Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Welcome to Track & Field

I'd like to introduce you all to the wonderful world of Track & Field: where dreams are made - and equally crushed - by tenths of seconds and fractions of millimeters. Whether indoors or outdoors, and whether it's the 60m or the 30,000m there is no shortage of drama on the track!
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Athletics Canada (Link)

Let's walk through an example of dream crushing to get this party started:

Last year in August, the Track & Field World Championships were held in Daegu, South Korea. Essentially, the best 'T&F' athletes in the world - that qualified - squared off at their respective distances. Like most runners, actually qualifying for an event (i.e. Boston) may be equally as satisfying as running it.

With that said, in June 2011, USA held their National T&F Champtionships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon (who some call the 'Mecca of USA Running'). This doubled as the World Championships Trials: the top 3 in each event, that reached the world championship standard time, qualified. I streamed the majority of events as all the top American runners went toe to toe. I distinctly remembering watching the Women's 1500m Final, here's the video:

Here's the lesson: It's better to tuck into a pack of runners than it is to run by yourself (also... pacing doesn't hurt either). Note: this applies to all races and not just on track.

Here's why: Christin Wurth-Thomas is a fantastic runner who decided to put fate in her own hands and immediately (within 15 seconds) took a sizeable lead which only got bigger as the race played out. The other favorites chased after her in a pack hoping they would catch her. With 400m to go, she had a 3 second lead, which doesn't sound like a lot but it's like 30m! However, the fruits of labor were starting to spoil as at 200m she was down to a 2 second lead and in the last 100m Wurth-Thomas went from 1st place to 4th place as she was passed by the 3rd place runner literally 0.1 seconds before the finish line.

Conversely, the beauty of track and field is that EVERYONE has a chance! Check out these truly incredible races (I summarize them as well for those you don't want to watch the videos, but I hope you do):


This 2008 600m race was part of the NCAA Conference Indoor Track Championship where Minnesota State's Heather Dorniden, was running with the lead runner at 400m (one lap to go) where her ankle was clipped by the runner behind her. By the time she got back to her feet the 3 other runners were ~20m or more ahead of her. I can only assume that at this point, 99% of people would have realized that there is no way humanly possible to catch up and would have just stayed on the track or packed it in. Dorniden did neither. With 200m to go you can literally see her closing the gap on all the leading runners, passing 3rd place at 100m, and literally edging out the remaining two for the win! Truly remarkable to witness.

#2) In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the 10 x world record holder [he literally had the WR for distances from 2 miles to 20km] Australian Ron Clarke was the undeniable favorite. His 10,000m world record of 28:15 was a full minute faster than the American Billy Mills, who qualified for the 10,000m final with a time of 29:15.

Quick background on Mills: he was a Native American orphan who grew up on a reserve. His mother died giving birth to him and his father died when he was 10 years old. From articles that I've read about Mills and this race, during his training in the months and years leading up to Olympic final he used daily self-visualization techniques to convince himself that he could win this race - even over such unsurmountable odds. He said during an interview that he "visualized winning dozens of times a day". When the race started he clung to the heels of the indefatigable Clarke. They passed the 5k mark in a personal best times for Mills. Here's a bit of the video of the race and especially the finish, I won't ruin the surprise!

Billy Mills in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic 10,000m Final

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