Love to Hurdle

While it’s easy to say “go for what you know,” “follow your dreams,” “don’t stop believing,” and to use similar motivational phrases, we all know that the many demands of training, competing, and staying afloat in other areas of your life can turn a happy hurdler into grumpy hurdler rather quickly. So the question becomes, how do you stay motivated, how do you keep the energy level high through the grind of a long season? This article will discuss some of the obstacles that can sap a hurdler of the will to win, and suggest ways to negotiate such barriers so that the enjoyment of hurdling remains intact.

The Dark Moment of Epiphany
We all know what an epiphany is, right? One of those moments of “Ah, I get it now!” A moment of understanding, a moment of clarity. Well, not all moments of epiphany are positive. Just as you can suddenly realize exactly what the directions were trying to tell you in your attempts to put a bike together, just as you can suddenly realize what your coach meant when he told you over and over again that your trail leg was dropping too quickly, you can also have dark moments of epiphany. Such moments can be when you suddenly realize, “You know, I’m really not that good at hurdling,” or “You know, I really don’t want to be bothered with the hurdles anymore,” or “I’m the smallest one out here,” or “my coach is an absolute pain in my ass.” Such moments, like all moments of epiphany, occur involuntarily. You don’t consciously choose to become aware of this truth you’re now facing. Instead, you had probably been in denial of this truth for quite a while, and then, at a moment when you have let your guard down and your mind is focused elsewhere, the truth that you’ve been denying slams you in the face, forcing you to confront it.

The dark moments of epiphany usually occur during a difficult workout:
· A January afternoon cold enough to see your breath, you’re running the fifth of a set of eight 300’s. “Why am I doing this?”
· The thirteenth of twenty reps over five hurdles, your trail leg knee is swelling and bleeding. “Why don’t I just run the sprints?”
· On the last rep of a set of 200’s, in one of your best workouts of the year, as you run stride-for-stride with your fastest teammate, you feel a twinge in your hamstring as you come off the curve. “I have two tests and a paper due tomorrow; do I really need track?”

Love to Run
In order to be able to endure all the emotional and physical ups and downs of a track season, you have to love to run. You can’t just love to win. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s really not. Many track athletes, especially those who have tremendous success early on in their careers, think they love to run, until they lose. That first hurtful loss – the one that comes after you have been working hard, after you have been following your coach’s instructions – can wake you up to the fact that you really don’t like running, you just like winning. Once it becomes apparent that you’re not going to win every race, you stop working hard, you stop listening to your coach. Many athletes in the United States, because they’re so conditioned to conceptualizing sports as involving kicking, throwing, or passing a ball, don’t think of running as sport. To many team-sport athletes, running is what you have to do to get in shape for your real sport, and/or it is what you do as punishment when you make mistakes in practice. To such athletes, the idea that there are people who actually like to run is a foreign concept. As a track athlete, however, you have to love to run. There is no ball to pass around, there are no teammates to rely upon. You either do the work or you don’t. If you don’t, it will be obvious. Even if you do, there are no guarantees that your hard work will result in the kind of success you’re hoping for. That’s why, if you don’t love running for running’s sake, you won’t be able to endure losing; you won’t be able to endure falling short of your own expectations. You have to approach each workout as an end unto itself, you have to approach each race as an end unto itself. If you enjoy running, the pain of losing will still be real, and plenty of workouts will still be a struggle, but you’ll be able to endure the pain and struggle, you’ll improve as an athlete, and you’ll mature as a person.

Love to Hurdle
This point is an extension of the previous one. Here, what I’m saying is, you can’t just love to run, you have to love to hurdle. Although I know I’m heavily biased, I would still argue that hurdling is the most difficult event in Track & Field to master, as it involves the technical aspects of the field events, and the running aspects of the sprint events. Most hurdlers are fast enough to be good sprinters; that is why they comprise parts of many 4×100, 4×200, and 4×400 relay teams. So, the common thought to flash through a hurdler’s head during a tough time is the thought of switching over solely to the sprints and leaving the hurdles alone. A demanding workout, a frustrating workout, a race in which you hit a lot of hurdles, a race in which you lose to someone whom you know to be slower than you, can all make you say, Hey, let me just run the sprints. That is why I’m not surprised when even very good hurdlers decide they don’t want to hurdle anymore. At heart, they weren’t really hurdlers to begin with. Hurdlers enjoy the intellectual challenge of figuring out how to overcome those barriers as quickly and efficiently as possible, they enjoy the feeling – the high – that they get from hurdling at hyper speeds, they embrace the thrill that comes with the danger of falling. Hurdlers are thinkers first, they’re problem-solvers. Athletes who only enjoy running fast, winning races, and proving their superiority over others, can’t deal with the frustrations that come with refining their hurdling rhythm and technique.

Constantly Re-evaluate
If you love to hurdle, love to run, and are willing to honestly assess those dark moments of epiphany, you’ll be able to maintain your emotional equilibrium throughout the season, and you’ll find that, even with all the frustrations and difficulties, there really is nothing else you’d rather be doing. Hurdling, to put it as simply as possible, needs to be fun. If it’s not fun, you either shouldn’t be doing it, or you should have a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself to figure out why it’s not fun. Too many aspects of our lives fall into the category of work – studying, holding down a job, maintaining relationships with family and friends, etc. Athletic participation needs to be a diversion from all that work; it needs to represent a chance to play again, to feel free to be yourself again. The pressure to win, the pressure to keep your spot on the team, the pressure to retain your scholarship, the pressure to come through for those who are counting on you, can make your athletic endeavors feel more like work than play. Sometimes, your own perception that you must reach a certain goal can turn running into a chore. Obviously, when you’re completing beastly workouts every day, the idea that this stuff is supposed to be fun can quickly fall by the wayside. Injuries, too, can eat away at your enthusiasm, making you feel like you’re just carrying out your duties.

For all of the above reasons, it is important to constantly re-evaluate why you do what you do. Yesterday’s reasons might not work today. If yesterday you thought you were hurdling because you wanted to be a state champion, and today you finished fourth in your conference championship meet, then yesterday’s reason for hurdling will make you quit after what happened today. The basic premise here is, if you love to hurdle, and you stay true to your love for the hurdles, you won’t regret having devoted yourself to attempting to master your craft, even if you aren’t on any top-ten lists or hall-of-fame walls.

© 2005 Steve McGill

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