What You Should Know About the Steeplechase

We're continuing track week here on Runner's High. Why? Because I feel like it, so today I want to talk to you about a personal favorite event of mine, the steeplechase, and I want to share with you what you should know about this weird, wild and really fun event.
What You Should Know About the Steeplechase


We're continuing track week here on Runner's High. Why? Because I feel like it, so today I want to talk to you about a personal favorite event of mine, the steeplechase, and I want to share with you what you should know about this weird, wild and really fun event.

As always, this is a show called Runner's High, I'm Jesse Funk your host where we talk about everything running each week on Tuesday and Thursday. As mentioned, this is track week because I feel like it. I'm the one making the video, so I get to decide what we're talking about sometimes unless you ask questions. If you ask questions, leave them in the comments below. I'd love to make a video for you. So that's sometimes how I decide how to make videos. Otherwise, it's whatever I want to talk about.

But since it's track week and I want to talk about the steeplechase, I need to don the appropriate gear. So let me change my shirt real quick for my track jersey and we'll get going. All right, so got my singlet on. I'm good to go. I'm ready to run. Got my track spikes as the other video I did on the track this week.

We want to talk about the steeplechase. If you're not seeing the steeplechase, you don't know anything about it. That's probably why you're here. Maybe it's all in the Olympics now and you're watching this video or you're thinking about doing in college or there's a, you know, exhibition for high schoolers to do it.

The steeplechase is, in many ways, the redheaded stepchild of the distance running track community, and that's probably why I ended up doing it. My personal journey into endurance running really had to do with doing the thing nobody else wanted to do and try to do it well. It started with in middle school, you know, you had to run laps before gym to get warmed up for whatever activity you were doing. I love doing that and doing as fast as I could. Everybody else hated it. And that continued on to OK, well, if you hate running, so I'm going to love it. If you hate hills, then I'm going to love it.

Well, if everybody else thinks the steeplechase is weird, then that's what I'm going to do. So I'm just a weird guy that does things that nobody else wants to do, I guess. But you're probably interested in the steeplechase, so let's talk about what's happening in this particular race.

So talk about the collegiate setting of the steeplechase. There are some variations for high school events. If you can find them, they're not very, very common. My college hosts a high school meet in which we do a steeple for high schoolers, but it doesn't fit the same standards as the collegiate version. There's also a slight variation when you get to the professional level as well, and we'll cover all of that in this video.

So just to cover the beginning the distance of the race. How long is it? Why are we doing it? So it's three thousand meters, which is just shy of two miles. And trust me, it is absolutely plenty because it is a grueling race. The high school version, the one we hold, is two thousand meters. Sometimes you'll see a fifteen hundred meter again, so that's just shy of a mile or a quarter extra than a mile. It depends on the format being offered. So in the collegiate version, three thousand meters, there are four barriers hurdles on the track and a fifth one with a water pit.

That's the elusive thing that kind of makes this steeplechase the thing that it is. On the first lap, it's not a complete lap, so it's seven and a half laps on the first lap of the track. You don't go over the water pit and then the remaining seven laps, you do. So when you see people start and they run by you know, you see maybe watch the Olympics, you see the race start, they run by the pit and you're like, aren't they supposed to jump that damn thing? Yes, they'll get to it. But that first time around they don't because of where the pit is often placed on a track. It's typically going to be between the two hundred and three hundred meter mark, and the race starts at the two hundred meter mark. So you would oh well, it depends on the size of the track.

See my other video on our track. Are all tracks created equal? The marketing on the track will be somewhere over there, so if you had them do the barrier on the very first one, they'd have to start and do it immediately. So I think the history is to allow people to kind of get going before doing that, that barrier. That's why we don't do it until the completion of the first lap and then onwards from there.

Now that mysterious pit, what's going on with the pit? What? Why is it there? Well, that's kind of a long story, but the short version is it actually used to be kind of a horse race. It has its origins in a cross country, little steeplechase where people would go from steeple to steeple in the countryside that is from church to church, where you could see the steeples, the things on top of the churches and hence it being called a steeplechase.

Now, over time, it's developed into a standard format, where now it's on the track. There are specific height barriers, women's hurdles or barriers are going to be 30 inches tall men's or 36 inches tall. And then we eventually introduce it into the Olympics. Men have been doing it for a long time. Women only started doing this steeplechase in the Olympics in 2008, believe it or not, because we're still working on offering the same things to women as we have for men, which you would think now that wouldn't be an issue but here we are.

In any case, so that that barrier, that pit is in part a representation of the various things and the you that you would find that you have to encounter over a countryside. So in some ways, the steeplechase is kind of the original Spartan obstacle course race, but it is changed into the standardized event versus like Spartan races, which kind of remain more of this rugged history.

So if you like the Spartan Obstacle Course racing kind of scene, then you're probably the same kind of personality that would probably like the steeplechase. And if you want to try it, if you're able to go to an open invitational at a, you know, collegiate event, you're fast enough. The one thing I try to tell everybody is that no matter how fit you are, no matter how ready you think you are, the first one hurts like hell. It doesn't matter. That's the I have. I don't know how many steeplechase people I've asked. It is always the same. Their very first steeplechase, just absolutely bananas hurts. And then you have fun because you did so.

But let's get back to that pit. What's going on with the pit? There are some differences here, and the differences are often going to be between like a collegiate track and one of those like IAF certified tracks that I talked about in the other video I did this week when we're talking about are all tracks created equal. I'll link to that at the end of this video if you didn't see that, so you check that out.

The collegiate tracks often the length of the pit is going to be about 10 feet versus pro those IAF certified international tracks. It's going to be 12 feet long. It isn't universally true that all collegiate tracks have 10 foot long pits, but it is more often true than not, and it is a surprise and a huge annoyance to find one surprisingly longer than you anticipated, which is where I found myself in my conference meet. Junior year, I think it was. I finally got strong enough to get basically over the pit to where you're just leaning one foot in and then the conference meet. They had the international standard 12 feet, and it totally screwed up my entire race.

So it's something to keep in mind. The pit itself actually is an angle. Think about it like a triangle. It is a ramp down to the bottom and then straight back up with the barrier. So it's not like, you know, a hole in the ground. It's graduated because as you'll see, when some people do the race for the very first time, especially high schoolers who have not had the opportunity to practice, unfortunately, somebody is going to end up in the deep end of the pit and you have to be able to get out of it.

It's a very not fun situation for the runner there and also potentially dangerous, depending on who it is and where they are in the order of the pack. So if you've had somebody early, go maybe trip over the barrier or not jump far enough, then you have the hazard of people behind you with these spiky shoes. Coming at the back of you where they're trying to go over the pit and you're trying to get out at the same time, so there is a danger element to the race. On top of, you know, just the difficulty of racing as damn hard as you can and getting over all those freaking barriers.

Now, this last part is speculation on my part, and I talked about this with a couple of different guests on the Smart Athlete Podcast. Another show I do here on this channel comes out on Fridays. You can check that out. Subscribe. You'll get notifications, all that kind of things. I heard that part of the origin of the steeplechase was basically in a bar bet. In a bar bet that somebody could outrace a horse. And so they set up this event with, you know, hurdles where if you know anything about horses, it's like the hunter jumper kind of discipline where you have horses jumping over barriers and kind of doing obstacles, so to speak. So they set up a, you know, a situation like that, set up a person and see who won and supposedly the person won.

Thus, the event was born. Now, I couldn't verify that. And maybe it's simply just urban legend handed down through the ages. But I'd like to continue handing down that urban legend because there's something fun about the idea of a bar bet between a guy and another guy or woman. I don't know two people, one riding a horse and one on foot to see who could win. There are other races, actually, there's an ultra where it's man versus horses.

So in part, maybe that applies or appeals to my sense of wanting to overcome nature, something that humanity I think is always trying to do. So hopefully you'll repeat this urban legend and tell other people that it's absolutely true, even though we don't know that that's actually the case because it's fun and it allows some kind of mythos and mystique to surround the event and I think make it a little bit more interesting.

So do you have any questions for me about running and does not have to be about track? It actually could be about triathlon if you want to talk endurance sports, I spent nearly a decade doing that. Leave them down in the comments below. I'll link to that other video I did where we talk about are all tracks created equal, so you would know a little more about that here soon, and I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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