It takes a daring athlete to overcome obstacles. Hurdlers cross barriers almost three feet high, rain or shine, and change their strategy depending on the distance. There must be more than speed, courage and technical ability that allows an athlete to run at full speed through obstacles.
“I saw people jumping hurdles, so you know, I decided to jump a hurdle,” rookie Darius Brown said.
Brown is a freshman athlete on the DePaul track team and is already a top athlete in the men’s 110-meter hurdles. He came over the hurdles by chance after a hamstring injury in college.
“I had a really good coach in high school, and she pushed me through hoops. It took off from there,” Brown said.
The rising hurdler placed first in the 110 hurdles with a time of 14.05 seconds at the Gibson Invitational two weeks ago. The event consists of 10 standing hurdles at 42 inches spaced 9.14 meters apart, which is very different from the indoor 60 meter hurdles event with only five hurdles.
Brown also runs in the 400 meter hurdles which require an entirely different approach. Still, his success is a testament to the athletic ability he has cultivated over the years.
“It changes a lot because for… 400 hurdles you have to go full throttle every time,” Brown said. “There are a number of stages and a certain way of running the race. You can’t just run to the hurdle and jump over it in practice – that’s not how it is walk.
Hedges train differently once the outdoor season begins in the spring. Pacing is a crucial part of their training that allows athletes to work on their technique and establish a consistent running stride. Athletes train with four to five hurdles during the indoor season, but inevitably move on to more when training for the outdoor season.
While hurdlers benefit from a steady mind, their running is anything but steady. They are constantly looking for a lower center of gravity to accelerate. To achieve this, a hurdler bends over the first step that crosses the barrier. The lead step is the first step that goes over the obstacle and the trail step follows. As an athlete finds their rhythm, they alternate legs and build momentum after clearing each barrier.
“I think a lot of it is the basic mechanics of sprinting, training, just being fit, and I think because I’ve been over obstacles, you know, eight years now, my shape is my shape and it’s put together pretty well,” senior Isabel said Ingram.
The 33-inch-high barriers haven’t deterred Ingram from competing at the college level for the past four years. She faced unique challenges in her second and third years due to Covid, but found newfound peace with her run as a senior.
“I came in with a lot of anxiety as a rookie and had to change my whole way of thinking about the sport,” Ingram said. “I had to find what was fun and find my joy in order to balance the stress and the pressure to win. I think I finally got there this year, so it took me a while, but I think it’s part of the process and the growth.
Ingram runs in the women’s 100-meter hurdles and 400 hurdles. The regular hurdler won all 100 consecutive hurdles at the Gibson Invitational and the Louisville Invitational last year. She anticipates the success of the team as a whole because of the courage that characterizes her approach.
“I mean I’ve never seen us so invested and just overall just the courage that everyone has,” Ingram said. “They’re very serious about it, they’re really excited to win and they’re locked in for sure.”
While acknowledging the intensity of training, Brown and Ingram prefer the outdoor track season to the indoor season. The five additional hurdles of the 100 hurdles, 110 hurdles and 400 hurdles give athletes a chance to catch up on slow starts and reach their top speed. The only challenge is the unpredictable weather obstacles when competing outdoors.
“I would say that’s the main difference between inside and outside, just managing the elements,” assistant coach Stephanie Williams said. “It’s the same for everyone, so it’s not like there’s just wind and rain in your lane, but it can definitely be a challenge.”
The 2021-22 track and field season marks Williams’ 11th season as assistant coach of the DePaul track and field program. As a former DePaul student-athlete, she understands the unique challenges athletes face each season and does what she can to support her athletes.
“I want to be the coach I needed when I was a student-athlete,” Williams said. “So I’m really committed to those relationships and pushing them, you know, always having fun, but we’re also going to handle business when it’s time and they know that. When the switch is flipped, we don’t play and I need you to handle your business.
As a veteran hurdler, Ingram is no stranger to running her business or driving lasting change. Yet one part of his athletic career that remains nearly unscathed is his pre-race ritual.
“The night before, I always make tea – peppermint tea – and I wear the same warm-up, ratty old leggings and a sweatshirt because that’s exactly what I wore and what I’m in. feel comfortable,” Ingram said. “I have [also] I developed this really obnoxious opening thing in my early days looking side to side and doing rainbow kicks, but then I’m ready to run.
Brown and Ingram will prepare for the Big East Outdoor Championships the next two weeks before heading to Connecticut the second weekend in May. Like the rest of the track and field team, both athletes are hoping for strong runs.
“I just have to work a little harder and it’s just there,” Brown said. “It’s just mechanics, I need to raise my nose a little more between the obstacles, and I should be able to manage it.”