Indoor Track: Useful or Useless?

I’m not a big fan of indoor track meets. They’re too cramped, too crowded, there’s not enough room for spectators to sit and watch comfortably, not enough room for athletes to warm up without slamming into each other, not enough room for coaches to walk around and give instructions to their athletes. And if you want to film your athletes’ races, well, good luck. But I’ve come to appreciate the value of indoor track more than I used to. While I’ll always view track as an outdoor sport until the day I die, this article will focus on the importance of the indoor season and its role in a hurdler’s development.

To me, the indoor season is most valuable because it is a time to build up endurance and strength. It’s the part of the season when I have my hurdlers do their heaviest amount of hurdle reps in practice. When we’re not going over hurdles, there’s time for a lot of different training methods – intervals, plyos, resistance training, etc. If I have a female hurdler who is trying to transition from being a four-stepper to a three-stepper, the indoor season is the time of year when we can get the most work done toward that goal. If I have an intermediate hurdler who needs to work on stride pattern or strengthening the weaker lead leg, the indoor season is the time of year to experiment with different approaches.

So I’ll often train through the indoor season. For the kids on my school team, the spring season is the season we’re really training for, with the goal being to send as many kids to the state meet and to have them place high. With the kids on my club team, the post-season meets in the summer and the Junior Olympic meets are the ones where we want to peak. So the indoor season is when we want to get in the heavy reps, build the base, and establish the work ethic. If that means sacrificing faster times in an indoor meet, then, more often than not, I’m willing to make that sacrifice.

In the last few years I’ve been coaching athletes who do well enough to compete in national-level indoor meets, and that has forced me to adjust my mindset. When it comes to meets like the Nike Indoor Nationals in Maryland, the Simplot Games in Idaho, The New Balance Games in New York, you don’t want to go into those meets half-steppin’. For the athletes, these types of meets present a chance to gain exposure, to show college recruits what they’re capable of. For seniors, especially, the indoor season presents the last chance to earn some scholarship money before it’s all gone. These big national indoor meets also provide athletes with a chance to get used to competing against top-level opposition. At the high school level, the biggest problem some of the best athletes have is finding suitable competition locally, so these national meets offer precious opportunities to compete against athletes who are at their level.

One of my pet peeves about indoor meets is that the short hurdle race is too short. In a 55m or 60m race, by the time you get up and running, the race is over. But I have to admit that the race being so short has helped me become a better coach. With only five hurdles to clear, if you don’t get out of the blocks quickly, you’re done. So the shorter distance necessitates that you work on your start. I have never liked working on the first half of the race so early in the year. But being forced to do so has helped me to get better at it. In the 110m/100h race, the race often doesn’t begin until hurdle five. That’s where the best hurdlers create separation from their opponents. But in the indoor distance, there are no hurdles after hurdle five. I’m finding that by taking to time to work on the details of foot placement in the blocks, coming out of the blocks, and approaching the first hurdle, there is still time to work on the other things that I value. A well-conditioned hurdler with a blazing start, once he or she hits the outdoor season, will be able to run a full ten hurdles with no weak phase of the race.

Another of my pet peeves is that there is no intermediate hurdle race indoors, so athletes who specialize in that event have to run the 500, 300, or something like that, against true sprinters and true quarter-milers. When a hurdler runs a sprint race against sprinters, he usually gets his ass beat, or gets injured. Or both. I really can’t think of any profit in an intermediate hurdler competing indoors, except to help the team score points. Otherwise, the indoor season is a training period for the intermediate hurdler. It can also be said that, for any hurdler, racing in meets serves as a nice break from constantly practicing. A whole lot of practicing with no races makes for a very bored hurdler.

I have come to appreciate indoor track much more than I did as recently as three years ago. I still don’t like the cramped quarters and the shorter races, but I understand indoor track’s value, how it serves to motivate athletes, and how it improves my coaching abilities. But still, no matter who is winning races indoors, we won’t know who is really the best until we take it outside.

© 2007 Steve McGill

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