeded 1,600 relay team at state.
Having come out for track for the first time in 2013, Long has yet to master the intricacies of the shorter of the two hurdles events.
The 300s offer her challenges aplenty.
“The challenge is remembering what I have to do because it does help. Most people think it’s just running, but the technique is difficult,” Long said. “You have to maintain your pace, but there are times you have to pick it up, too. I love the challenge of the low hurdles and the fact it is difficult. It’s fulfilling, but it’s also really fun.”