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Steeplechase pushes the limit of the Hawkeyes

BY AMY TIFFANY | MAY 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa senior Hannah Roeder is dripping with sweat. Her legs and uniform are covered in water. She had just completed the steeplechase — a track event covering 3,000 meters (71⁄2 laps) that includes 35 barriers, including a water jump. The other barriers resemble long hurdles and stretch across roughly 31⁄2 lanes.

The Iowa athletes who run steeplechase have a fascination with the event.

Junior Danielle Berndt began competing in the event last year. She ran it once in high school and decided she wanted to try it in college. Berndt is one of the Hawkeyes who will compete in the steeplechase at the Big Tens.

"It's kind of brutal at times," she said. "So you have to find it fun."

At the beginning, when the athletes are still bunched up, the barriers can be difficult and dangerous. Athletes can fall, and if a lot of the runners are still packed together, others can be taken down, too.

"When you try to jump over the hurdle in a big pack, you can't even see the hurdle, so you just have to guess where to jump," Berndt said. "You have to position yourself so you can see where to jump."

She said she likes to stay out of trouble at the beginning of race by hanging back from the main pack to more easily identify where barriers are, then slowly pick people off as the race goes on. The anxious go-getters tire as her endurance carries her through.



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Success comes from being able to accelerate through the barriers, especially the water hazard, which slants up with the deepest water closest to the hurdle itself. It's the only barrier competitors can actually step on to get over, and getting good position on every barrier is important.

"You're at the mercy of the people around you in hoping that not only can you navigate around the course, but they can too without potentially getting in your way or in some way hampering your performance," head coach Layne Anderson said.

Roeder, a first-year Iowa graduate student who has run the steeplechase since her freshman year of college, said she can tell when it's a good jump over the water barrier because her stride is long and it easily clears the jump. She tries to land with one foot in the water, her second step clearing the water.

But naturally, steeplechase competitors are going to get wet.

At the 102nd Drake Relays on April 28-30, Roeder and Berndt competed in the steeplechase. Evelyn Ross, one of Iowa's volunteer assistant coaches who is working toward competing at the USA Championships in the steeplechase, also ran unattached at Drake. Ross, a first-year graduate student, has run the steeplechase since her freshman year at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in California.

"I actually find the steeplechase to be my best event because the barriers force you to be really aggressive, and so I have in my head every time you're going through a barrier you've got to accelerate," Ross said. "… You have to be really competitive, and you have to be aggressive to get in a good position and not get boxed in, because otherwise, it's scary."

Anderson said the race is made for people who are able to grind it out, such as Roeder, enjoy the long runs, and are powerful runners. Ross said she trains like 10K or a 5K runner, with high mileage during the week.

"[Roeder has] raced it quite a bit," Anderson said. "She has a good game plan, and it fits well with the type of runner she is."

Sophomore Kelsey Hart ran the event for the first time at the Musco Twilight on April 23. After the race, she was told she would run it at Big Tens, which Iowa will host May 13-15. Hart said she was surprised at how well her first attempt went — she finished in second place, clocking in at 10:56.57.

The curious nature of Berndt and Hart led them to experiment with the event, and now they are both running it at the Big Tens. The barriers are a track rarity, and steeplechase competitors are not very common. These distance runners have a curiosity in the event not many track athletes can say they have tried, or are even willing to try.

"It's also just the ridiculous nature of it," Roeder said. "It's pretty fun."


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