Fluidity

We must learn from ourselves. We must trust the inner person. – George Sheehan

Part One: The Man Without a Plan

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

Over the past five years or so I’ve been running in a lot of road races, and although my coaching focus has remained on the hurdles, I’ve become a distance runner in my own running. Interestingly enough, running distance has given me a unique perspective on the hurdles. During my morning runs I often come up with ideas for new workouts, drills, new ways to approach hurdling, to conceptualize hurdling.

I find that my mind works better when I rely on my imagination than when I try to be more cerebral. Quite honestly, I really don’t understand the science of hurdling very well. And the more scientific a conversation about hurdling becomes, the more confused I feel. I’m sure that many of you who have followed this site over the past few years are surprised to hear that the scientific aspects of hurdling baffle me. But I’m an abstract thinker by nature. That’s why I’m an English teacher. In my world, there is no black or white, but one huge grey area; there is no right or wrong, but an endless realm of possibilities where all viewpoints could be accurate, where all opinions may have some credibility, where all approaches have the potential to work.

When I go on distance runs, my mind naturally travels beyond the paths of linear thought, to a space where my mind has more room to wander, where, because I’m not so bogged down with thought, thoughts just come to me. I always trust those thoughts, before I understand them. When thoughts come to me during a run, I go with them. I don’t need to understand the new idea; I know it will work because it came to me during a run. As I’ll sometimes tell my athletes, if it came to me during a run, it can’t be wrong.

Many people look upon me as a resource, as an expert, as the man with the plan when it comes to all things hurdle related. But the truth is, I rarely know what I’m doing. I’m the man without a plan. I’m always tinkering with new styles, new models. I’m always following new paths, exploring new territories. On more than one occasion, I’ve had athletes at the same practice side-by-side in parallel lanes doing totally different things in regards to their hurdling technique. Every time I think I’ve settled on a style that I will continue to teach ad infinitum, a new insight will appear, and I have to follow it, I have to go where it leads me.

I realize that my approach to this very technical event is unconventional, and no, it’s not a comfortable way to coach. I’m always feeling like everything I teach falls into the category of “old school.” The stuff I was coaching yesterday just became old school because an idea hit me during my run this morning and this new epiphany disproves my own theory that I was basing all my training methods on. Now, in light of this new discovery, I have to reevaluate everything. We need to change our drills, we need to get rid of some drills, we need to rethink every aspect of our training regimen and decide what to keep, what to toss out, what to revamp. And if a new insight comes to me during tomorrow morning’s run, we’ll have to do the same thing at practice tomorrow afternoon.

But even stuff that gets thrown into the “old school” closet doesn’t get thrown away permanently. I’m always willing to pull out an old-school method if I think it’ll work for a particular athlete. Recently a former athlete of mine asked me what I thought of the idea of using the Rod Milburn double-armed lead. While it is not something I teach, or have ever taught, it is a style that I am very familiar with. I told the athlete to give it a try in practice, see how it feels. You never know. Just because nobody uses it anymore doesn’t mean it can’t be effective. There had to be a reason that it was so effective for Milburn, so who’s to say it can’t be similarly effective for someone else?

If you were to ask me what I know about the hurdles, I would answer that I don’t “know” anything. I’m in a constant state of evolution, so new ideas can become old very quickly. Assumed truths can be exposed as flawed at any time. My motto is, Once I know, I can’t grow. And for me, nothing is more important, more vital, than to feel that I am growing – professionally, personally, intellectually, spiritually. And for me, for all intents and purposes, the hurdles have been the vehicle by which I have traveled on my spiritual path.

Knowledge, in my estimation, is highly overrated. It was Albert Einstein himself who said that “imagination is more important than knowledge” – an interesting comment coming from the man whom most of the civilized world regards as the paradigm of intelligence. When Einstein came up with the theory of relativity, he was working at a boring-ass job in a patent office. He couldn’t even find a position as a university professor. Nobody wanted him. But the ironic thing was that, in the patent office, his mind could wander. And because he had no ties to a university, he didn’t have to concern himself with what was “right” or what was “current.” He could just go with the flow of his imagination.

It was American nineteenth-century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, to paraphrase, that a foolish consistency is the indication of a small mind. Which means, you’re a fool if you think that clinging to old ideas proves that you are firm and steady. Instead, if new information or new insight reveals to you that your old way of thinking is flawed, you need to let go of your old way of thinking so that the new insight can take root and grow in accordance with its nature. And so that you can continue to grow in accordance with your nature.

So I actually make it a point not to “know” anything about the hurdles. The athletes who have made the most progress with me as their coach have been the ones who have shared a similar spirit of exploration. They’re on their own journey, following their own path. They’re not “tell me what to do, Coach” kinds of athletes. They don’t just show up for practice asking what the workout is, nor do they stop at studying and reading and watching video. They ask questions, they engage in highly intellectual hurdling conversations. They challenge me to think outside of my own boxes. Most importantly, they’re willing to try new things; they’re willing to try things that might not work. As Robert Kennedy said, “only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.” That’s the kind of athlete I want on my track.

Part Two: The Creative Urge

…I was reading a book on the life of Van Gogh today, and I had to pause and think of that wonderful and persistent force – the creative urge. The creative urge was in this man who found himself so much at odds with the world he lived in, and in spite of all the adversity, frustrations, rejections and so forth – beautiful and living art came forth abundantly. – John Coltrane

Although my musical tastes are eclectic, the music on my iPod for my morning runs consists of jazz, jazz, jazz. The playlist includes heavy doses of the John Coltrane Quartet, Lee Morgan, Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and similarly adventurous musicians. On long runs, the attention span is forced to expand. If you get bored easily, you can’t run distance. So I need music in my ears that facilitates that expansion. I need songs that go on for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes. I need songs that defy the linear sense of time.

The music of Coltrane, in particular, helps my imagination to function effectively. Coltrane was a relentless explorer. When critics ridiculed him, belittled him, vilified him, he kept moving forward. When critics finally embraced him, lauded him, heaped awards upon him, he kept moving forward. He had a sense of purpose. He had a sense of destiny. He believed in what he referred to as “the creative urge.” He believed that being creative, that following his path, was more important than any outward appearance of success, that it mattered more than the opinions of critics and fans. His only obligation was to the music. He knew that if he remained true to the music, he was staying true to himself, to his calling. So even when he traveled far from the conventions of his time, of his genre, of the established order that he had helped to establish, he knew he had no choice but to keep going.

Then you had a musician like Roland Kirk, who would play three horns at one time. A one-man horn section. He’d play the flute with his noise. And none of what he did was contrived. None of it was gimmickry. It all was functional, useful, effective. There’s a joy in his music that speaks of the inarticulable beauty of life. And he was blind. “Music is my sight,” he once said. Now, to think of the idea of playing three saxophones at one time is one thing. To put such an idea into practice is another. To perform it live is yet another. That’s the kind of innovativeness I’m talking about. That’s the kind of fearlessness I’m talking about. That’s the kind of passion for life I’m talking about.

Then you had a musician like Rufus Harley, who bought a set of bagpipes at a pawn shop in Philly and taught himself to play jazz on the bagpipes. What a strange sound to hear jazz improvisation on an instrument that was never meant for jazz. Again, here’s someone who had an idea, followed through with it, and made it a reality.

What I’m getting at with this discussion is that these types of pioneers, these types of trail blazers, have served as the role models for how I approach coaching. In studying the lives of the great ones, I’ve come to realize that none of them “knew” anything either. Coltrane once admitted that he stayed in a constant state of confusion, that he never felt like he knew, with any degree of assurance, what he was trying to say with his music at any particular time. Einstein was working on a unifying theory to the end of his days that he was never able to fully conceptualize. Vincent Van Gogh, who was often plagued by self-doubt, commented that “I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

These are men who made a huge, lasting impact on our world, who have gone on to become cultural icons whose visionary capacities will endure through eternity in the hearts and minds of each individual they influence. Yet none of them, quite literally, knew what they were doing. Instead, they trusted the wisdom of their dreams, they relied on the insights of their imaginations, they surrendered their will to their quest for Truth.

I want to be like these men. I don’t want to follow a formula and then keep repeating it.

In that sense, the morning run has become an essential part of the day for me. It is the time of day when my search begins. It is a sacred hour, when the imagination reigns. Quite often, students of mine will ask me if I get bored when I go running for sixty minutes or more. More specifically, they’ll ask me how I don’t get bored running for that long. My usual answer is to say that I don’t get bored because I enjoy doing it. The full answer would be too long. It would involve saying everything that I said in the above paragraphs.

Frequent boredom is an indication of a mind that has yet to learn how to be curious, of an individual who has yet to learn how to perceive and therefore appreciate the subtle wonders of everyday life.

Part Three: Going with the Flow

To be in harmony means to have a musical relationship with the world, to enter into resonance, to be in tune with all that is. To enter into resonance with the world is a long work of attuning that demands a quality of listening – an all-embracing, extraordinary attention to being. – Jean-Yves Leloup

In my younger days – back when I first started coaching up until about eight years ago, when a stress fracture in my right tibia made sprinting and hurdling too painful – I would use myself as the guinea pig for all new ideas, drills, and workouts. I would test them out on myself first before presenting them to my athletes. That way, I could approach the practice sessions with a good idea of the challenges the athletes would face and what kinds of adaptations, both physically and mentally, they would need to make.

I obviously can’t do that any longer, so I’ve been compelled to rely on my imagination more; I’ve had to learn to “see” in my mind what I am not able to feel in my body. Yet the morning runs do have a physical component to them, so in addition to the imaginative and intuitive skills that I am continually seeking to strengthen, I can still somewhat practice ideas. I can envision myself running over hurdles when I’m running through the neighborhood. Then, when I get to practice, I can relate my observations to my athletes, who help me to clarify, through experimentation and trial and error, just how we can best implement my new findings.

The idea I’ve been exploring recently is that of de-emphasizing power in order to emphasize rhythm, fluidity, and ease of motion in sprinting and hurdling. It’s an idea I’ve been wanting to explore for quite some time, but haven’t really had the space to. Or perhaps I haven’t had the courage to. I live in a world where power is king. The thinking is, if you want to get faster, you must get stronger. Athletes and coaches measure how fast athletes should be able to run based on how much weight they can bench-press, squat, dead-lift, etc. In my opinion, the emphasis on power has led to the rampant use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in our sport, and all sports. Modern athletes aren’t artists, they aren’t craftspeople, they aren’t students. They’re monsters. Quite honestly, my enthusiasm for professional sports, including track and field, has waned. I’m turned off by all the drug-enhanced performances, I’m tired of hearing reports that this athlete over here got busted, that athlete over there got busted, those athletes from back in the day were on juice the whole time. I resent the fact that the chase for world records and gold medals and lucrative contracts and endorsement deals has undermined the integrity of the sport and led us to de-value the aesthetic qualities of a well-executed race. Who wants to be a part of that world? I’d rather teach high school English and grade papers for the rest of my life than get caught up in all that mess.

But back to my point about rhythm. Throughout most of my adult years, I have studied the teachings of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, which are very closely related historically and philosophically, and I have tried to apply their basic principles to my life. The basic tenet of Taoism is that we shouldn’t “make” things happen, but should instead let them happen. It’s a philosophy of paradox, all about doing everything without doing anything at all, of getting the most out of one’s effort by exerting as little effort as possible. In simpler terms, it’s all about “going with the flow” instead of trying to force things. In track terms, it’s not about power, but fluidity. To take it a little further, it’s about the idea that power is the result of fluidity, that we are more powerful when we are fluid, smooth, and effortless than we are when we make a conscious effort to be powerful.

Back when I was competing collegiately, I always did well in the uphill sprint workouts. Coach would take us to the hill behind the stadium and we’d sprint up that 50 meter hill 10 or twelve times. As a hurdler, I had strong legs, and I knew how to position my body into the proper angles to maximize my strengths. That was the only workout we did in which I led the way. In all sprint workouts on the track, I’d be in the back of the pack, holding on, trying not to embarrass myself. But on the uphills, I was the man.

When I started running distance, I took the same approach to uphills. Attack, attack, attack. Some of my running partners would try to explain to me that that wasn’t the best approach. “Your heart rate on the hills shouldn’t exceed what it is on the flat,” one said to me. “I’m a hurdler,” I explained to him, “so when I see a hill, I go into attack mode.”

And that approach worked for me in 5K’s, 10K’s, even half-marathons. In road races, I learned to rely on the uphill portions to help me catch up to runners in front of me, or to pull away from runners beside me or a little behind me.

But when I ran my first full marathon two years ago, my strategy backfired big time. It worked well for more than half the race, but the hills kept coming. After a while, I got tired of attacking all those damn hills. I felt like George Foreman in Round Eight of the Rumble in the Jungle. By mile 17, I had nothing left, and nine miles of hilly terrain still awaited me. I walked, jogged, shuffled those last nine miles. For the first 17 miles, I had been on a pace that would’ve easily qualified me for the prestigious Boston Marathon, but my final time ended up being a good eighteen minutes slower. I totally fell apart.

That experience haunted me for a good while, and still does, as I’m training to run another marathon this coming March. What bothered me was that I had been in great shape, had trained well, had felt ready, had been running fast for a good portion of the race, but then those hills thoroughly kicked my ass. I learned that for a 26.2-mile race, the hurdler mentality of put my head down and attack wasn’t going to work. Straight power wasn’t going to work. If I was ever going to run another marathon, I would have to take a different approach.

Here’s what I’ve come to understand about power. And this is just based on observing myself in my own running. What I’ve come to understand is that the conscious attempt to be powerful creates tension. And it’s the tension that is inefficient, it is the tension that works against us, it is the tension that slows us down. I’ve noticed that when I try to “attack” a hill (and this notion can be applied to “attacking” a hurdle), my muscles tense. My hands, forearms, shoulders, neck, face, chest. Everything tenses up. So, all the way up the hill, I’m fighting myself, I’m working hard, and though my effort is propelling me up the hill, it’s also wearing me down.

On my training runs now, I make it a point to relax when going uphill. Sounds simple, but it’s the most difficult thing to do. It requires a total untraining and retraining of the brain. Every time I see a hill I want to take a deep breath and go after it. But I’m teaching myself out of that habit. I’m teaching myself to stay relaxed and just keep the rhythm. I’ve developed a new way of using the arms where I cycle them instead of pumping them up and down. So, when I want to go faster up the hill, or at any point in a run, I tell myself to speed up the arms. I don’t need to cover more ground, open up my stride. Just speed up the arms, and trust that the legs will follow.

And I’m always checking for tension. I’m always checking to make sure my hands stay relaxed, that I continue to take deep, comfortable breaths, that I’m allowing myself to flow up the hill as opposed to pushing myself up the hill. It’s not easy. My body wants to tense up. I want to “try.” But I’m unlearning such habits. And my runs are becoming easier. I’m not as tired when I finish, and it doesn’t take me so long to recover. It used to be that if I ran 12 miles, I’d feel spent, and the next day would have to be a day off. That’s not the case anymore.

I have no doubt that the same principles apply to sprinting and hurdling. Back in the day, Bud Winter – Tommie Smith’s coach – was big on relaxation while sprinting, and explained that Smith’s ability to close so well at the end of races was due to his ability to relax when fatigued. In the hurdles, Renaldo Nehemiah was a master at staying relaxed while moving at full speed. If you look at still photos of his world record 12.93 race, the expression on his face makes it appear that he may as well have been sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons. Carl Lewis was another one. His facial muscles remained so relaxed during races that his cheeks bounced up and down as he ran down the track.


Renaldo Nehemiah, on the right, shows what relaxing while sprinting over hurdles looks like.

Those days are gone. Nowadays sprinters look like the veins in their neck and face are going to burst open. There’s no fluidity in sprinting anymore. And it’s a dying art in hurdling as well.

This off-season, the biggest thing I’ve been working on with the sprinters and hurdlers who have been training with me is relaxing. Releasing tension. Identifying the parts of the body where the tension appears, at one point in a repeat the tension usually appears, and developing strategies to let go of all tension. It’s something we practice, and it’s something the athletes are getting better at.

Running relaxed while moving at high speeds requires a great amount of concentration. We have been trained all our lives to try. Now I’m telling my athletes to try not to try. I’m finding that athletes often don’t even realize that they are tensing up until it’s pointed out to them. Then they don’t realize that it’s a bad thing until it’s pointed out to them. But the reaction I usually get when they do learn to release the tension is, “that felt really easy.” And to them, “easy” creates confusion. Their minds have been trained to believe that sprinting is supposed to hard, is supposed to be effort-ful, that “easy” equals “lazy.” So it’s not just a way of running that I’m trying to change, but a mindset that has been ingrained ever since they began participating in sports.

One of the girls on my school team ran a personal best of 27.2 last year in the 200, and she’s already run that fast this year in a practice rep, wearing training shoes. We both agree that the reason for the improvement lies in the fact that she’s not breaking down as much at the end, and that the reason she’s not breaking down so much is because she is running more relaxed throughout the entire 200 meters, that she’s not “fighting” the fatigue, but focusing on keeping her rhythm.

And let me go a little deeper into this rhythm thing. When I use the phrase “keep the rhythm,” I’m talking about stride cadence. Late in races, if you try to maintain the same stride length that you had in the middle of the race, you’re much more prone to technical breakdowns. But keeping the same cadence is very possible, and even quite easy in my opinion. When you try to maintain the stride length, the strides get slower, they becoming loping, they land much more heavily, ground-contact time increases, and the legs no longer cycle properly. But when you keep the rhythm that you had in the middle of the race, even though the strides are shorter than they were then, you decelerate much less. And I believe that if you consciously lower the arms and speed them up, you might not decelerate at all. I believe that you can actually increase the stride frequency late in the race, and thereby fully compensate for the strides being shorter. I have no science to back this up. Just my intuition and personal observations of my athletes in practice.

Part Four: Learning to Relax

The most perfect actions echo the patterns found in nature. – Morihei Ueshiba

Why is relaxing while sprinting at full speed so difficult? Why is relaxing when lactic acid builds up so difficult? Because these are the times when we most want to tighten up. These are the times when it’s most natural to tighten up. So you really do have to teach yourself to relax, you have to do drills designed to improve your ability to relax, and you have to be patient and persistent with the process. And yes, there is a leap of faith involved. You have to trust that if you stop trying so hard to run faster, you’ll run faster. You have to acknowledge that your attempts to run faster are preventing you from running faster.

One of the drills I have my athletes do is the basic high-knee drill, in place. I’ll have them do it at four speeds, or gears, as we call them. First gear is chillin, second gear is movin, third gear is blazin, fourth gear is all-out. As we shift from one gear to the next, I don’t want to see the effort level increase; I just want to see the hands moving faster. Maintain hand height, maintain knee height, maintain upper body posture, speed up the hands. By fourth gear, the expression on your face should be no different than it was in first gear. There should be no strain in your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest. Keep it fluid, maintain your angles. Speed up the hands, and let the hands speed up the legs. Relax. Be fast.

Part Five: Creating Speed off the Hurdle

I used to get so comfortable running the hurdles, I was just like a ballet dancer going out there and going through the routines. – Rodney Milburn

So let’s apply this way of thinking to the hurdles. Running to the first hurdle and between the rest of the hurdles is equivalent to running on a flat path. When you’re running flat, you get an equal result for the amount of work you put in. Going into the hurdle is equivalent to running uphill. On an uphill, you’ll go slower with the same amount of work as on the flat. Coming off the hurdle is equivalent to running downhill. On a downhill, you’ll go faster with the same amount of work as on the flat.

So, in a hurdle race, you take 8 flat steps to the first hurdle, 10 uphill strides going into each hurdle, and ten downhill strides coming off each hurdle. (I know that clearing the hurdle involves one actual stride, but I want to conceptualize it differently here so I can make my point more clearly). Then you have another 10 or so flat strides off the last hurdle.

My feeling is, we need to utilize these downhills. If it’s true that you run faster downhill just for the mere fact that you’re running down a hill, then we have to maximize how much speed we can gather coming down that hill. We don’t want to be cautious there and hold ourselves back for fear of going too fast and losing control of our speed.

I think the mistake a lot of hurdlers make is, they try to be fast on the front side of the hurdle, on the uphill side. They’re trying to compensate for the fact that there’s a hill (hurdle) there by exploding into it. That way, the obstacle won’t slow them down. They employ a power move that involves kicking out the leg as if they’re punting a football. With the lead arm they either punch forward, thrust upward, or violently swing the arm across the body. All of this action is very effort-ful, requiring much exertion, and it is difficult to sustain over the course of a 10-hurdle race. Also, it has a negative effect on efficient technical execution on the back side (downhill side) of the hurdle. The lead leg, instead of cycling back under the hip, will float down to the track. The trail leg will similarly drop down instead of continuing a sprinting mechanic. So, by the time such hurdlers land, they have lost all the speed they had gathered on the ground (flat) and going into the hurdle (uphill), so now they have to regain their balance and speed up all over again. And they run the whole race that way – building speed, losing speed, regaining speed, losing it again, regaining it again. It gets very tiring, which is why many hurdlers are so sloppy at the end of races and have so much difficulty maintaining form.

I teach my hurdlers to keep their lead leg knee bent as long as possible when going into a hurdle, to drive the knee at the crossbar, to keep the heel tucked beneath the butt for as long as possible before releasing it and letting the foot open. That way, they’re stepping over the hurdle more so than kicking at it. The motion is more fluid, more in tune with the running rhythm on the ground, and less effort-ful. With the lead arm, I teach my hurdlers to cycle it so that it doesn’t pause at any point in hurdle clearance. Where the arm would usually pull down, we open it at the elbow and then drive the hand back to the hip so that it mirrors the cycling action of the lead leg.

With this style, it’s impossible to speed up the lead arm on the uphill side of the hurdle without throwing off the timing of the legs.  When the lead arm speeds up, the legs become confused because they can’t speed up; the presence of the hurdle prevents them from doing so. That’s why I say, when going into a hurdle – the uphill part – let yourself slow down. Don’t fight it. Keep the same rhythm that you established on the ground, allowing for the fact that since you’re now going uphill, you’ll lose some velocity. But the key is, although you slow down, you don’t stop. There’s no pause. The lead arm, in particular, will slow down, but will continue moving. Then on the downward side of the hurdle, just like when you get to the top of a hill and start heading back down the hill, you speed up. In this case, you speed up the lead arm, which speeds up both legs and you end up flying off the hurdle, and the speed you develop on the downhill (coming off the hurdle) carries you through all three of the flat steps before it’s time to go uphill again.

The above paragraph, I believe, explains why hurdlers with lesser sprinting speed are able to run faster over hurdles than their flat 100m times would suggest. I mean, think about it. If you run 100 meters on a slight decline, you’re gonna run it a lot faster than you would on a flat surface. So someone like Liu Xiang, for example, is actually running downhill most of the race. Because of the way his lead arm cycles, and how he gathers speed coming off each hurdle, and how he carries that speed through to the next one, he’s never stopping and starting, never speeding up and slowing down. He’s keeping a steady rhythm throughout the race and minimizing wasted effort. He doesn’t have to try to run fast between the hurdles. His momentum carries him. Same thing goes for Dayron Robles.

On the women’s side of things, I believe the time has come for them to stop hurdling like men. The hurdles are low enough that there really isn’t any “uphill” portion of hurdle clearance. Women hurdlers who get their knees high enough between the hurdles can run downhill on the front side and on the back side of each hurdle. A female hurdler who kicks out her lead leg and allows her trail leg to hang is being extraordinarily inefficient.

Part Six: The Fastest Race is the Easiest Race

Prepare thyself to deal with a miracle. – Rahsaan Roland Kirk

I don’t believe that power makes you faster. I know that’s a crazy thing to say, but understand what I mean: I don’t think that making an effort to be powerful in a hurdle race is the best way to run a faster hurdle race. I’m not saying that being powerful doesn’t work. What I’m saying is that its effectiveness is limited, that, ultimately, it serves as a form of resistance, no different from a parachute or weight vest. Even with the trail leg and lead arm, you want to “speed them up” coming off the hurdle. A lot of times, when you’re being faster, it looks like you’re being more powerful. But you’re not. Speed looks powerful. Fluidity, at full speed, looks powerful. My thinking is, no matter what the time is on the watch at the end of a race, if you don’t find yourself thinking, “Wow, that was really easy,” then you didn’t run a good race.

I believe that there are times out there waiting to be run that no one has come near. I believe that 12.5 is possible in the 110’s, and 12.0 in the women’s race. Thankfully, the 110/100m hurdles are not the same as the 100 meter dash. The presence of the barriers means you cannot merely power your way through a race. Steroids, HGH, and the like can only take you but so far. Ultimately, as Renaldo Nehemiah said when I interviewed him several years ago, “you have to know how to hurdle.”

But super-fast times can only be achieved by athletes who are seeking to master their craft, who view themselves as artists, not merely as athletic competitors. They can only be achieved by athletes who have purified their hearts, who work every day on being good individuals, who aren’t seeking greatness and acclaim and material reward.  They can only be achieved by athletes who have released the various tensions in all aspects of their lives, whose relationships are as healthy as their finely-tuned bodies, who can step into the starting blocks free of desire, free of hope, free of expectation, free of fear.

© 2010 Steve McGill

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