Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Run up techniques

by Frank Horwill

The events which require a planned run-up technique include:- the long and triple jump, the high jump, the pole vault, the javelin, 100 and 400 metres hurdles and the steeplechase. All involve a build-up of speed, controlled speed. The taller the athlete, the longer the run up and vice versa for shorter competitors. For the long and triple jumper, it will be between 100 and 140 feet (30 to 40 metres). Put down a piece of white adhesive tape to mark the estimated start point. Then, stand on the take-off board and reverse the run-up, starting with the take-off foot (the last to leave the ground when jumping). A partner should watch if the take-off foot lands smack on the line marked earlier. If not, the white tape may have to be moved farther away or closer. Once adjustments have been finalised, the athlete starts from the line with the take-off foot and runs straight through to the board. If the stride pattern is consistent, the foot should land an inch or two behind the sand or plasticine "no jump" line. If the take-off foot falls short, the start marker must be moved closer, and vice versa if it is well over the sand. It is essential that this procedure is practised until the board can be hit regularly. One or two check marks can not be inserted if desired, however, these must be hit by the take-off foot. One mark is usually enough and this should be not less than eight strides from the board.

The run-up in the pole vault is a little more tricky. First of all, some arenas do not have sufficient room for a run-up of 150 feet, and secondly, long run-ups while carrying the pole are energy-sapping. A 17 to 19 stride plan approach is a safe plan. The odd number of strides is suggested so that the vaulter may start the run-up with the take-off foot. The choice of pole will have a bearing on the run-up. An athlete weighing 160 pounds should choose a pole appropriate to his weight, but, some athletes find that a pole made for a performer 10 pounds lighter than they are, is more conducive to bending the pole on the ascent. To help achieve this the lower hand of the grasp is almost straight-armed. If the fibre-glass pole is not being bent at all by the novice, the plant and take-off should follow the technique used with a metal pole. As the pole is planted, the lower hand joins the upper one and the athlete hangs momentarily while the pole approaches a near-vertical position (absolute vertical position is never reached). Then follows the tuck, lift and pull. Metal poles, should not be regarded as "old fashioned". Although not now used in international competition, in league competition heights of 14 feet (4.2 m) will see victory!

Three strides are used by the novice to throw the javelin, this will later extend to five strides. For a right-handed thrower, the three stride approach will mean a left-right-left foot rhythm. Stand with the feet together, with the javelin held back and high. The shaft of the javelin should be in line with the eyes. Head and eyes directed at the point. Front shoulder high and arm folded round underneath the point. On the second stride the right foot crosses in front of the left leg. During this stride lean back. The javelin will have been taken back to full-arm extension during the first stride. The five stride approach starts with the left foot (in this case) to a count of five, leaning back and relaxing on the fourth count. A full-run throw involves an overhead carry. The take-back should start some distance before the cross-step and the javelin is withdrawn along the line of throw.

When executing the Fosbury Flop, the approach involves some 9 to 13 strides. The start point is about 15 to 20m from the bar and along a perpendicular line to the bar, beginning 3 to 5m outside the near upright. The radius of the curve varies from 6 to 8m in novices, and from 8 to 10m in the experienced. The take-off point is about half to one metre from the bar. Speed is rapidly increased in the first part of the approach and as the bend increases the jumper will lean in to counteract the increasing centrifugal force. Training for this technique involves backward flops from a standing two-leg take-off. Jump and turn from a 3-5 stride approach landing on both feet. A dangling gym ring can be the head’s target.

The run up to the barriers and water-jump in the steeplechase can make the difference of 18 to 50 seconds added on to the 3K flat time. Given a 3,000 metres flat time of 9 minutes, a reasonable time for the 3K steeplechase is 9 mins 35 secs. Any time slower than this indicates poor barrier clearing and nearly always involves poor run up technique. The water-barrier should be tackled as follows:- 1) Place a check mark 15-16 yards away from the jump. 2) This should be struck with the foot the athlete wishes to place on the barrier-rail, this will give a 7-stride approach to the take-off spot. The 8th stride landing on the rail. 3) Adjust the check mark to your comfort, remember that the approach run is always resolute. 4) The ball of the foot is placed on the rail (have a series of small spikes inserted in the shoe instep). 5) As the foot lands on the rail, the body is lowered (the novice tends to stand up which will result in landing in deep water). 6) From the crouch position, push vigorously on the rail with the take-off foot, and maintain contact with it for as long as possible. This will result in a wide leg-span (scissors position). 7) When landing, the pushing leg should be brought through high and fast to avoid stumbling and keep up the running momentum.

Some of the athletes step on all the other barriers and allege it saves energy. Dave Bedford did this in 1971 to run 8 mins 28 secs to break the UK record. The modern trend is to hurdle all the barriers, including the water-jump! Opinions differ over the need to increase speed when negotiating each barrrier. Some say that this is uneconomical running. One thing becomes clear as the race progresses, the slower the approach, the worse the clearance. Things to remember are:- 1) Lead with the knee, not the foot. 2) Keep the knee and leg dead straight as you hurdle. 3) Bend the torso slightly going over and don’t twist. 4) Slightly extend the opposite arm to the leading leg. 5) Keep the other arm well back ready to come through and continue a fluent running action. Do not copy the style of the 100m hurdler, this is wasteful of energy. The technique is more akin to the 400m hurdler.

In high hurdling, to get eight strides to the first hurdle, the take-off foot should be placed in the front block. If the hurdler wants to do seven strides to the first hurdle, the take-off foot is placed in the rear block. Make sure from practice which of these suits. The front block should be 16-18 inches from the start line, and the rear one 16-20 inches. If you are not used to blocks, use a standing start, remember that the rear leg will cross the line first but the front leg will be the take-off leg in an 8-stride approach i.e., left leg forward, right leg back, the left leg will be the take-off one. Left leg forward, right leg back, the right leg will be the take-off one with a 7 stride approach. When doing a standing start, the front leg is a fraction behind the line. The rear leg is a foot behind, slightly to the side of the front. The opposite arm to the leading leg is well extended forward, and the rear arm well back and raised high. On the command "set", come up onto the toes of both feet. Some of the standing-start techniques used by runners contravene every one of Newton’s Laws of Motion, centre of mass, and action and reaction.

Needless to say, all run-up techniques require speed. Speed is a combination of good technique, flexibility and strength. A simple test to judge speed is to run 40 yards (36.6 from a standing start). Six seconds for young athletes is poor, but good for over 40s. Under 5.5 secs is fair for the young and outstanding for vets. Under 5 secs is good for youngsters and incredible for vets. A simple test of flexibility is the sit-and-reach exercise. With straight legs in front in a sitting position, you should at least touch your toes, better still is to go several inches beyond.

The most important strength parameter are your legs. Measure 25 metres out, then hop the distance on each leg. Some practice may be necessary. Nine hops on each leg denotes very good elastic strength. Eleven is fair, and more than thirteen, diabolical!

To improve the above test readings:- 1) Run up fast 30 metres and then sprint 30 metres several times a week. 2) Stand erect, bend over and let the arms hang loosely. Do not bounce. Legs together and straight. Go down a few inches and hold it for 5 seconds. Keep doing this increase of a few inches at a time and holding. 3) Do one-legged half squats onto a chair for 60 seconds each leg. When it becomes too easy, place a hold-all across your shoulders with 10 kg of weight in it.

Frank Horwill