Hurdlers, pole vaulters approach meets with similar mentality

While running is at the heart of most track events, there’s much more to a track team than just the sprinters and distance runners. The hurdle and pole vault squads share in the team’s triumphs, losses and sense of camaraderie, but from a slightly different perspective.

Men’s captain senior Nick Hoffman described hurdles as “a very, very technical event” due to its high potential for injury along with the concentration, form and coordination that each race demands.

Hoffman was involved with gymnastics for his entire childhood until an elbow injury during high school forced him to abandon the sport. His flexibility made for a natural transition to the high school track and field team.

Since taking up the sport, Hoffman has been running the 60 and 110-meter hurdles. He was also a member of the 2011 SUNYAC championship men’s outdoor track team.

Hurdles practices consist of a regimented routine that is both a practice and pre-meet ritual for hurdlers throughout the year, keeping them in the right mentality to compete without too much pressure.

The practices start with an 800-meter to one mile jog followed by stretching over the hurdles to loosen up the “leading” and “trail” legs. According to Hoffman, the squad then jumps the hurdles at lower heights “to get your body thinking and get your muscles thinking.”

He added that one of the most surprising aspects of hurdles in comparison with other track sports is the nature of the competition.

“[Runners] have to plan a race strategy when they go in,” Hoffman said. In contrast, his mindset for hurdles is to “just gun it and just go for it.”

Much like hurdles, pole vaulting demands particular attention to form and flexibility. It requires the athletes to run and jump with a heavy 12-foot pole, inverting their bodies perfectly to clear a bar nine feet or more above the ground.

Senior Jake Pasanen and junior Melissa Lam were the team’s only two pole-vaulters during the indoor season, leading them to form a close bond.

All the jumpers practice together, however, with each squad integrating its own specific training activities into the practices. For pole vaulting, those include running up and down the Kuhl Gymnasium with a pole to get used to its feel and using the pole trainer – a machine that allows athletes to practice inverting their bodies as if attempting to clear the pole.

Lam, who also did running events on her high school track team along with pole vaulting, noted that the competitive motivation of pole vaulting is much more individualized than in a race.

“With the running events, you have someone pushing you and they’re next to you when you do competition,” Lam said. “It’s not as competitive as someone running next to you and you saying, ‘I have to beat this person.’”

The opening meet of the outdoor season is Princeton University’s Sam Howell Invitational on Friday and Saturday April 5 and Sunday April 6. University of Rochester’s Alumni Invitational follows on Saturday.u