By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
The leaves have fallen. Snow covers the trails. The cross-country season has ended. Section Three athletes have shone at the state and Federation championships. It is time to move indoors, to reflect on past cross-country runs, and to enjoy a change of pace with the indoor season.
The indoor track and field season is as different from cross country as sprinting is from distance running. For a start, the indoor confines of a field house protect athletes from the weather. Yet, that protection exposes the athletes to the watchful eyes of officials and spectators. Lap after lap, the faces of the runners take on new expressions, as lactic acid takes hold. Running around the oval is no walk in the woods.
The indoor season is a time of reckoning, rewarding those who trained and raced honestly on the trails, and exposing those who did not. As much as no two cross-country courses are alike, every lap on the track is exactly 200 meters. Indoor races are timed to the tenth of a second, giving a brutally frank assessment of a runner's fitness.
For many athletes, indoor track is a season of personal records. For others, it can be a long winter of discontent. For seniors, it is usually the last chance to impress college recruiters.
At a varsity cross-country meet, all the runners compete over the same course. During indoor season, the selection of events ranges from jumps and throws, to sprints and distance races. The running events are contested at distances ranging from 55 meters to 3,000 meters, along with every imaginable relay. At the same time, every athlete is limited to two events per meet, challenging the coaches to guess other coaches strategies.
The cross-country season featured countless dual and invitational meets, and separated the races by class. This large selection permitted the stronger teams to avoid each other till the sectionals. During indoor season, there is only one venue and one meet every week, bringing together athletes from all schools and classes. Relays become the final hideout, postponing anticipated show-downs and adding to the excitement and anticipation.
Long-distance running takes a back seat during the indoor season, as sprint events rule the schedule. A meet may have two distance events, the mile and 2-mile runs, but feature sprints at 55, 200, 300, 400, 600, 800 and 1,000 meters. Endurance gives way to explosive speed and power, making the indoor season attractive to athletes from other sports. Indoor track becomes a bridge between fall soccer and spring lacrosse, permitting players to maintain their fitness and increase their speed.
Since most indoor track meets are on school nights, organizers are sensitive to finishing at a reasonable hour. As a result, officials at indoor meets stringently enforce the rules of competition, and many athletes suffer the unfortunate fate of disqualification. To speed things further, Section Three officials eliminated competition for modified teams, reserving the indoor season for junior varsity and varsity athletes.
When we add jumping and throwing events to the meet schedule, the demand for officials increases significantly, and with it the cost of holding a meet. In addition, while cross-country races are held on trails and roads, at little or no cost, indoor track meet organizers must pay to use a heated facility. These two factors have raised the cost of the indoor season to over $28,000, shared by the participating schools, requiring difficult choices by smaller schools.
At many indoor track meets, boys and girls compete on separate days, providing them opportunities for relaxed spectating and volunteering. Parents and friends can join in the excitement, in the relative comfort of a field house, away from the cold and snow of winter.
The cold and snowy winters of the American Northeast can be credited for the relatively large number of indoor tracks and indoor meets, compared to milder regions of the country. Far from being the middle child of scholastic running, the indoor track season has become a Central New York tradition. For the distance runners who developed their strength and endurance on the trails throughout the fall, indoor track gives them speed and discipline, setting the stage for memorable performances and school pride throughout the spring.
Kamal Jabbour, whose RUNNING Column appears every Monday in The Post-Standard, ran all his track personal records inside Manley Field House. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.