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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Chasing steeples at stadium

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On Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. the men’s track team assembled for this year’s “Rolex Classic,” which included the infamous and odd Steeplechase event.

The race prompted two questions from the ‘tonian eds, the first about whether Rolex was sponsoring the event (answer: decidedly unclear), and the second, about what exactly was this Steeplechase hooplah.

Driven by journalistic curiosity, we therefore found ourselves at the Rolex Classic on a windy, overcast afternoon. Unfamiliar with the arena of college athletics, we sheepishly took our place on the cold and empty bleachers of stadium and proceeded to watch the runners prancing and kicking on the track’s sidelines for their warm ups.

The warm ups continued for a long time. High knees, strides, the grapevine… We saw it all. Then we began to wonder whether we’d been mistaken. Was a meet really happening? The bleachers were empty (rah rah go Carleton!). There was also, noticeably, a lack of water. Justin Deffenbacher, our Sports Editor and cross-country athlete himself, had promised us water. The Steeplechase, he had said, was an epic obstacle course requiring runners to leap over pools of water.

But where was the water, Justie? Finally, after making uncomfortable eye contact with several Ole runners loitering in the bleachers, we spotted it–a shallow pool on the turn of the track closest to West Gym, right below a hurdle. (Well, technically tracklete and ‘tonian staff writer Will Hardt pointed it out to us, and then we spotted it). A gray pool of water glistening in the muted light.

From our vantage point, the pool looked deep and dark; we speculated it could be at least four-feet deep. After extensive research, we learned that the pool is called a pit and it is 70 centimeters deep (2.29 feet), and 12 feet wide. Allegedly blood and metal bits lie at the depths of the Laird Stadium pit, which confirms for us that this event is insane.

Now, to the common cross-country and track runner, we suppose the Steeplechase is nothing special. Members of our staff who fall into that category were bewildered by our excitement about the event. But to the layperson, non collegiate-athlete (i.e. us), it is endlessly intriguing. For example, here are some intriguing facts about Steeple- chase:

-it started in Ireland.

-it started in Ireland in 1752.

-it started as a horse race wherein participants would ride from one town’s steeple to the next (since, according to one informational website, “the most distinguishable landmarks in the 17th century British Isles were the tall church steeples”) in order to determine whose horse was fastest. As for how a horse race from steeple to steeple in County Cork in 1752 became a track event where you jump over a puddle in 2015, we can’t tell you.

Though we were informed that the Steeplechase would begin promptly at 4:30pm, we were once again misled. We watched the 100m dash, the 400m dash, the 4x100m run…and then the booming voice of the announcer spoke the words we longed to hear: “next up, the 3,000m Steeplechase.”

The gun resounded through the stadium, echoing off the empty bleachers, and the race began.

The three runners, Jake Brown and Mitchell Miller from St. Olaf and Carleton representative Ryan Hanselman ’18, took off from the far side of the track at a trot.

They jumped over one…two… three hurdles (each of which are 36 inches high), and finally, came to the water jump. Brown, who was leading, hopped onto the fourth hurdle, perched for a nanosecond on top of it, and then bounded forward in the air over the water pit. A foot or two splashed into the pit, but unfazed, he galloped onward.

The race continued in this fashion for some time. 3,000 meters, after all, is 1.8 miles, or 7 and a half laps on the track–not an insignificant distance. Compared to the 100m dash, the pace of these athletes seemed glacial. We lost track of how many laps had been run. The runners, whose faces were red and pained, or white and deathly, were far apart, and Brown was the clear winner. He finished at 9:32.25, followed by Hanselman at 9:58:37 and Mitchell at 11:00.04.

When the announcer bellowed the times, though, we realized we’d been mistaken to think these athletes were in any way slow. 9:32.25? Brown had just run 3,000 m at a pace below a five-and-a-half minute mile. Basically, in the time it takes us to go to the bathroom (number two), check our email or walk between Sayles and the LDC, these three had sprinted 1.8 miles while jumping over cumbersome barriers and a water pit.

After the race we caught up with Hanselman, who kindly demystified some of the nuances of the event for us. On the subject of the water pit, he said, “The correct way to land in the water is one foot in, and one foot out, so that you can keep up your momentum.”

But still, endless inquiries remained. What was the point of the puddle? How did the runners channel the nimbleness of a mountain goat? How did it feel to run in wet shoes? How did they not buckle and pass out from exhaustion? What happens if they fall? We were extremely concerned for the safety of the runner’s groins (since that seemed an obviously vulnerable place for injury while leaping), but a fellow ‘Tonian staffer later informed us that we should have been more worried about their faces, which are more commonly injured in wipeouts.

And sometimes runners do take a tumble. During Hanselman’s first “collegiate water barrier,” the person in front of him fell in the pit and he almost landed on top of the poor lad. Apparently, the water is also quite chilly, but Hanselman added, “in my opinion, it’s very refreshing and helps contribute to my race.”

Perhaps the cold jolt was all he needed. Hanselman’s kick on the last straightway was impressive, and he came away with a personal best.

All in all, while we very much enjoyed supporting the men’s track team, we couldn’t help feeling that Justie had oversold the steeplechase. It wasn’t quite the grueling and epic obstacle course we had imagined, with runners clawing on top of each to escape a moat of water (although grueling it still certainly was).

And the question remains as to why students even run this remnant of an eighteenth century Irish horse race chasing steeples. But then, why do we run 26.2 mile races–because a Greek messenger in the 6th century (or sometime real long ago) ran from Marathon to Athens? The human psyche, we suspect, is as deep and mysterious as the steeplechase’s water pit.


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