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High School Track and Field for Beginners: Season, Events, Training & More

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Are you new to the sport of high school track and field? Find out the basics here. High School Track and Field for Beginners: Season, Events, Training & More www.runnerclick.com

If you are reading this, it means either YOU or someone you care about is deciding to join the crazy, fun, and exciting world of track and field. This is planned to be a tutorial full of advice about high school track and field for beginners. 

Whether it is you or your child considering joining the track team, there are many exciting things to bear in mind.

There are 6 basic categories that events fall into. 

High School Track & Field Season

There are two different track seasons, the indoor and outdoor seasons. Indoor track typically occurs in the winter at the college, very early spring at the high school level.

Track and field is a spring sport. Mother Nature has complete control over what your early track season and training will look like. Most track enthusiasts hope and pray for an early thaw without snow so that the track, runways, and throwing circles get cleared early.

As a former track coach and self-proclaimed track nut, I am fond of saying, “March brings warm weather, track season, and hope to Wisconsin.” This is true of many areas.

Track & Field Events

Track and field is divided into categories:

  1. Sprints
  2. Mid-distance
  3. Distance
  4. Throws
  5. Horizontal jumps
  6. Vertical jumps

Within the categories is a plethora of different things that you can do. That breaks down into specific events. 

Track & Field Distances 

In the midwest, the sprint races run by a solo athlete include the 100 and 200-meter dash. There are also some sprint relays, where 4 athletes work together to travel a set distance.

The 400-meter dash is also known as the 4×100. This means each runner travels 100 meters. In this relay, the handoff must be done with absolute precision to get the best times possible.

The other sprint relay, the “4×2,” is where each runner goes 200 meters. That is technically called the 800-meter relay. Although there is a little more margin of error in these exchanges for the relay baton, it is not a lot.

Mid-distance races include the 400 and 800-meter runs. The 400 is technically considered a sprint since most athletes kick off the race using a starting block.

Running once around the track is a very challenging event. Many athletes hit something called “the wall” somewhere between the 3rd and 4th turns, right before hitting the back stretch. 

The 800-meter run, twice around the standard outdoor track, is another difficult race. Somewhere between a sprint and a distance race, your training must be spot on to excel at this distance.

In the world of track, there is also a relay involving this distance called the 3200-meter relay. These athletes are the distance running beasts of the team.

Although we commonly refer to them as the mile and two-mile, technically, they are the 1600 and 3200-meter run. The distance events for high school athletes, these kids spend hours training to get conditioned to spend loop after loop on the oval. 

The crowning glory of the running events is usually seen as the last event of the night, the 1600 meter relay. Also known as the 4×400 or the “4×4,” This is the glory race.

In many schools, athletes fight to be chosen to run this event. Partly because it is such a brutal event and many meets are decided in the last couple of events, the 4×4 is quite a way to end the night!

If you have ever watched the pole vault, you realize that a special type of daredevil participates in this event. Athletes tear down a runway, plant the end of a pole into a “box,” and soar through the air. The goal is to fly over a bar placed high in the air, landing on a pit. Sound dangerous? Well.. it is. 

Another exciting jumping event is the high jump. Jumpers take a running start, plant a foot and then attempt to propel themselves up and over a bar set on a stanchion. As in the pole vault, this athlete also lands in a padded pit. 

There are two jumps that end with the athlete landing in a pit of sand. Both the long jump and triple jump have the athlete taking a running start, planting off of a set part on the runway, then jumping to the pit. 

The long jump is as simple as running, plant, jump. You try to land forward instead of backward because your mark is measured at the furthest point back. If you fall backward, you lose precious inches. 

The triple jump is a complicated event where you perform a hop, skip and jump to land in the pit. This one takes considerable coordination, but once you master it, you are practically flying into the sand!

Last but certainly not least are the throwing event. The shot put and discus are amazing feats of not just strength but finesse. Sometimes people make the mistake of assuming that you have to be very big and strong to be successful at these events.

Whether you use the spin or the glide technique, throwing both the shot and discus is more physics and finesse than brute strength. 

It should be noted that some schools also include the javelin as a throwing event. Due to the perceived danger of this event, many states have discontinued it. Typically, colleges do offer the javelin throw.

Another throwing event, the hammer, is only done in one state at the high school level: Rhode Island.

Training For Track & Field

Training for track and field athletes really does depend on which event(s) you plan to participate in. If you are thinking of using the winter to get conditioned for track season, you should include some basic things in your plan. 

1. Cardio: If you are thinking a running event is right for you, you should start running sooner rather than later. If sprints are your thing, you can do shorter warm-ups and cool-downs, and fit some basic cardiovascular activity in the mix. Runners planning to become mid or long-distance runners should start building miles now.

Distance runners should plan to get 15-20 miles each week as they build to the season. Even throwers need to have a strong cardiovascular base! If running is not your thing, get on a bike, elliptical, or take a HIIT class!

2. Weights: No matter what event you plan to be part of, strength training is important. Just be aware that strength training for jumpers is different than it is for someone planning to throw a shot put. Talk to a coach about event-specific training!

3. Core: Your core matter no matter what your event or sport. Spending 10-15 minutes, 3-5 x each week on the core is an excellent use of your time. 

Track & Field Shoes

The first thing you need is a basic pair of training shoes. To choose wisely, you need to determine what type of feet you have. Do you pronate or supinate? Should your shoes have support or not? You need a good pair of trainers that keep your feet healthy and happy.

If you are a sprinter, you will need some spikes made for that. Distance runners also wear a racing flat or spike. A very popular racing shoe is the Nike Zoom.

Most long and triple jumpers wear a sprint shoe, even though you can purchase shoes specific to that task. The same is true of high jumpers and pole vaulters. 

There are also shoes made specifically for throwing the discus or shot put. You do not want to try to wear a racing spike to do these events. Look into shoes for throwers.

Nike Zoom Rotational, Asics Throw Pro, and Under Armor Centric Grip are my top three choices as a coach and mom.

Nutrition Considerations

The final thing to tackle is nutrition for your high school track athlete. Sure, many teenagers are notorious for having what I call garbage gut. This means they can eat anything. However, that does not mean that it is what is best for them and their athlete bodies. 

Student-athletes should try to eat more real food and stay away from processed foods when and where possible. In addition, avoiding carbonation and too much caffeine are both good rules to live by. 

Distance runners, in particular, may need to watch what they eat both on race day and the day prior. Putting certain things into their bodies can cause significant gastro distress while competing if they are not careful. 

On race day, eating things that are easy to digest, high in carbs, and low in fat are all excellent choices.

Final Piece of Advice

If you are still on the bubble regarding joining track or not (or if you are a parent reading this to help your child decide), my best advice is to jump in and have fun. 

I strongly encourage athletes to all try a field event and a running event. I would encourage you to try multiple distances and field events.

The fact is, you never know who might turn out to be good at something they never imagined could be a strength.

Just jump in with both feet and see what happens. Time on the oval is magical. You won’t regret it. 


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