No Finish Line: track athletes keep running

No Finish Line: track athletes keep running

No Finish Line: track athletes keep running
April 10
00:20 2014

Tim Cato // Web Editor

“Ain’t no rest for the wicked” go the lyrics of Cage the Elephant’s popular, platinum-certified single. But ain’t no rest for a track runner might be more appropriate, at least for Mean Green distance runner Jo Adams, who said she only takes two weeks off of running for the entire year.

For the other 50 weeks, she’s training and competing on a daily basis.

The summer is spent preparing for the fall semester of cross country. The spring, of course, is devoted to the practices and meets for track and field.

Of the 57 track and field athletes at UNT, 38 compete in a running event, either running or sprints. Head coach Carl Sheffield arrived just two years ago, but has already led women’s track and field to an indoor Sun Belt Conference championship in 2013, and both squads have combined for more than 70 school awards since he took over.

With 11 event wins at the UNT-hosted North Texas Classic last weekend, the team is preparing for its first outdoor championship in Conference USA on May 5.

Distance

Adams is one of the 22 distance runners on the Mean Green roster. They compete in events such as the 800, 1,500 and 5,000 meter, as well as the mile.

“One of the biggest attributes you see in distance runners is tenacity,” Sheffield said. “Distance runners have something inside of them that just doesn’t stop.”

Adams joined her home club back in North Yorkshire, England, when she was 10 but said she didn’t take it seriously until she was 18. After attending college in her home country, she saw a track scholarship at UNT as a recreation and leisure graduate student as a great opportunity.

“It was spontaneous, really,” she said. “I’d been an undergraduate, I didn’t want to get a job and this was offered to me. It was like a lifetime opportunity to come to America, study, race and train.”

Adams, who finished 16th in the 1,500 meter at the NCAA Championships last year, doesn’t mind the heavy schedule. The only part that bothers her comes before a competition.

“The worst is the initial two hours before the run when you’re contemplating it, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to run like eight miles today,’” she said.

Although Adams had already been recruited when Sheffield took the head of the program two years ago, he said her technique is excellent, something crucial for all distance runners to have.

“What we tend to look for in distance runners are people who have very good mechanics,” he said. “Because of the logging of miles that distance runners tend to do, it wears down the lower legs and joints a lot. People who have a lot of good running mechanics are more efficient and can do those miles without the wear and tear.”

Sheffield said he specifically looks at body types, stride mechanics and how a runner’s foot hits the ground. Another important quality is a runner’s V02 max, or the ability of the lungs to take in oxygen and use it for energy.

To increase a runner’s V02 max, Sheffield and his staff send athletes on “tempo” runs, meaning they run at 75 percent of their normal speed for an extended distance and time.

But to Sheffield, one of the most important things his distance runners can practice is speed training. In the U.S., he said most track athletes run distance when they become too slow for the sprints — something that has held them back worldwide.

“In the United States, you become a distance runner because you’re too slow,” he said. “In the world scene, you become a distance runner because you’re not fast enough.”

Sprints

Sheffield may know all about distance running, but it’s not the event that has his heart — after all, the Dallas native was a sprinter at the University of Texas at Arlington in the 1980s.

Short-distance track events usually include the 100, 200 and 400 meter, as well as the 4×100 meter relay.

“Most people think it’s about speed, but it’s actually really technical,” freshman sprinter Collin Heard said. “It’s about angles and pushing at certain points.”

Heard was recruited to track after middle school coaches saw how fast he was playing on the football team, and he adapted to it quickly.

“The biggest thing you can have is heart,” he said. “A lot of times you’ll be thinking that you really want to stop, but you just have to have the determination to finish.”

Depending on the distance, a race may last seconds or minutes. Instead of letting their minds wander, Sheffield tells his athletes to focus on action words that trigger what they need to do mechanically.

“Different sections of a race are associated with action words,” he said. “So instead of thinking, ‘Man, I got to run fast,’ or, ‘Man, this guy beside me is really doing well,’ there’s a ‘drive.’ There’s a ‘push.’ There’s a ‘push taller.’ There’s a ‘push faster.’ And there’s just a ‘Drive. Drive. Drive.’”

But at least for Adams, it ultimately doesn’t matter what goes through her head. She said as long as her legs keep moving, she’s happy.

After all, there ain’t no rest for a runner.

Feature Photo: Sophomore Caleb Pryor zips past an opponent during the men’s 400-meter dash at Fouts Field on Saturday. Pryor finished in sixth place with a time of 49.57 seconds while at the North Texas Spring Classic. Photo by Edward Balusek, Staff Photographer.

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