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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sports

Senior excels at track & field’s secret weapon race


The 3000m steeplechase is one of the hardest races in track & field. Redshirt senior Brian Barraza’s efficiency at it gives the men’s team a secret weapon of sorts. | Peter Scamardo/The Cougar

The 3000m steeplechase is arguably the hardest event in all of track & field. Labeled as a distance event, this race has more in common with a horse race.

Not only do athletes have to possess the endurance to run 3000m of hot track, but for every lap they have to hurdle four barriers, each three feet tall, and at one point they must jump a water pit that is two feet deep. Unlike other distance events where athletes only have to worry about their conditioning and their race execution, any athlete, regardless of talent, can have a bad race if they commit an error at any of the obstacles.

“You need the endurance of a 10k runner, the speed of a 1,500m runner and the flexibility and agility of a 400m hurdler,” said head cross country coach Steve Magness. “So you have to train to not only run fast at the distance, but ensure that you have enough left at the end to hurdle barriers that will not move if you hit them. There’s not much pain that compares to coming down the final 200 meters of the steeple and knowing that you will have to jump over a pit of water and then clear the final barrier with 50 meters to go, all while trying to sprint to the finish line.”

This makes what redshirt senior Brian Barraza has done all the more important for the track & field team.

At the Victor Lopez Classic, in his first and, so far, only steeplechase of the season, Barraza ran a time of eight minutes, 41.58s. His time broke the school record, making it the sixth school record Barraza has collected in his collegiate career. Four weeks later, his time is still No. 3 in the NCAA.

But this result didn’t come overnight. In fact, Barraza redshirted all of the outdoor season last year solely to focus on running the steeplechase. The decision came in 2016 after a poor showing in the 10,000m at the NCAA West Regional.

That June, Barraza ran at the Portland Track Festival in the steeplechase, an opportunity he had been asking coach Magness for but was denied due to the strains of the race. At Portland, Barraza finished sixth, signifying that he might have a chance to place very high at the national championship if given the opportunity.

“The redshirt year provided us with an opportunity to really experiment with the event and perfect his hurdle technique,” Magness said. “It’s a lot like training for the 5k or 10k, except there is a lot more work on technique and strength endurance. So we will do workouts where he has to hurdle barriers in the middle of doing four or five mile repeats on the track. It’s hard enough doing hard track workouts without jumping over things.”

National media have become aware of how dominant the sprinters on the men’s team are, thanks to Elijah Hall and the men’s 4x100m relay team winning a combined three national titles. But from the hurdles to the javelin to the decathlon, the Cougars have built a squad that is expected to make a run for the national title. Barraza’s success in the steeplechase is just one more weapon for the team.

“(Our sprinters are) going to dominate the way that they dominate,” Barraza said. “(So) I think having someone to take points away from other big schools in the distance events and bring those points to us could be a game changer.”

Barraza will likely not run the steeplechase again until the NCAA West Regional, due to how tiring it is. But if he can get to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, that is his goal: Steal points from larger schools with strong distance programs.

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