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RAF LAKENHEATH, England – The slender margins between contestants during Saturday’s track and field meet at RAF Lakenheath showed how important every detail can be.

Less than one second decided the winner in several events, speaking to an economy of running style that few people who roll off the couch to run three times a week to stave off heart disease either practice or even know about.

Key to the runner’s performance is the start. When a race does not even last a minute, there is little time to make up a poor start: Menwith Hill’s Mikala McClain won the 100-meter dash in 13.23 seconds, only .59 tenths of a second faster than second place Marie Davis from Rota. It was even closer in the boys race, with Ramon Quijano of Rota edging teammate Greg Vann, 11.28 seconds to 11.62.

Though taking the first step onto the track lasts barely more than the blink of an eye, it occupies a lot of time in the thoughts of the athletes.

Integral to that start is the block. It consists of two foot rests connected to a beam that rests on the ground with spikes on the bottom that dig into the track. Simple as it is, just using it requires practice.

“Many times you’ll see a runner feint step,” said Louis Martin, Lakenheath’s track and field head coach. “They’ll come out of the block and then they put their foot down immediately and then start running. When you come out of the block that first step has to land at least three to six meters down the track and the only way that happens is that your arms pump.”

Even good form, however, can be marred by small defects in the block itself. J.B. Cortez, a Rota freshman, said if the block does not lie flat on the ground, it can cause the runner’s foot to fall too early, losing the powerful jump. He had that problem with his block during the 110-meter hurdles and while he did not blame the block- Cortez finished third overall behind SHAPE’s Amari Wilson and Jonathon Moran - he did say his performance was better in a previous run.

Aside from worrying about the equipment, runners also pace how fast they rise from the starting crouch once they start running.

Yasemin Miller, a Lakenheath junior, called it “showing your chest,” a mistake that exposes the torso to too much wind resistance while the runner is still trying to accelerate.

“You’re letting the wind go over you (by crouching),” Miller said. “By the time you get up, you should be sprinting.”

Sprinting is not just about the feet. To get a little more momentum, Martin said, runners use their arms to pull at theair.

“But, you got to keep the rest of your body still so you don’t waste all that energy, and you’ll see it in sprinters,” Martin said. “Some of them, they look like a bobble head, and if your head is bobbing, that’s energy that your taking away from your legs.

“In 100 meters, in 200 meters, it’s usually won by less than a second, so the time coming out of the blocks, if it’s two-tenths or three-tenths of a second, that’s the difference between a win or a loss, so it is extremely important. It is probably the single most important factor in a sprint race.”

Not everything was a sprint Saturday, of course. The meet featured several strong performances by athletes from the seven schools competing.

SHAPE’s Jeremy Key won both the 200 (23.08) and 400 (53.4) and was on his school’s winning 4x400 relay team. He helped the Spartans score the most points in the boys competition, with 143 to Rota’s 124.67. Alconbury’s Zain Leach took first in both shot put (34 feet, 9 inches) and discus (97-9).

AFNORTH’s Cherry Carnes won both the 100 hurdles (50.69) and 300 hurdles (50.69). The home team scored the most points in the girls competition with 190, well ahead of second-place Alconbury with 111.

mathis.adam@stripes.com


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