Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Extreme negativity at the New Hampshire D2 State Meet

I watched the livestream of the N.H. D2 Track and Field Champs yesterday, and what struck me most about the results is that five of the six individual distances races featured negative splits. Eyeballing from virtual clock embedded in the feed, I had the winners at:

Girls' 1600m: Julia Robitaille, Manchester West 4:58.76 (2:32.0/2:26.7)
Boys' 1600m: Spenser Sawyer, Windham 4:21.04 (2:18.0/2:03.0)
Girls' 800m: Corinne Robitaille, Manchester West 2:19.04 (67.9/71.1)
Boys' 800m: Sawyer 1:57.91 (59.8/58.1)
Girls' 3200m: Lauren Robinson, Milford 10:55.44 (5:32.5/5:22.9)
Boys' 3200m: Cameron Starr, Pelham 9:40.16 (5:00.0/4:40.1)

Julia Robitaille and Sawyer were fresh for the 1600m. Corinne Robitaille (Julia's twin; they're juniors) was doubling back in the 800m after placing second in the 400m, and the 800m was Sawyer's second effort of the day. Before their 3200m races, Robinson and Starr had both placed second in the 1600m.

Keep in mind that a slight positive split in an 800m race (that is, a slightly slower second lap) is considered the best way to go if you simply want to run your fastest time. So seeing a neg split in that event at the front is a sign of extraordinary patience. (If Sawyer runs both the 1600m and the 800m next week at the N.H. Meet of Champions, I don't think anyone will beat him in either race. He's a 4:15 kid waiting to happen, and he's already run 1:55.90 this season.)

While I'm looking at a single meet here, this is a trend I've noticed in Granite State championship-level competitions since New Hampshire Track & Field and its partner site, New Hampshire Cross Country, began providing free video streams of these meets.

In general, kids in N.H. are running a little faster in the distance events than they were when I was in high school 30 years ago, not so much at the very front but in terms of the number of "pretty good" kids (say, sub-10:00 for the 3200m for boys). This is true even when you control for the state's +/- 25 percent increase in population since the late 1980s.

But the real story is that, in general, kids are simply running more intelligently than most of us did back in the day. This is a function of better coaching, which I tentatively attribute to an abandonment of the "establish position and hang the hell on" ethos that was so widespread among coaches in the 1980s, a lot of whom were World War II veteran types who clung at some level to the idea that pain was at least as important as winning.

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