( Originally Published Early 1900's )
HURDLE RACING has been in vogue since the early days of amateur athletics, and perhaps in no branch of athletic sports is proficiency more difficult to attain.
Hurdle races at various distances, such as 300 yards and 440 yards, are at times included in the competitions at athletic meetings; but from the first, the favourite distance has been 120 yards, with ten flights of hurdles, 3ft. 6in. high, placed ten yards apart, thus leaving fifteen yards from the starting-line to the first hurdle, and the same distance between the tenth and the winning-post. Sprint hurdle races must always be run on a straight course. In this country they are invariably run on grass, which must be perfectly level; but in America it is customary to use the cinder track, which is undoubtedly faster. Hence the American records are slightly better than our own.
The Hurdle-The modern hurdle consists of an obstacle specially made with perfectly level top bars ; the result is that flights of uniform regulation height are secured, and no competitor is benefited or impeded by any irregularities in the top bar, as was so often the case in the old style of hurdle. They are fixed on short pedestals of about a foot in length, and are much superior to the old hurdles in that they can be easily moved and the necessity of driving into the ground is obviated.
It was early discovered that in the race of 120 yards with ten flights, each 10 yards apart, three was the requisite number of strides on the flat between the hurdles ; and no one can hope to attain even mediocrity as a hurdle racer unless he can accomplish what is generally known as the " three stride " method. This consists in taking three complete strides on the flat, the fourth stride carrying the runner over the hurdle.
To accomplish this the runner must be careful to approach the first hurdle at the highest speed attainable, and in rising from the left foot (jumpers usually preferring to spring from the left) the right knee is raised upward and forward above the hurdle, and the leg (from knee to foot), brought inwards across the line of the body with the foot on as nearly as possible the same level as the knee, traverses the bar in an almost horizontal position, and is then brought to the ground as rapidly as possible. In the meanwhile, the left leg, with the knee pointing outward, is brought up rapidly as the body passes over the bar and is carried forward to the ground, thus constituting the first of the three strides.
The practised hurdler manages to gather up his legs in clearing the hurdle in such a way that only an inch or two intervenes between his body and the top bar.
Hints to Beginners-A beginner must remember that the hurdle must be cleared in a stride (i.e., he must rise from one foot and alight on the other), and that he must in no case jump it ; he will soon discover that jumping the hurdle will necessitate his taking five strides instead of three. Godfrey Shaw, of the London Athletic Club, probably the finest hurdler this country has produced, clears as much as fifteen feet in his stride over the hurdle, thus leaving the same distance to be accounted for in the three strides before rising at the next, and goes over the ten hurdles without so much as touching one. It will be seen, therefore, that the three strides, which appear almost insuperable to the novice, average only five feet each, or much less than he would be taking if running 100 yards on the flat.
Should the beginner find (as he no doubt will) that the regulation hurdles are too high, he should commence by practising over three or four obstacles of about 2ft. 6in. in height, but always ten yards apart.
When he can accomplish the three stridesover these, he should gradually increase the height and number of the obstacles.
There are several qualities necessary for the making of a crack hurdler. He must have speed and jumping power (hence it is that good hurdlers are frequently good long jumpers); he must he ve, too, dash and determination, and not be afraid of falling or barking his shins. That there are comparatively few hurdlers may be attributed to various causes. Among other reasons this branch of sport is not supported or encouraged by athletic clubs as it should be, by facilities being given for proper practice, or by including hurdle competitions in their pro-grammes. Again, few good sprinters will take to hurdling, as there is little doubt that the mechanical and artificial action necessary in hurdling interferes with speed on the flat.
With regard to training for hurdle races, constant practice is the thing most needed ; rigid dieting is comparatively unimportant.
In hurdle handicaps, where men have been known to give as much start as twenty-five yards, the runner most heavily weighted starts so many yards behind the scratch, and is usually described as "owing so much." Thus the limit, or longest start competitor, is usually placed on the scratch; though it sometimes happens that, on account of the length of the course being limited, the longest start man is placed as much as five yards in front of scratch, and has then only ten yards to run before reaching the first hurdle.
Finally, the beginner must remember that in hurdle racing constant practice will probably effect greater improvement than in any other branch of athletic sports. Frequently men who as novices are very slow, and who have the greatest difficulty in mastering the three strides, develop eventually into first-rate hurdle racers.