Anne Shadle, a two-time NCAA Champion (indoor mile and outdoor 1500 meter) and professional athlete was asked why someone would want to race the steeplechase. Shadle, who has chosen to make her Olympic bid in this event by first competing in the upcoming U.S. Track & Field Championships this summer, said, “This event takes a toughness and strength—a high level of all-around athleticism combining power, strength, speed, strategy and skill that I haven’t had before until now—which makes me look forward to the challenge and the fun and excitement of this race.”
Filbert Bayi echoed Shadle’s sentiments after his gold medal win in this event in the 1980 Olympics when he said, “Because it’s fun. It is fun to run as fast as one can until you are dead tired.” Kip Keino, one of the greatest distance runners of all time, said, “The steeplechase is a race for animals.” Another runner claimed that although the hurdles start out at 3 feet high, they progressively look and feel higher and higher with each lap of the track.
The steeplechase is one of the more unconventional events you will see in a track-and-field competition, and yet there is something more natural, more primal about it compared to other events that almost eludes description.
Perhaps it harkens back to the days when as hunters and gatherers we had to cover a lot of ground, chasing down game for survival or being chased down as some predator’s supper—jumping over logs and streams and avoiding a variety of natural forest obstacles as we grappled with day-to-day existence.
The modern-day event has been standardized to a distance of 3,000 meters, run on a track with four barriers spaced around the track and a fifth water jump barrier at the top of the second turn, for a total of 28 barriers and seven water jumps covering the entire race. Each of the barriers is 36 inches high for men and 30 inches high for women. The water jumps also have a 3-foot-high barrier that leads into the jump and a 12-foot-long pit filled with water. The pit slopes down toward the barrier to a maximum depth of 2 feet and 3-1/2 inches nearest the barrier and becomes progressively shallower until it is even with the track. Runners who jump over the barrier the farthest are rewarded by hitting the shallower water, which allows them to recover their stride and speed that much more quickly. In fact, steeplechase barriers do not fall over if hit like in the shorter-sprint hurdling events, and some steeplechase runners actually step on top of them as part of their racing technique.
The 3,000-meter steeplechase for women made its first major appearance at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. And it was only in 2008 that the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase finally appeared for the first time on Olympic tracks in Beijing, China.
Entering the steeplechase fray is Shadle, who has been winning races since high school, garnering several state championships along with the 2001 Gatorade Nebraska Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
Shadle reached a whole new level of running and training in college, where she competed for the University of Nebraska Huskers from 2001 to 2005. During this time she earned cross-country all-region honors in 2003 and returned for her final season in 2004 to cocaptain the team and earn her first All-Big 12 honor. In track and field, Shadle swept the 2005 indoor mile run and outdoor 1,500-meter NCAA Championship titles, which culminated in a professional contract with Reebok.
Competing as a pro for Reebok from 2005 to 2008 ended in a disappointing 2008 Olympic Trials. After the Olympic Trials, Shadle took a year off to recharge and fix her mindset. Today, she is back to having fun, running and racing with a new determination to come back stronger than ever in the steeplechase event. She told us, “In this event, running ability is really secondary to efficient form over the barriers. Emotional strength and composure is also vital, and that is something I just didn’t have a few years ago.”
It has been estimated that runners lose more than 19 seconds over the course of the race as each barrier eats up between 0.4 and 0.7 seconds to clear.
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“You have to recover your stride as fast as possible after every jump and not get rattled by the barriers or the other runners,” said Shadle. “You have to constantly calculate your speed, timing, distance and the position of the other runners. One misstep and you lose momentum and time and possibly the entire race.
“I am training hard every day and focusing on what I can do today so as to achieve my goals tomorrow. And the Natural Vitality products are a part of the equation.
“I am all about natural nutrition versus synthetic crap. With Organic Life Vitamins®, which I take before workouts, I know that I am getting organic fruits and veggies in a liquid form, which helps my body absorb the nutrients directly, and I just feel healthier overall as a result.
“After doing hard sessions like 8 intervals x 800 meters at race speed, combined with core training, jump drills and stretches, I take Natural Calm® Plus Calcium to get a head start on recovery. The better and faster my recovery, the more benefit I gain from my workouts. My legs never cramp up, and I attribute this to the supplements that I take. I also use Energy28™ after my workouts because normally I feel a certain amount of fatigue after a hard training day and I tend to want to reach for coffee to get a needed energy boost. I know coffee is not an ideal drink for me, and it tends to upset my stomach. With Energy 28 I can get my boost naturally without any stomach upset.
“Natural Calm Sports Bath™ is another product I use, especially after my weekend long runs. I took a long run on Sunday and immediately took a bath after the run using this product, and this helped loosen my muscles and clear out free radicals, which allowed me to function better throughout the day. I had previously tried using Epsom Salt baths, and it just wasn’t the same.
“While I am busy tearing my body down through workouts, I need nutrition that helps me repair and recover so I can get more out of my training and train even harder. All of these products separately and combined help me accomplish this.”
It takes a great deal of dedication, determination, hard work, balanced sacrifice, confidence, steely composure and boundless courage to compete at the highest levels of this sport while still keeping it fun. Shadle has shown plenty of all of these attributes, as she recently ran a personal record of 10:48 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, making her performance an Olympic-level standard in the event and qualifying her for the National Track & Field Championships this summer.
Shadle is also staying plenty busy as a graduate student at the University of Missouri, where she is going for her PhD in sports psychology under her mentor Dr. Rick McGuire, who has been the head track-and-field coach at the university for 25 years and who founded and still leads the sports psychology program for USA Track & Field. Shadle loves giving back to the sport and acts as a mentor and role model to some of the young athletes at the university who are coming up through the ranks. Needless to say, they are very blessed to have her around.