Contact During Races

One of the most annoying, aggravating, and disconcerting things that can happen during a race is to get bumped around by the elbows and forearms of hurdlers to either side of you. This problem most commonly occurs in the men’s 110m hurdles and the women’s 100m hurdles, but can also happen on the final straight-away of the long hurdles. It most often occurs when a hurdler who leads with his or her left leg is lined up to the right of a hurdler who leads with his or her right leg, as each hurdler hugs the lead-leg side of the line. In mild cases, bumping can cause a temporary loss of balance and rhythm; in a worst-case scenario, you can get knocked into another lane and forced to drop out of the race. One of the troublesome aspects of bumping is that it usually happens unintentionally. So, hoping that the hurdler bumping you will be disqualified, or that the race will be run over again, is pretty much useless. Even if it is intentional, which would be very poor sportsmanship, it never looks intentional, so complaining to the officials wouldn’t do any good. So you’re more or less faced with the fact that you have to find your own way of dealing with it. Here are some suggestions:
1. Work on tightening up your arm motion. Sometimes it feels like you’re getting bumped when in fact you’re the one doing the bumping. A lot of bumping is done with widely swinging arms, regardless of which leg each hurdler leads with. Plus the fact, if you have an efficient, tight arm motion with both arms, the chances of getting knocked exceedingly off balance are minimized.
2. Build up your upper body strength. I can attest to this one personally. In an indoor meet during my sophomore year of college, my own teammate was elbowing me in the chest and forearming me in the shoulder over every hurdle, causing me to zigzag in my lane throughout the entire race. He beat me by a couple tenths of a second, and I was furious with him because I knew I could’ve won if it hadn’t been for all the contact, which I assumed must have been intentional. After the race, still steamed, I said to my teammate, “What the hell were you doin’ knockin’ me around so much?” He looked at me, surprised, like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “You hit me over every hurdle,” I explained. “I almost fell.” He instantly became very apologetic. “Sorry man,” he said, “I didn’t even know I was doin’ it.” In addition to being a hurdler, my teammate was a running back on the football team. He was 6’1”, about 190 pounds. He hadn’t even felt any of the contact. Once the truth of that fact hit me, I knew I needed to start getting my butt in the weight room on a regular basis. I never enjoyed lifting, but I started to do so religiously after that race. And though I got bumped plenty of times after that, never again did it effect my race as much as it did that day.
3. If at all possible, when practicing with a teammate, put yourselves on the side of each other that is most likely to create contact, and try to get into the habit of adjusting to it. If you’re a left-leg lead, line up to the right of a right-leg lead, and practice starts over three or four hurdles.
4. Be aggressive. Sometimes it’s not a matter of poor sportsmanship, but a matter of survival. Nobody likes to get pushed around, and nobody likes to lose. If the hurdler bumping you is a lot bigger than you, as was the case with me and my teammate, then this advice won’t work. But if you and your opponent are generally of equal build, then you owe it to yourself to not allow yourself to lose a race or run a sub-par time because you let somebody knock you all over the track. Stand your ground, and if you have to throw an elbow in order to let your opponent know that you don’t like having him or her throw elbows at you, then do so.

© 2004 Steve McGill

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