Marble Falls High School senior Natalie Schulz says being a great hurdler is much more than being fast. She is one of the favorites to medal at the District 25-5A Track and Field Meet. Photo by Diana Cox
JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — Burnet High School sophomore Ian Carter’s finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the Texas Relays on April 2 says plenty about him and Highland Lakes hurdlers.
Carter captured bronze in 14.78 seconds, slightly behind Stafford’s Caleb Parker, who was second in 14.64 seconds. Both runners are in Class 4A Region IV.
Burnet coaches said they weren’t surprised by Carter’s finish.
But Carter isn’t the only top athlete to perform well in hurdles. Twenty minutes from Burnet High School, the Marble Falls Lady Mustangs are setting their own trend in the hurdles. Two years ago, the Lady Mustangs swept the medals in the 300-meter hurdles thanks to former students Chase Martin and Sarah Lewis and senior Natalie Schulz. They finished first (Martin), second (Schulz) and fourth (graduate Blanca Fonseca) in the 100-meter hurdles.
Last year, Schultz won gold in both the 100 and 300 hurdles, and Lewis captured silver in the 300 hurdles. Schulz finished ninth in the 300 hurdles at the 2015 Class 5A state meet in 15.53 seconds.
As both teams prepared for their district meets, which began April 13, coaches said the hurdlers will play a huge role in determining which team is crowned district champions.
“We’re hoping if we can take care of business,” Burnet hurdlers coach Jerod Rye said, “Ian will get another chance.”
That means a return trip to Austin for the Class 4A state meet. Last year, Carter was fifth in 14.55 seconds.
“Knowing I can medal there,” Carter said, “means I can medal everywhere.”
To his credit, Carter said he didn’t dwell on some discomfort he felt in one of his legs just before he ran a preliminary race at the Texas Relays on April 1.
“I said I was going to go run a great race,” he said. “(On April 2,) I did the same thing and stayed positive. You have to have an instinct. If you hit a hurdle, you have to keep going.”
And that mindset is crucial to hurdlers, coaches say.
First, it’s important to use the correct lingo. Hurdlers don’t “jump over” a hurdle; they “step over” them or “run through” them.
“A run is more smooth within your momentum,” Schulz said.
“The perfect hurdler’s height of head never changes,” Rye said. “When they go, it looks like a run from the waist down.”
Second, hurdlers must have a certain kind of mentality. It’s eight steps from the block to the first hurdle in the 100- and 110-meter hurdles, though Carter said he is working to get to the first hurdle in seven steps. Then, athletes run a three-step pattern, which means their lead leg is always the first to go over the first of 10 hurdles. The girls hurdle stands 33 inches tall, while the boys hurdle is 39 inches tall.
But being able to remember pattern and technique isn’t enough. Hurdlers also must have a short memory if they nick a hurdle, especially in the shorter distance. A nick can mean the difference between qualifying for the next round or the season’s end, and they need to put that behind them as quickly as they can — hence, a short memory.
And third, hurdlers can’t be afraid to fall.
“There has to be a fearless factor because there’s a chance of you falling at some point,” Lady Mustangs head coach Anthony Torns said. “I’m looking for the kid who’s tough enough to bounce back after taking a bad spill and wants to push through and attack the hurdles like nothing happened. That’s the kid who can excel at that race.”
Typically, hurdlers train with sprinters, usually undergoing the same number of runs at the same distances during practices. But when sprinters are done, they leave the track. Hurdlers, however, grab a few hurdles to continue working.
“It definitely takes more practice than sprinting,” Schulz said. “You have to work on technique.”
“You have to train them to run fast and then work,” Rye said.
That includes the correct way to use the lead leg and the correct way to turn the trail leg to finish the run.
In the short-distance race, after the runner clears the 10th hurdle, it’s an all-out sprint to the finish line. Torns said the toughest part to teach after the three-step pattern is distance.
“My ideal hurdler is fast and fearless,” he said. “And if they’re not that, they’re athletic and fearless.”
In the 300-meter hurdles, there’s a better chance of recovering from a nick because it’s a longer race. So that event doesn’t come down to as much technique as it does to running and stepping over hurdles as quickly as possible.
“You can get away with some of the technical flaws,” Torns said. “But they need to have more of an endurance. They need to be fast. You have to have more of a strength-endurance capacity.”
Usually, a hurdler also is the long and triple jumper for their teams, and Carter and Schulz participate in both.
Rye said having a natural explosion from the back leg is valuable in the jumping field events and the hurdles. It also helps, he added, that Carter is naturally fast and has “great hip flexibility,” which allows him to keep his pattern as he runs.
Schulz brought another element that makes her a good hurdler — she’s a rodeo barrel racer.
“I thought, ‘She’s a tough girl, so let’s see if she can run them,’” Torns recalled. “When you have the right athlete and you can teach them to hurdle, you can dominate. They have to have certain qualities to make them a good hurdler.”
Carter ran the hurdles because his brother, Zach, challenged him. Then, when Carter showed signs of being able to three-step the hurdles in the seventh grade, former Burnet Middle School coach Randall Alford immediately told the youngster he was a hurdler.
Rye summed up the feelings of many hurdler coaches.
“If you want to be a great hurdler, you better be passionate about it,” he said. “The one thing I’m most proud of with Ian and the kids who excel is they’re willing to dedicate themselves. It takes time and work, and that’s pretty cool.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: District 25-5A Track and Field Meet (Marble Falls High School)
WHEN: April 13, field events begin at 10 a.m. with running preliminaries at 3 p.m.; April 14, running finals at 5 p.m.
WHERE: Leander Vandegrift High School, 9700 McNeil Drive Austin
WHAT: District 25-4A Track and Field Meet (Burnet and Llano high schools)
WHEN: April 13, field events begin at 10 a.m. with running preliminaries at 4:30 p.m.; April 14, running finals at 5 p.m.
WHERE: Bulldog Field at Burnet High School, 1000 The Green Mile in Burnet