Hurdling in the Dark

You can’t start a fire, you can’t start a fire without a spark.
This gun’s for hire, even if we’re just [hurdling] in the dark
–Bruce Springsteen, paraphrased

Hurdling in the dark – after the sun has gone down, but before it is too dark outside to see – is something that plenty of hurdlers have been forced to do at some point or another in their careers. Hurdling in the twilight hours, as the bats flutter about, as the stars begin to twinkle in the sky, and the only available light comes from the dull luster of the moon or a far-off street lamp or nearby building, can be a very beneficial and useful experience, both on a practical level and on an emotional level. In the warm-weather months, hurdling later in the day – after the temperature has decreased a bit and the landscape is filled with long shadows – is preferable to hurdling in the searing heat that can force you to cut a workout short or else risk falling ill with dizzy spells, dehydration, or some other heat-induced malady. In the cold-weather months, darkness descends so early in the day that you often have no choice except to do at least the latter portion of a hurdle workout when visibility is less than ideal. If you attend classes or hold down a job during the day, then it is very difficult or downright impossible to get out to the track before 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, which, in December and January, will leave you about only an hour or so of daylight in which to complete your workout. So, whether by necessity or by choice, hurdling in the dark can make you a better hurdler, and it can also make the experience of participating in the event a more fulfilling one. Let’s break it down:


Jacques Cousteau could never get this low. –The O.D.B.

In terms of hurdling technique, the hurdlers who can benefit the most from hurdling in the dark, if they are willing to face the obvious risks and dangers involved, are those who tend to sail or glide over hurdles, and those who tend to lose mental focus during the course of a hurdle workout, as physical fatigue becomes more and more of a factor. A lot of times, hurdlers don’t realize how much their eyes wander when they hurdle – to the left, to the right, to the finish line, to a bird flying across the lanes, to a tennis ball that someone in the infield is tossing up and down, etc. Hurdling in the dark (as long as it’s not pitch-black outside; let’s not be foolish) can be the perfect remedy for the tendency to let the eyes wander, as doing so forces you to look directly at the crossbar of each hurdle you clear. If you allow your eyes to wander, you literally will not see the hurdle, and you will crash into it. That thin white stripe of plastic will most likely be the only thing that stands out in the dark background. So, for the sake of survival, you consistently train your eyes to look for it, and, consequently (and maybe even subconsciously), you also train your lead-leg knee to drive at it. As the reps accumulate, the next thing you’ll know is that you’re not sailing over hurdles anymore. Then, when you hurdle by the light of day, you find that your concentration level has increased. You’re no longer so easily distracted by things going on in other lanes, in the infield, in the bleachers, etc. The new habits you have developed of keeping your eyes on the crossbar and driving your knee at the crossbar carry over.


And so it goes, and so it goes, and you’re the only one who knows. –Billy Joel

On the emotional level, there is always something special about doing something that no one else would dare to do, that no one else knows why you are doing, and that no one else understands why you would want to do. Once you have reached a stage of maturity where you have given in to the fact that you love the hurdles, and that you wish to go ahead and find out how good of a hurdler you can be, then hurdling in the dark – an activity that would seem crazy to most – is something you will do without even giving it much thought. As you develop a deeper and more meaningful relationship with your event, you will care less and less what other people think about you, or what they have to say about you. The very idea of hurdling in the dark is something that only another dedicated hurdler, or a dedicated hurdle coach, would understand and appreciate. Ultimately, to reach the peak of your potential, you cannot afford to be afraid of seeming weird, obsessive, or over-the-edge to others. People who choose to live ordinary lives cannot do extraordinary things. Greatness is never normal, never safe; it is always pushing the boundaries, extending beyond the borders of the accepted and traditional.

When you finish a demanding hurdle workout and there is nobody out there except for you and the moon, and maybe a coach or a teammate, you feel good about yourself. The feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction that you have created for yourself by trusting your event and giving all that you have to your event is one that you can carry with you through many a rough day and through many a hard time in any and all aspects of your life. And does it really matter if anyone else knows?

© 2005 Steve McGill

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