TullyRunners - Article
Mud & Racing - Some Brief Observations
by Bill Meylan (July 9, 2011)
The previous article generated a fair number of inquiries regarding mud & racing and mud's importance in determining the outcome ("Losing Interest in NXN - One Guy's Perspective") ... I postulated the muddy conditions at NXN Portland Meadows (which can border on extreme) were causing some teams to run poorly and affecting the outcome of races in ways I find "less than interesting".
With respect to horse racing and human cross country racing, mud is a fact-of-life that must be dealt with at various times ... The inquiries to me basically asked:
I jotted down some quick ideas that might be useful or interesting.....
Horse Racing ... I will start with observations that concern thoroughbred horse racing because some tracks still have "real mud".
Does mud make a difference? ... In a word, Yes ... this is something horse-players take for granted based on many years of experiences ... there is a reason some horses are known as "mudders" (horses that race well in the mud).
What makes a good "mudder"? ... Good question, no simply answer ... Some horse-players have been able to correlate breeding to mudders (I'm not going there with humans) ... Some trainers say conformation (correctness of a horse's bone structure, musculature, and its body proportions) and stride pattern make a difference ... Too variable for my taste - once a horse proves ability (or lack of), that's all I need to know.
Why does mud make a difference? ... A common excuse heard from many jockeys and trainers is this - "the horse could not get hold of the track" ... this means the horse was having "traction" problems ... not uncommon for a jockey to note the horse was "slipping" (and some horses really don't like slipping and slow down).
Believe it or not, some horses are "light-footed" and some are "heavy-footed", just like humans ... some trainers believe "light-footed" horses are better in the mud because they slip less.
What can be done to help horses racing in the mud? ... Some trainers use horse shoes known as mud caulks to help get extra grip (something akin to humans using longer spikes), although some tracks are banning their use ... But actually, there is not a whole lot horse trainers can do.
Humans - Racing in the Mud
In my opinion, just like horses, some humans are just plain better in the mud "naturally" than other humans for a variety of reasons ... I am not aware of any scientific study documenting reasons, so much of it is speculative ... It would not surprise me if "light-footed" runners have an advantage or runners with a specific stride pattern do well.
But I believe humans differ from horses in one important regard ... Humans are capable of adapting and training and improving their mud-running ability.
Some Runners Like Mud ... For runners competing in mud, it is probably a plus if they like mud ... some like it naturally, some learn to like it (sort of) ... The Tully girls generally like mud - they get a chance to experience it on summer runs in sections of Highland Forest and Bear Swamp State Park ... when it rains during the season, they ask to go on "mud runs" at a nearby location ... So it did not surprise me when their best race of 2010 occurred in the rain & mud of the Newark Valley Invitational.
Is it necessary to like mud to be able to race well in mud?? ... No ... for example, Katie Sischo (Fayetteville-Manlius) was recently recognized by the Syracuse newspaper as one of the Central NY Track & Field All-Stars of 2011 ... when asked what she liked about track, she responded "No Mud" ... to the same question, Heather Martin (another member of the FM's NXN cross country team) responded "No Hills".
Improving Mud Racing Abilities
Internet searches yield a wide variety of advice, tips, knowledge and suggestions for running in the mud ... Common themes are lifting knees, shortening stride for stability, running "light-footed", strengthening foot-ankle-leg muscles, practice in mud (if possible), and other things.
Racing in mud has the additional consideration of different types of mud ... Mud can be gooey, sticky, slippery, and sloppy but never tasty (I've asked several runners who've fallen in mud and got a mouthful) ... An abnormal number of runners seem to "lose shoes" at Portland Meadows in December (no specific stats to back that up), but maybe the term "mud-sucking" type is appropriate at times.
Brief Anecdotal Observations ... I have seen young runners, as well as new XC runners from other sports, run on "rough" terrain for the first time and come back with sore legs and ankles, and not particularly enjoying the experience of extended runs on "uneven" ground that might be rocky, root-infested, muddy, just plain uneven, or ankle-deep in grass & weeds ... This type of running is different from running on roads or a high school track ... But simply doing it as part of training seems to strengthen foot-ankle-and-leg muscles that may have been "under-exercised" for the inexperienced runner (and they begin to accept running on uneven ground as "no-big-deal", and some even develop a liking for mud).
Lopez Lomong brought the notion of "bare-foot" running to Tully when he first arrived in the US as a high school sophomore in 2001 ... he was more comfortable running bare-foot than in training shoes. There are a variety of articles on the Internet that discuss the benefits of bare-foot running which might include strengthening muscles for stability and flexibility ... Who knows (just a thought), maybe a bit of bare-foot training would help racing in the mud? ... After finishing most races, the Fayetteville-Manlius girls can be seen running bare-foot strides - example at: http://rise.espn.go.com/track-and-xc/us/2010-xc/NXN/NXN-Finals-Girls-Story.aspx
Side-Note ... At the first Nike Cross Nationals in 2004, the course designers added the hay bales and whoop-di-do camelback "hills" for the noted purpose of "disrupting runners' rhythm and stride" ... Did they have any idea how much mud would appear and how disrupting it might be??