Once again I spent the weekend at NCAA Division 3 Track and Field Nationals, this time up in La Crosse, WI. Two athletes that I know from the team I work with were competing, a high jumper and a 100 meter sprinter. Not exactly my specialty. However, WPI, my alma mater, managed to have two women tie for second in the high jump, which is the best ever finish for women at WPI. Plus, they both broke the previous school record by one centimeter. Needless to say I spent several hours with my college coaches and several more hours enjoying the fact that UD had two first time athletes at nationals. While all of that socializing is great, it is more like a reunion or a vacation instead of a track meet.
Why do I like nationals so much? Everybody is there. All the best athletes and coaches are milling around and most like to answer questions. In an effort to make the most of the trip I tried to ask every group I talked to for more than 30 seconds a question. Here is a sampling of what I learned:
NYU head coach, takes the team to New Jersey often on the weekends to run so that they can get out of the city for some unbridled intersection-free running.
North Central College former national champions and All-American distance runners, when asked why they do so well in the 10,000 (they had four men in it this year), said that it is partly due to experience and coaches but ultimately they want to be the toughest team out there. In my opinion, mission accomplished North Central.
UW Platteville distance coach, when asked what he does with kids who are getting burnt out or injured, which happened more than usual for him this year, he gives they a week off with no running. Yes, that includes the inevitable track meet on the weekend too.
Springfield College (Massachusetts) head coach, when asked whatever happened to a former distance runner who won everything for a year responded that the kid ran himself into the ground. He ran 150 mile weeks and never backed off. He ended up being injured and returning to Japan to run for a corporate team, although there had been no news from him since then.
Former UW Oshkosh head coach rubber banded the yellow flag (foul flag) on his white and yellow turn flags because this is a race, not a time trial.
In summary, nationals is a nice place to meet people. The caliber is just higher. The conference champions are struggling against their peers. The coaches, often as myself, are there to spectate even if they aren't there to coach this time around. Next up, USATF Nationals in Des Moines in June. I might go because let's face it, I've never seen a track meet that good live.
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