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Developing a Stride Pattern in the 300 Intermediate Hurdles


The following article is based on a presentation on the 300 intermediate hurdles given by long-time coach Del Hessel at the 2008 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic. Hessel coached track and field, and cross country, for more than 30 years, including 17 years at Colorado State University, where he coached four national champions.

Once beginning intermediate hurdlers become comfortable leaping the hurdles, they’ve got to develop a stride pattern that suits their abilities. A consistent stride pattern is essential for hurdlers to maintain their rhythm and momentum throughout the race. Otherwise, they’re just sprinting between hurdles and, at best, adjusting their strides as they approach the hurdles or, at worst, slowing down significantly and jumping – rather than striding – over each hurdle, and losing momentum as they do so.

A stride pattern is the number of strides a competitor takes between the hurdles. If the stride pattern is an odd number, the runner is using the same lead leg for each hurdle. An even number indicates a hurdler who’s alternating the lead leg.

The greatest intermediate hurdlers employ 13-stride patterns in their 400-meter race (beginning at the college level, the intermediate hurdles race is 400 meters long, as opposed to the common 300-meter (or yard) youth and high school intermediate race). Olympic gold medalists Edwin Moses and Kevin Young were among those employing 13-stride patterns. Other common patterns among high-level intermediate hurdlers are 13-14 alternating (13 strides between one set of hurdles, then 14 between the next, etc.), or a 13-stride pattern for eight hurdles, then alternating 14 and 13 for the ninth and tenth hurdles.

A good pattern for new hurdlers in the 300 intermediate boys race, for example, is 15-17. Runners take 15 strides between hurdles for the first five, then shorten their stride and use 17 for the final five hurdles, when they begin to tire. Hurdlers can also alternate all the way, between 15 and 16 strides. There are, however, many possible stride patterns for young hurdlers.

Adjust stride patterns to the intermediate hurdler’s ability
Generally, the fewer strides you take, the faster you’re running. Obviously, if one hurdler is running a 15-stride pattern and a second is doing a 13-stride pattern, the second runner has the advantage.

Nevertheless, less isn’t always more. A shorter runner, for example, will have to take more strides between the hurdles. One size doesn’t fit all. That’s why, all else being equal, a taller hurdler has the advantage in the intermediate race.

A new hurdler should count strides between the hurdles and establish a consistent stride pattern. Again, that doesn’t always mean taking the same number of strides between each hurdle. But the pattern as a whole should remain consistent from race to race.

Young hurdlers should practice running the pattern over and over. Repetition is just as important in the intermediate hurdles event as it is in the shot put or the long jump, for example.

In time, of course, a young hurdler’s stride pattern should change. With training, hurdlers should get stronger. With time, they may grow taller. These changes may require a pattern with fewer strides. Again, hurdlers’ stride patterns must be adjusted to their physical abilities.

Develop a pre-race plan
In competition, the hurdler should stick with the pre-race plan, and not panic, even if other runners pull ahead early in the race. Success in the intermediate hurdles requires running at a strong pace, but with a steady rhythm. Hurdlers must have blinders on, so to speak. If they get caught up in the race and start looking at somebody out in front, they risk disrupting their stride pattern.

Intermediate hurdlers, who must run around a curve, also have to pay close attention to wind conditions. They must not only understand how the wind will affect their stride pattern, but where in the race the wind will be in their face, and where the wind will be at their back.

If the wind is stiff enough, hurdlers should consider taking shorter strides – thereby adding strides to their pattern – when running into the wind. They can take fewer strides – or ease off just a bit – when running with the wind, in order to maintain their rhythm and their momentum over each hurdle.

Whatever the conditions, hurdlers must be mentally prepared with a race plan before the gun goes off, so they don’t panic during the event, no matter what type of conditions they face.

Read more about the basics of the 300 intermediate hurdles, and about intermediate hurdles training and technique.

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