A few people have asked me about advice for the steeplechase. I have no sports science or much of a coaching background, but here are the three things I think are unique and important to the steeplechase:
Strength is an essential part of distance running, but I think it is especially important for steepling (This is not a word according to Microsoft Word, but let's make it one). Some distance runners seem to float through their races without large muscles. But with the steeple, I think a couple of good weightlifting sessions a week is necessary for reaching full capability on the track. Yes, you are doing far more running than jumping, but those last couple of laps are going to be really hard if you don’t have strong enough muscles to get you efficiently over the barriers.
I believe part of the reason I was able to have such a large PR earlier this spring is I put more of a focus on weightlifting, especially during the fall and winter. I did a lot more Olympic lifts than I ever have before. Not necessarily with a huge load, but enough to fatigue me.
Most of us distance runners are not known for our technical skills. Otherwise, I think we would have been more likely to play team sports…the kind of sports people like to watch, and the ones where you get a break every once in a while. The first time I went over a hurdle I looked like a chicken whose head had just been chopped off. With lots more practice, I eventually became a decent hurdler, but I am still far from mastering the movement. When I talked about really wanting to work on my hurdling technique a couple years ago, I was discouraged by a couple people, since improving my technique may only make a small difference in my time. But I think the potential for even a little bit of gain is worth it. This year I was able to get some individual help from former University of Minnesota teammates who had sprint hurdled, and I think the advice has helped a lot.
Weight. Calories. Body fat percentage. These are difficult issues to think about and discuss in relation to distance running. Yes, having a low fat percentage will make you faster – to a point. And that point is very difficult to determine. You may cross the line and not feel the repercussions for a few months or even a couple years, but if you are too lean for too long, your body will break down.
In the steeplechase, I think it is particularly important to stay on the healthy side of that line. The pounding of hurdling, especially from the water pit, can make an athlete more likely to get injury. This issue is exacerbated if the athlete is not eating enough. The Americans I know who have had the longest and most successful steeplechasing careers are usually very fit, light and athletic, but also healthy looking. The bottom line is your body has to be healthy enough to be able to take the impact of hurdling 28 times each race and often countless times in practice.