Hurdling is the act of running and jumping over an obstacle at speed. In the sport of athletics, hurdling forms the basis of a number track and field events which are a highly specialized form of obstacle racing. In these events, a series of barriers known as hurdles are set at precisely measured heights and distances which each athlete must pass by running over. Failure to pass over, by passing under, or intentionally knocking over hurdles will result in disqualification. Accidental knocking over of hurdles is not cause for disqualification, but the hurdles are weighted to make doing so disadvantageous.
The most prominent hurdles events are 110 meters hurdles for men, 100 meters hurdles for women, and 400 meters hurdles (both sexes) – these three distances are all contested at the Summer Olympics and the World Championships in Athletics. Events over shorter distances are also commonly held at indoor track and field events, ranging from 50 meters hurdles upwards. Hurdles race are also part of combined events contests, including the decathlon and heptathlon.
Success in the Olympic hurdles events requires sprinter’s speed plus solid technique as the competitors glide over their obstacles on their way to the finish line. Athletes in the hurdles events must achieve an Olympic qualifying time and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team.
- 60-meter hurdles: The indoor sprint hurdles event includes just five, evenly-spaced hurdles. As in all standard hurdles events, runners are not penalized for touching or knocking a hurdle down, as long as they don’t do it deliberately. The start is important in this short race, but superior hurdle clearance technique can help a runner come from behind.
- 100/110-meter hurdles: The outdoor sprint hurdle events offer one of the last bastions of gender difference in senior track and field, as the women’s sprint hurdles event is 100 meters long while the men run 110 meters. Both events feature 10 evenly-spaced hurdles. The hurdles in the shorter races are taller than the hurdles used in 400-meter races. As with all standard hurdles races, runners begin in starting blocks and remain in their lanes throughout the race.
- 400-meter hurdles: Both genders run a full lap in the low hurdles event, which also includes 10 evenly-spaced barriers. With 35 meters from one hurdle to the next, competitors may use different stride patterns between the hurdles, to suit their particular style. Some hurdlers always clear the barriers using the same lead leg, but those who can alternate legs have an advantage, because they can better fine-tune their stride pattern. Ideally, all hurdlers stride over, rather than jump, the barriers, spending as little time in the air as possible.
- Steeplechase: Not a pure hurdles event, the steeplechase combines distance running and a different form of hurdling. For example, steeplechasers can’t glide over their hurdles, which stand 914 millimeters (3 feet) high for men, but more importantly can’t be knocked over because they’re thicker and heavier than standard hurdles and fill the entire track, rather than just one lane. Some runners jump over the hurdle, while others step on top of the barrier on the way over. The 3000-meter race features no barriers on the first lap. Each of seven subsequent laps includes five hurdle jumps, one of which is followed immediately by a water pit that slopes upwards. The better jumpers are rewarded by leaping into shallower water. The race begins on a curved starting line. Runners do not remain in lanes.
Safety and Comfort:
- As with any running event, a good stretching routine is a must. Even young, active, flexible runners will benefit from a good warm-up.
- The next step is getting the runners comfortable with clearing hurdles, and beginning to teach them to avoid the run-jump-run instinct, which can only be accomplished through repetition.
- While the youngsters are learning, they’ll need some barriers to clear. Youth events, depending on the competitors’ ages, generally begin with 30-inch hurdles, so beginners should start with lower barriers. Additionally, the barriers must be light and safe, so the kids won’t be injured when striking a hurdle.
- Options include adjustable power hurdles, which can generally be set from 6 to 42 inches high. These devices are lightweight and collapse easily when struck. Another good choice is the banana step. These training hurdles are made from lightweight plastic, colored yellow or light green – hence the “banana” in the name – and generally come in heights of 6 to 24 inches.