The Art of Hurdling

“A good athlete can enter into a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. . . . We can’t tell the dancer from the dance.”
-Stephen Mitchell, from the foreword to his translation of the Tao Te Ching


Part One: The Feeling

“Remember the feeling, and try to duplicate the feeling.”
-Renaldo Nehemiah

My recent interview of Renaldo Nehemiah, then my writing of the profile on him, and then going back and re-reading the profile several times, has led me to really think deeply about this thing called the art of hurdling, and what it entails. If hurdling is an art form, then what does that fact mean to those of us who run the hurdles, and those of us who coach hurdlers? Nehemiah emphasized that fast times are not what really matter, but it’s the feeling that really matters – the feeling of effortless, fluid motion. If the greatest hurdler who ever lived is saying that fast times don’t matter, then the rest of us need to pay attention, and figure out what this somewhat startling perspective means to us as individuals who are trying to better ourselves as participants in the hurdling events. Long before my talk with Nehemiah, I had always held the stance that hurdling is more of an art than a science, that it is primarily a form of self-expression and self-discovery; however, the more I got involved in coaching, the more I realized that hurdling is a very scientific endeavor, as the quest to run faster and to win races involves gaining a wealth of knowledge regarding the intricacies of technique, speed, and power, and how they inter-relate. But my conversation with Renaldo reminded me that my original point of view was quite a relevant one, as I have come to understand that it is the art of hurdling, not the science of hurdling, that sets it apart from all other events in Track & Field, and from all other athletic endeavors.

I first began to view hurdling as an art form during the autulmn of my sophomore of college, inspired by a conversation with an artist friend of mine who lived in my dorm. I remember one time I was marveling at how good her artwork was, and she responded by telling me that I was an artist too. “But I don’t paint, I don’t draw,” I said, “so what do you mean I’m an artist too?” She looked at me and answered, “you hurdle.” That’s when I began to realize that what I was doing was no different from what she was doing. I, too, was seeking to perfect my craft; I, too, was using my skills in order to improve my technique in an attempt to create works of art. I was not merely trying to win races, and I was not merely trying to run fast times. I was searching for a feeling of rhythm in motion that I could not describe or put into words, but one that I would be able to identify once I actually felt it. I instantly recognized the truth in what she was saying because I had already run the hurdles long enough to know that the feeling of hurdling well mattered more than the fact of hurdling well. That level of understanding is one that I have recently found myself returning to after my recent talks with Renaldo and with his high school coach, Jean Poquette.

In the beginning, most potential hurdlers are attracted to the hurdles because hurdling looks like it would be fun. All of us, whether hurdlers or not, when we go out to a track and see hurdlers working out, will take some time to watch them practice, curious as to how they’re able to clear such tall barriers with such apparent ease. It looks exciting, and a bit risky and adventurous, like the high jump and the pole vault. Although not all hurdlers begin hurdling for the same reasons, I think we can all agree that the one common thread that ties all of us together is that we are attracted by the challenge of finding out if we can do it. The mind, at this point, isn’t yet concerned with winning or losing, but just with trying an event that is unique, that not just anybody would be able to do. The initial reason for getting involved in the event is not to become a champion or anything like that. On the contrary, this “fun” that I speak of is a catch word that, on its deepest level, implies that one runs the hurdles purely for the love of the event, without any external motivations. This is the primitive level, before the push and pull of winning and losing comes into play, before hopes and desires and fears enter into the equation, before triumph and failure are even recognized as competitive realities. It is the skill of being able to negotiate an obstacle that we are attracted to; in essence, in the beginning, it is the art of hurdling that we are attracted to.

Once we get over the initial thrill of trying a new, exciting event, we get immersed in the quest to get better, to improve our technique, to get stronger, to get faster, to win races, to set school records, state records, regional records, national records. The more we involve ourselves with the competitive aspects of hurdling, the more we are susceptible to losing touch with the art of hurdling, which is what inspired us to try the event to begin with. So, one aspect of the art of hurdling lies in finding a balance between retaining a competitive drive while still pursuing a greater mastery of the art form. The two can, indeed, go hand in hand. The irony lies in the fact that fast times generally don’t come as a result of trying to run fast, but as a result of trying to tune into the rhythm of the race. To me, a hurdler’s rhythm is a very personal thing, as distinctive as a fingerprint. Though it may be true, in the short hurdles, that more or less everyone takes eight steps to the first hurdle and three between all the rest, no two hurdlers have identical rhythmic patterns. So, hurdling to one’s potential involves the lengthy process of figuring out what one’s rhythm is, then adapting to it, trusting it, and applying it under pressure-filled conditions. No coach can teach a hurdler what his or her rhythm is, but can only facilitate the process of helping the hurdler to find it for him or herself.

The fact that so many hurdlers I’ve talked to give the same answer as to what they like about the hurdles informs me that, for hurdlers, it’s not just about winning and losing. If all they cared about was winning, then they wouldn’t bother trying the hurdles because it takes so long to learn how to hurdle well. If you want instant results, the hurdles are the last event you’ll try. But they all say the same thing – “just straight sprinting is boring,” “I like the challenge of the obstacles in my path,” “I like the fact that there are always little things I can work on to improve,” “hurdling’s not just about speed,” etc. The fact that so many hurdlers share this attitude toward the hurdles verifies the point that hurdlers are seeking something more, something greater than the ego-centered gratification that comes with winning races. Hurdlers are searching for a feeling.

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Part Two: The Enlightened Hurdler

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

-T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

Because the hurdling events are embedded in the sport of Track & Field, success is measured by how fast you run and what place you come in. That’s undeniable, immutable, and, ultimately, acceptable. The goal for any athlete in any sport is to defeat the competition. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. My observation and experience has been that every great hurdler has a healthy fear of losing, is motivated by this fear of losing more so than by any other emotion. When there are ten hurdles in your way, you know that in any given race you could stumble, lose balance, and even fall. So, no matter how good you are, you can always lose; the hurdles make sure of that. My opinion is that a healthy fear of losing, not the will to succeed, is what makes great hurdlers great; it’s what gives them that competitive edge. The key is that they’re not so afraid that they choke, but they are able to transform that highly-charged nervous energy into fuel for an outstanding performance. They are always in control of their body; or, to put it more accurately, they are always in tune with their body.

Since I think about this hurdling stuff all the time (yeah, I’m weird like that, and so are you, or else you wouldn’t be reading this), I’ve been able to figure out for myself that there are four stages of development in the life of a hurdler, although not all hurdlers reach all four stages. The first stage is that of the beginning hurdler. This is the stage when hurdling is pure fun, and the hurdler is unencumbered by the stresses involved with trying to be the best. For me, this stage began when I first started hurdling as a sophomore in high school. I was a decent sprinter, and I liked running track because it was an enjoyable diversion from basketball, which I had been playing all my life, and was growing tired of. At the time, I had no plans of going anywhere with track beyond just running for the school team in the spring. But when my coach first introduced me to the hurdles, I suddenly felt special. In the sprints, I had been growing more and more frustrated because we had so many fast people that it didn’t seem there was any way I would be able to stand out. When I switched to the hurdles, I was instantly the second best hurdler on our team, and the coolest thing was that I could do something all those fast sprinters couldn’t do – I could hurdle. For me, as with all hurdlers, “running and jumping” was so much more fun than just running. I enjoyed my first season of hurdling immensely. The coach was a friendly, laid-back guy, I had no pressure on me to win big points for the team, and my personal best dropped from a 19-something in my first race all the way down to a 17.2 by the last meet. And it was fun. In my junior year, I quit basketball, became much more competitive and goal-oriented as a hurdler, and began thinking about whether or not I would want to continue hurdling in college. But yeah, that sophomore year was all about playful discovery, which ended up proving to be the foundation for the rest of my athletic and coaching career. I strongly believe that if you don’t get involved in hurdling because it’s fun and exciting for you, because it genuinely piques your curiosity, you won’t be hurdling very long before you get too bored with it, too frustrated with it, or too tired of the physical and emotional demands of it, to go on.

The second stage in a hurdler’s career is that of what I call the immature hurdler. The immature hurdler has moved beyond merely having fun, but is now embarking on the journey of becoming the best hurdler he or she can be. The problem with the immature hurdler is that he or she too strictly relates winning to success, and losing to failure. The immature hurdler must win races in order to feel that hurdling is a worthwhile endeavor. Without such validation, the immature hurdler will quickly lose interest in the event, or will lose so much self-confidence that he or she gets in the way of his or her own progress. The immature hurdler wants answers after a loss. What did I do wrong? What do I need to do to fix it? Do I need to change my start? Do I need to do more conditioning work? Do I need to do more speed work? The immature hurdler is not asking these questions out of a genuine inquisitiveness regarding the process of mastering the event, but more so out of a desire to hurry up and win races right away. At core, the problem with the immature hurdler is that his or her identity, his or her sense of self, is wrapped up in whether he or she wins or loses. When you feel that you have to win as a means of validating your training, you’re in trouble. No amount of training and no amount of good coaching can guarantee victories. The immature hurdler wants guarantees. He wants to know that if he does this many sit-ups a day, lifts weights this many times a week, and hurdles this many days a week, he’ll win. The reason he’s so anxious about winning is because he feels that if he doesn’t win, then all his hard work has been wasted. With this mindset, winning becomes a necessity, and training becomes a chore. The fun is gone, and even victories do not bring joy, but only relief – and only temporary relief at that, because there will always be another race to run, which brings with it another possibility for a loss, causing the anxiety cycle to continue all over again. Immature hurdlers allow imperfect races to discourage them, allow losing to destroy them. They judge themselves as people by how they perform on the track. “So-and-so beat me because he trained harder than me, which therefore makes him a more deserving hurdler than me, which therefore makes me an inferior, unworthy hurdler, which leads me to conclude that maybe I am not really a hurdler at all.” For me, this stage of development occurred during my first two years of college. I had been so successful in my small world of high school that I assumed I would be able to simply pick up right where I had left off. I wasn’t ready to lose, so when I began losing on a regular basis, racking up the third, fourth, and fifth-place finishes, not even qualifying for the finals in the bigger invitationals, I was reading through all kinds of Track & Field books and magazines, searching for the miracle workout that would solve all of my problems. In my mind, it wasn’t fair that I, who worked so hard and loved the event so much, should lose to people who were merely better athletes than I was. I can remember lining up against guys who were 6’2” and 6’3”, and thinking to myself how much easier it must be for them to hurdle than it was for me at 5’11”, and how, if I were as tall as them, I would be able to just step over the damn things without worrying about all this technique. It took me a long time to accept my physical limitations and to move beyond needing to win in order to validate my existence. It seems to me that the stage of the immature hurdler is one that we all have to get through. Not all of us get through it unscathed, and not all of us continue on beyond it. Every hurdler, I’m sure, has thought at one time or another of how much simpler life would be if we just sprinted without any hurdles in the way.

The third stage in a hurdler’s development is that of what I call the mature hurdler. At this stage, the hurdler is beginning to detach himself from the need to win, as he or she can no longer deny the fact that it is impractical to expect to cross the finish line in first place every time out. Also, the hurdler is beginning to understand that there are rewards to be gained from hurdling beyond those of concrete results; he or she is beginning to appreciate the fact that the process of gradually improving and learning the nuances of the event are just as important as the final product. Mature hurdlers learn that there are lessons to be learned from losing that can’t be learned from winning; they learn that victories gained without great struggle are hollow victories at best; they learn that losing presents an opportunity for growth because it forces them to re-evaluate their training methods, forces them to seriously consider the question of just how much success in this event really matters to them in relation to the larger picture of their lives, forces them to look inwardly, and to either grow or walk away.

At this stage, hurdling becomes fun again because the thought of losing is no longer terrifying, and the fact of losing is no longer demoralizing. Training, instead of being a task that one has to complete, becomes a time for experimentation, discovery, and risk-taking. Let me try this, let me try that, let me see if it helps. The athlete starts becoming a true student of the event, which is usually evidenced in the fact that he or she begins to seek to help teammates with their technique, and no longer views competitors as rivals or enemies, but instead begins to recognize that all hurdlers are basically on the same journey. Most importantly, the hurdler starts to seriously seek out that feeling – the rhythm, the fluidity, the effortlessness – as an awareness begins to dawn that the feeling is what really makes hurdling hurdling, and that his or her greatest moments on the track, whether in practice or in meets, have occurred when he or she has felt that feeling, even if only briefly, even if only for an instant. For me, the transition from an immature hurdler to a mature hurdler began during my second year of college, after having lost a close race to one of my rivals early in the outdoor season. I was so angry with myself after this race that it finally dawned on me later that night that I had to change my approach to the sport. I recognized that my tendency to take losing personally was stunting my growth as an athlete and doing untold damage to my enjoyment of hurdling competitively. I recognized that I needed to begin using flawed races as part of my overall hurdling education. During this time period, I began to intensely study the hurdles, not just because I wanted to get better, but more so because I was genuinely interested in learning more about the hurdles, and in finding my rhythm as a hurdler. My mantra for hurdle workouts was that I wanted to be a better hurdler by the time I left the track each day than I had been before I arrived. I would pick a particular aspect of technique to work on and just focus on it for the entire workout. The next time I hurdled, I’d try to pick up where I left off the previous workout, and then, after the first set, add something new to think about. It was fun. And I was getting better. And I felt more knowledgeable. Races provided an opportunity to test out the things I had worked on, so I looked forward to competitions for that reason. I was okay with losing as long as I knew I was improving in the areas I had been working on. My experience taught me that once a hurdler learns to detach himself from the need to win every race, he is liberated to explore the event with the sense of adventure that will constantly lead to higher levels of discovery, deeper levels of understanding, and an overall more fulfilling relationship with the event. On the concrete level, it will also lead to faster times.

The final stage in a hurdler’s development is that which I call that of the enlightened hurdler. The enlightened hurdler possesses a wisdom even beyond that of the mature hurdler. The enlightened hurdler is aware that both winning and losing are self-created illusions, is aware that the ultimate goal is not to win, not to avoid losing, not to conquer his or her competitors, but to find within him or herself that perfect race where balance is perfect, speed is perfect, rhythm is perfect, and motion is fluid, easy, unforced. Training involves many moments of failure, many moments of imbalance, many moments of frustration and self-doubt. The competitive season involves many of these same things. The mature hurdler usually becomes an enlightened hurdler during a race of tremendous personal importance – during one of those races when the “healthy fear of losing” is at its most extreme. At one point during such a race, the hurdler will realize that – even if he or she isn’t winning – everything feels right, everything feels natural, like he or she doesn’t even have to alter his or her sprinting motion to clear the hurdles, like he or she and the hurdles are one – unified participants in the same dance. At that moment, the hurdler becomes aware that this feeling is what he or she has been searching for ever since he or she took up the event. Though motivated all along by concrete goals that could be articulated verbally and written down on paper, the hurdler becomes aware that the only point of setting those goals was to get to a point where he or she would no longer need them. Such awareness is transcendence. A hurdler’s transcendence, above the duality of winning and losing.

A hurdler cannot merely avoid the push and pull of winning and losing, cannot merely ignore it, cannot go around it, or under it, or jump safely over it. He must hurdle it. One cannot say, “Oh, I don’t care if I win or lose; I just want to do my best.” This is avoidance; this is denial and failure to admit to one’s own fears and desires. One must not deny one’s fear of losing and desire to win, because denying them won’t make them go away. In one of the later chapters of Michael Johnson’s book, Slaying the Dragon, which came out shortly after his dominant performances in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, he talks about this topic in detail. He makes the point that you can’t play mind games with yourself. You have to look your goals, your dreams, in the eye, and meet them head on. That is the only way you can, in essence, slay the dragon, which is a metaphor for fear – fear of failure, fear of the moment.

For me, the moment of enlightenment occurred at the end of my sophomore year of college, at the conference championship meet. Even though I only finished fourth in my semi-final heat, everything felt right in that race; that’s why I wasn’t disappointed with just barely making it into the finals. During that race, I had felt the rhythm, the easy flow of motion, that made hurdling a blissful experience. It was one of only two races I’ve ever run that I’ve finished not thinking that I could have run faster if . . . During that race I came to understand quite simply why the hurdles are there. They’re not there, I realized, as ominous, imposing physical barriers, nor are they there as mental challenges to be overcome. They start out as those things, and they undoubtedly remain physical and mental obstacles even for the most experienced hurdler. But that’s not why they’re there. They are there to help me find my own inner sense of rhythm and my own inner sense of balance. And I consciously understood this during the race, which is part of the reason why, after this race, I began to come to accept the fact that I would never be a great hurdler. During that race, I came to understand why I run the hurdles, and the surprise for me was that I wasn’t running the hurdles in hopes of eventually qualifying for nationals in a couple years, like I had thought. Up to that point, I had believed that such a goal was my sole motivation for running. But during this race I learned that my reasons for running the hurdles were much deeper than even I myself understood. I learned that running the hurdles is an integral, inescapable part of who I am. I didn’t just feel like I knew why I ran the hurdles, but I also felt like I knew who I was. I was a hurdler, regardless of what place I came in, regardless of what my time was. I was a hurdler. To me, that’s what true enlightenment consists of – understanding that who you are is not dependent upon the level of your performance in comparison to the level of others, but on the level of your performance based on your own potential, and on your willingness to give all of yourself to that which you love to do, and on your willingness to dedicate yourself to excelling at your craft, to mastering your art form.

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Part Three: Beyond Training

“If one really wishes to be a master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”
-Daisetz T. Suzuki, in his introduction to Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

The art of hurdling, like all artistic endeavors, is one defined by paradox. The more you try to force things, the more you prevent them from happening. The art of hurdling is the art of letting go. It is the art of releasing energy, not exerting energy. It is the art of relaxing the muscles, not straining the muscles. It is the art of becoming one with the hurdles, not overcoming the hurdles. All the martial arts emphasize the importance of yielding, of bending, of adapting, of “going with the flow.” This approach does not imply passivity or a lack of aggression, but instead it implies that you are a more powerful force if you are in tune with the forces of nature within you and outside of you than you are if you battling against them.

One of the most paradoxical aspects of hurdling, and of athletic participation in general, lies in the definition of the word competition itself. We have become such a win-at-all-costs society that we have really lost sight of the value of athletic participation in general – the life lessons it teaches, the opportunities for growth it provides, the relationships it enables us to develop. All too commonly, we look upon those things as being of secondary importance, choosing instead to look upon winning as being of primary importance. Interestingly, when I looked up “compete” at dictionary.com, it defined it in the following manner: “To strive against another or others to attain a goal, such as an advantage or a victory.” However, it also says that the word comes from the Latin root “competere,” which means “to strive together.” We have obviously lost sight of the original meaning of this word, and have created our own definition of it, totally different from the original one, so that it reflects our society’s values. Competition is really the act of striving with your opponent toward a common goal, not against your opponent to attain victory. By this definition, your opponents are no longer merely adversaries, but necessary elements in your own growth process as you strive to improve as an athlete. Ironically, we all know this to be true. We all know, for instance, that Ali wouldn’t have been Ali without Frazier there to push him, that Magic wouldn’t have been Magic without Bird there to push him, that Nehemiah wouldn’t have been Nehemiah without Foster there to push him. Our rivals bring out the best in us. They prevent us from becoming complacent or arrogant, and they force us to rise to higher levels of performance, and to delve more deeply within ourselves to find those performances. So, looking at it from that point of view, an athlete cannot get to that “transcendent” level that I spoke of earlier without facing tough competition regularly. Only by immersing oneself in the push and pull of winning and losing can one ultimately rise above it. Only by experiencing the pain of losing can one outgrow the fear of it. Only by facing the most daunting of outward challenges can one come to the realization that the greatest challenges lie within.

Winning isn’t everything; process is. Take note of process, embrace process. When you get an A on a test because you spent a long time studying and preparing for it, you feel a sense of accomplishment. When you get an A on the test because the test was easy, you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment. The process of studying and preparing is what makes a good grade feel rewarding, not the grade itself. Nevertheless, no amount of studying guarantees an A, and that’s where courage comes in. You have to have the courage to study without the guarantee that your studying will produce the desired result. The same applies to athletics. Specifically, as it applies to hurdling, you can work on your technique until you have the best technique of anyone you may run against, and you could still lose to someone with sloppy technique who is simply faster or stronger than you. The thought that all your hard work will not produce the desired results can be enough to prevent you from doing all the hard work in the first place. “I’m not gonna win anyway,” you might say to yourself, “so what’s the point?” I hesitate to believe there might be a track athlete out there who has never, in the middle of a tough workout, wondered to him or herself what the point is to all this pain. That’s understandable, and quite normal, actually. What I’m saying is that, as long as concrete results are of primary importance to you, as long as winning means everything to you, it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to get through those dark moments of self-doubt and to bring a positive attitude to the track each day of practice. When your focus is more on the process – the slow, steady, gradual process of becoming a technically sound hurdler, of adapting your rhythm between the hurdles to your foot speed, of gaining the conditioning that will enable you to finish races strong – you will realize that in every workout there are “smaller” victories being won. Perhaps, for instance, only you and your coach know how long it took to you to tighten up your lead arm action to the point where you really feel it propelling you forward as you come down off the hurdle, but it doesn’t matter if anyone else notices because the reward comes in how much smoother hurdling feels to you, not in whether or not anyone gives you props. The success you have in correcting one technical flaw will energize you to seek to correct another one. Now you’re on a journey. Now you’re trying to master the art form. Now you’re a hurdler.

My experience has been that the majority of any hurdle workout is filled with frustration. You’re trying to do something that your body doesn’t do naturally, and you’re trying to convince your body that this is what should feel natural. That’s why, the first time you try something new technically, and you do it correctly, it feels wrong. But as the body adapts, and the mind proves successful in convincing the body that this new motion is the correct motion, the new motion starts to feel natural, and becomes internalized. In most hurdle workouts, you’ll be about 70% or 80% into the workout, working on the same thing over and over again, before you feel something click. You’ll say to yourself, “Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to feel.” At that moment, you’ll think that you’ve found the “secret” to good hurdling. Then you try to duplicate the feeling you had on that breakthrough rep. In the next hurdle workout, you’ll pick up where you left off in the previous workout, and then work on adding something new, as the thrill of the previous breakthrough wears off. Then again, when you’re about 80% into the workout, another breakthrough will occur. A lot of hurdlers get too frustrated with themselves too early in the course of a workout. That’s why you’ve gotta be willing to stay patient and persistent in fighting through the frustration. Eventually, a breakthrough will come, but not if you allow your frustration to debilitate you. This is all a matter of understanding the nature of process. Trees don’t grow in a day, flowers don’t grow in a day, bridges and canals aren’t built in a day, relationships aren’t developed in a day. In everything, there is process. Growth is steady, but slow. In hurdling, it’s also true that the breakthroughs that occur in practice won’t immediately translate into faster times on the watch. It takes a while for the body to adjust to new techniques when it comes down to doing it when the gun goes off on race day. So hurdlers have to be even more patient and persistent than most other athletes.

Again, paradox: the whole point of enduring the rigors of training is to get to a point where you can transcend your training. If you think of hurdling strictly on the level of it being a science, then transcending your training cannot happen. You can only do what your training allows you to do. This is true – you can only do what your training allows you to do; but it’s also true, from the point of view of hurdling as an art form, that you’re training allows you to do more than what you should be able to do, based solely on looking at the numbers. Training is a time for thinking. In practice, you should be thinking all the time. I tell my hurdlers that during workouts their minds should always be active. They should never be just running over hurdles, jogging back to the starting line, then running over hurdles again. They need to be focusing on a particular aspect of technique. I tell my athletes that, before every rep, they should say a short catch-phrase out loud to remind themselves of what they’re focusing on for that rep. Something simple like “snap down,” or “chest over thigh,” or “stay on the balls of your feet.” By repeatedly thinking, and repeatedly doing the action, repeatedly making the motion of clearing hurdles, the mind teaches the body how hurdling is supposed to feel. After a while, the body knows what to do without needing the mind to tell it. Conscious thought becomes less and less of a necessity as “the body’s mind,” as I call it, develops an intelligence of its own. As this process gets going, the hurdler, and the coach as well, need to trust that the body has ingrained the lessons well enough to run a hurdle race on its own, without the intervention of conscious thought. In meets, I never want my hurdlers thinking of anything technical. I want their minds to be totally free of conscious thought, because that’s the only way we can know the degree to which the lessons of the training sessions have been internalized. In races, you can only run as fast as you can, and then, after the race, figure out what you need to work on in practice. The ideal is to get to a point where, for the big races, the championship races, the put-it-all-on-the-line races, all you have to do is run. You don’t have to think about lead leg, trail leg, arms, or any of that stuff. You don’t have to think about your start, your finish, your acceleration, your cadence. You’ve done all your thinking, and you’ve done all the grunt work. Now, all you have to do is trust your training, trust your body, and let your race come out from inside of you.

Only when you are in this state of mind, in this state of being – free of thought, free of fear, free of hope and desire, totally relaxed, totally energized, totally focused in on the moment, completely still inwardly, can you transcend your training and run the type of race that no one, perhaps not even yourself, would have thought you capable of running. This is the art of hurdling, where hurdler and hurdles are one, in a unified dance of rhythm in motion.

© 2005 Steve McGill

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