Something I only had a short-lived experience with. My sophomore year of high school, current coach Jim Higgins, had an idea to try me in the steeplechase. My first time attempting to jump on the barrier in practice resulted in me face planting on the track. I “competed” (and I use that term loosely) in the event once and finished dead last. In college (again my sophomore year), Coach Hurt thought it was a good idea to try me in it and see if I could help score points at the Metropolitan Championship in the event. After watching me run it at an invitational, he decided I would be best left in the 10k. Fortunately, for as bad as I was in it, I have had success in coaching it to others. I have had six individuals qualify for the county championship in my first two years at Mepham and even assisted someone in winning the event and becoming county champion in the steeplechase.
First thing is that I let my team volunteer themselves to try the steeplechase. I don’t push anyone to do it unless they have a desire to give it an attempt. There’s a little bit of a fear factor involved in the steeplechase, so it requires a certain type of person that likes to take risks.
The training doesn’t change much from that of the 2-mile. The only thing I stress is to spend a good amount of time practicing the jump. After recovery days, I have my steeplechasers do some drills and stride-outs going over hurdles at the height that the steeple barriers are. There’s no need to risk an injury in practice jumping over barriers. The day of the race, during the warm-up, I have them do some strides over the barriers.
Drill #1 – Place the hurdle against a wall or fence and step toward the hurdle, driving your foot upward and placing it just above the hurdle against the wall. Step back and repeat this about 10 times and then do it again for the opposite leg.
Drill #2 – Move the hurdle away from the wall about a foot or so, and do hip rotations bringing your knee over and around the hurdle (try to bring your knee to your armpit). After 10 reps of that, switch to the opposite leg and repeat the process.
In terms of practicing the water jump – I never actually have athletes jump in water. Too many things can go wrong and it’s not worth the risk. I found that jumping into the sandbox is much safer and just as effective. To do this, place the steeple barrier at the end of the long jump runway just in front of the sandbox. Athletes should then run down the runway, jump off the barrier and into the sandpit landing mid-foot. Something that I want to stress here: It’s all about speed – You should be accelerating up to the barrier and let your momentum carry you over, not pushing hard off the barrier.
I like to place cones along the runway to serve as check points. I have my athletes go one at a time – striding down the runway until they reach the first cone (which is 10-15 meters away from the barrier). They accelerate once they reach that cone. I place a second cone just less than 2-meters away from the barrier (approximately 1.5-1.8 meters). I have them jump when they get to that cone. This is especially useful to new steeplers. It gives them checkpoints to focus on and helps them learn when to accelerate and when to jump.
When it comes to workouts, I have them follow the same training plan as the 2-milers except that once a week (max) to once every other week (depending on what point of the season we are in) I add hurdles to their workouts.
Sample Hurdle Workouts for Steeplers: (Hurdles are placed along the track where the barriers are during the race)
8 x 400 (every other interval they will run over hurdles) with a 400-meter jog for recovery in between.
For experienced steeplers, I will increase the interval distance for some workouts to up to 1200 meters, but I avoid going longer than a mile of hurdles (it’s not necessary). 3 x 1000 with 400-600 meter recovery jog after each or 3 x 1200 with 600-800 meter recovery after each. Running these intervals going over hurdles, takes a lot out of the athlete so I give them a longer amount of recovery time as opposed to if they were doing this workout without going over the hurdles.
I do not mix sprinting and hurdles. For speed work I just throw them in a workout with the half-milers and milers for 200s or 300s.