Coaching the 300 Intermediate Hurdles Event

Los Angeles City Section Track & Field Championships - May 26, 2005
Lamar Jackson of Washington Prep High won the 300-meter intermediate hurdles in 39.23 in the Los Angeles City Section Track & Field Championships at Birmingham High in Lake Balboa, California on Thursday, May 26, 2005. Kirby Lee / Getty Images

The following article is based on a presentation on the 300 intermediate hurdles given by long-time coach Del Hessel at the 2008 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic. Hessel coached track and field, and cross country, for more than 30 years, including 17 years at Colorado State University, where he coached four national champions.

The 300-yard (or meter) intermediate hurdles race is one of the key events for youth and high school track and field teams. If you’re going to have a really good team, you need to have good intermediate and high hurdlers because they can do so many other things for the team.

To find intermediate hurdlers, coaches can look in several areas, as volunteer hurdlers are rare on many teams. Coaches can recruit slow high hurdlers, because they already have hurdles technique, as well as 400- or 800-meter runners. All else being equal, taller runners have an edge as intermediate hurdlers. Interestingly, high hurdle competitors often improve in that event after taking up the intermediates, because they become stronger while training for the longer event. They also gain confidence because the 100-yard (or meter) high hurdles race seems much shorter.

The main qualities of a good intermediate hurdler include:

  • Mental toughness in practice.
  • Aggressive but poised competitor.
  • Good stride length.
  • Above average speed.
  • Endurance.
  • Hurdle technique.

Coaches and runners should understand that you do not run the 300 intermediates the way you run the open 400. That’s the first mistake most athletes and coaches make. They’re two different events. The stride pattern in the intermediates is a coached, deliberate stride pattern, wherein the 400 race it’s a turnover. You have to coach the stride patterns for hurdlers.

Also, the 300 intermediates have absolutely nothing to do with college track, where the intermediate hurdle event is 400 meters long. Other events, from the shot put to the high hurdles, translate over to higher levels of track and field competition. But just because someone can run the 300 intermediate hurdles, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to step up to the 400. It’s possible, but not automatic.

Nevertheless, coaches should occasionally have their 300 intermediate competitors practice the 400 hurdles. In the short run, that practice will make the 300 race seem shorter. It will also give the hurdlers some perspective of what college will be like if they stick with intermediate hurdles.

The 300 Intermediate Hurdles Event Is a Technical Race

The intermediate hurdles event is the second-longest track and field technical race, behind the 3000-meter steeplechase. The runner who wins the intermediate hurdles race is the competitor with the best technique who also has the strength to run the entire race. Nobody can sprint the 300 intermediates. The runner who wins the race is the one that decelerates the least and has the best technique. So if you’re going to run fast you have to have the same strength as a good 800- meter runner. Coaches must train their 300 intermediate hurdlers up, as if they were running a longer race, because intermediate hurdlers need to be strong.

Intermediate hurdlers are probably some of the toughest kids on a track and field team, both mentally and physically. They have to have a real strong mental toughness because, in this event, you need a lot of competitive poise. You have to be a real good competitor, but you can’t lose your poise in the race. It’s not like in the 400 or the 200 or even an 800, where the gun goes off and you can run like a bat out of hell. In those events, you can just tough it out if you need to. In the intermediates, you’re running as fast as you can, but then there’s a hurdle. And then there’s another hurdle, and then eight more. You need to run hard, but still be able to see what’s coming up and know what you’re doing in between the hurdles. Too many coaches just say, ‛Okay let’s just run ‛em as fast as we can and see what happens.’ And they kind of let the kid figure out what’s going to happen.

This is an event that coaches can’t leave alone. From the time that you teach the first hurdle, then how to get to the second hurdle, to get in the rhythm of the whole race, to establishing a stride pattern, to being aware of the wind, this is maybe one of the most difficult events to coach. Your brain has to be with your intermediate hurdlers. At a meet, you need to look at your schedule and say, ‛Okay, the intermediates are coming up, I need to go talk to them about the weather conditions, strategy, etc.

Read more about 300 intermediate hurdles training and technique, and about intermediate hurdles stride patterns.