Hurdles 101

Many track people don't know or understand the proper placement of hurdles. This problem is amplified when age group considerations are involved--most tracks are not marked for the odd age group spacings. I'll cover that after the basics. By the way, the USATF rulebook is missing some information and has typos in its charts that have been corrected for in the information in this article (so the math works)--in other words, this is more up to date than the rulebook. If you already know the basics, jump ahead.

Every race has a distance to the first hurdle, a space between each hurdle, and a distance to the finsh line. They are not the same.

The hurdle height is also critical. Every hurdle manufactured should have 5 different heights. I've illustrated this in the pictures above, left to right (click them to make them bigger). In imperial terms (feet and inches) we american's understand, the highest hurdle is 42" and it progresses downward by 3" increments (39, 36, 33 and 30). This is just something you have to know. We hurdlers frequently refer to those notches going down in order in terms of Open or College Highs, High School Highs, Intermediate, Womens and Lows because of the basic groups that run those heights. There are ten hurdles in all common races except the high school 300 hurdles, which have eight. Masters and Youth races also have their exceptions described below. Short races (indoor distances) usually are five hurdles.

By the way, the rule book also prescribes a weighting factor for hurdles, because the higher the hurdle, the easier it is to tip over. But I must say most facilities I have seen do not have adjustable weight hurdles. The ones in the pictures do not have the weights. Even when facilities do have adjustable weight hurdles, I have only seen them used properly at the National Championships and the Olympics. I have not seen it become a factor in the acceptance of Masters or Youth hurdle records (though it probably should be since it is a violation of the specifications of the race). If you have them and wish to do a race by the book, there will be a corresponding weight mark for each height--the higher the hurdle the further from the joint or fulcrum the weight should be. Many hurdles have internal weights (you can feel them slide around inside). If you have them, make sure they are at the far end for the high hurdle race (lift the front and hear them slide to the back) and to the front for lower hurdles (tip forward).

Basic markings: For some reason, even though the rule book does provide for a specific color code (though it is only a recommendation not a hard rule, so), the people who install tracks continue to ignore it. So you won't find any standard color or shape to the markings. Instead, here is what you will find (with some clue in deciphering the weird way some facilities may have oriented the hurdles). Once you know the color (or shape) you know where to put the hurdles for that race. From a common finish line (at most facilities) walking backward down the track you will find hurdle marks in this order--if all major marks exist. 10 meters before the finish line, at the beginning of the 4x400 exchange zone is the 8th hurdle of the HS 300 hurdles (it should be red), half a meter further is the 10th womens 100 hurdle (it should be yellow). Here's where it can get goofy. The next mark should be the tenth men's 110 hurdle (it should be blue), but if this track runs reverse races (to take advantage of wind--you'll know if they have done this by the number of hurdle markings and frequently they will use triangles to point the direction) you will find the first reverse women's hurdle, then the first reverse men's hurdle before you get to the last normal men's hurdle. The final color you will be looking for is the 10th 400 hurdle (it should be green). It will be between the 5th and 6th women's hurdle mark (very close to the 6th men's hurdle). If the track does not have a common finish, you will need to figure out the color from the proper start and finish line for each race.

If you don't know if this situation exists, start by checking the 110 start line, which will be at or almost at the beginning of the final 4x100 exchange zone (the zone is usually on the turn while the hurdles will be on the straightaway--the distance from the finish line should be identical). If it is not there, you have to find the two straightaway start lines (which usually will be 10 meters apart) and the finish line. I have seen some places where every race is a different set of lines (usually to accomodate limited available space). The fortunate thing is, when a track gets this weird, there usually is a painted sign to explain it. I cover all the details on track markings in another article. While you are at the beginning of the last relay zone, you will find a hurdle marker at exactly that same spot--that is the 8th 400 hurdle mark, so the color will confirm the color (which should be green) of those marks.

Men's 110HH (High Hurdles)

This event is a legacy from imperial days. The spacing specification is the metric translation of 15 yards to the first hurdle, ten yards between and what was the imperial version of 15 yards to the finish. BTW, that means you could practice or even race on grass on a football field, starting on the end zone line, hurdles on every odd 5 yard line (5, 15, 25 etc.) and finish on the other end zone line. But 110m is about a foot longer than 120 yards, so the end distance is slightly longer than 15 yards and that foot causes some extra adjustments. Many meets try to run the hurdles with the wind, which means you might run either way down the straightaway. Since 15/10/15 is symetrical, you could run the imperial race in either direction. Because of the extra foot on the end, you can't use the same marks metric going either direction (which means meets that want to run a shuttle hurdles on a metric course should have all the hurdles separated by about that same foot or offset their start lines by that foot). That would explain why you find some places have almost identical marks but arrows or triangles to indicate which direction they are referring to. Generally the 110's will start at the beginning of the final relay zone, a straightaway start line 10 meters farther from finish line than the 100 meter start line. If you have the bidirectional markings, the first mark you reach will be the first hurdle, the one a foot further away is the last hurdle coming the other direction. So using the same color mark is obvious. Open competitors up to age 30 run 42" hurdles (thats all the way to the top), High School and age 30 up to 50 run 39" (that's one click from the top). Some leagues let young competitors run lower hurdles, that is a local decision not in the rule book. Some elite 30+ runners continue the legacy of running the higher hurdles, and that is a variation most meet managers will allow (except in championship meets where specifications are defined in the rule book).

Sometimes a shorter distance is run, particularly indoors. These also run fewer hurdles, usually five. Whatever the distance, the odd measurement is always made from the last hurdle to the finish line. So a 60 yard, 55 meter, 60 meter or 70 yard hurdles will be the pattern of first five hurdles and then whatever the distance is from there to the finish. That means it is easier to invent the marking from the start line to an odd finish line in the middle of the straightaway, rather than from the middle of the straightaway to the common finish line. Since the men's race is a hybrid from an imperial race, you will have to mark every hurdle position to get a metric race end at the common finish. I can't recall ever seeing a metric track that has such markings.

Hurdle #

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Finish

From Start

13.72

22.86

32.00

41.14

50.28

59.42

68.56

77.70

86.84

95.98

110

From Finish

14.02

23.16

32.30

41.44

50.58

59.72

68.86

78.00

87.14

96.28

110

 

Women's 100 Hurdles

This and all other races have originated in metric distances, so there are no odd distances to be compensated for. But this race is not symetrical. It goes 13 meters to the first hurdle, 8.5 meters between and finishes with a 10.5 meter run in to the finish. The 100 meter start line is in the middle of the final 4x100 exchange zone. In order to run backwards, a few places have simply created an extra set of start and finish lines (and use the same hurdle marks). Use the start line farthest from the first hurdle, thus the finish line is the closest of the two lines to the last hurdle. On most tracks, with one direction finishes, you will only find two sets of short hurdle marks, the women's is the one with less distance in between marks.

For women's 60m hurdles, again use the start of the race and the first five hurdles. Thus the the finish line would be the 10th 400 hurdle marker.

Hurdle #

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Finish

From Start

13.0

21.5

30.0

38.5

47.0

55.5

64.0

72.5

81.0

89.5

100

From Finish

10.5

19.0

27.5

36.0

44.5

53.0

61.5

70.0

78.5

87.0

100

Long Hurdles

The spacing on either the 300 or 400 hurdles is the same. 45m from start line to the first hurdle, 35m between. But the start lines are in different places on the track, so there are two sets of markings. The only marking in the first 100m (the turn) is the one for 400H. If you are on the other end of the track, that is also the one that lines up with the beginning of the final 4x100 relay zone (usually still in the turn). The 300 hurdles marking is the one that lines up with the beginning of the 4x400 zone near the finish line, and will be the one 5 meters farther to the finish line in every pair of long hurdle marks all the way around the track. The 400H marks should be green and the 300H marks should be red, but don't depend on that as so many painters deviated from the color code. The 400h finishes with 40m to the finish,

By the way, if you are running a 400H, you should know the difference between a 400 meter (metric) track and a 440 yard (imperial) track, which is about 7 feet longer. I have never seen an imperial track that does not have metric markings (though it is possible), so that is usually the clue. If the start line in lane 1 is not on the common finish, you are dealing with a track that is not 400m (though there are a couple of tracks that are also not imperial, just an improper measurement on construction). If you are on an old imperial track, there might be double markings for staggered start and hurdle marks. The imperial marks are the same seven feet before the metric marks.

Men and Women up to age 49, Intermediate Boys, Intermediate Girls, Young Men and Young Women all do the normal international 400m races, males at 36", females at 30" Men 50-59 lower the hurdles one notch to 33" The Masters 300H races for both men and women run a different distance to the first hurdle 50m, so the hurdles are in the same place as the 400H race. They continue with 35m spacing and finish with 40m to the finish.

High Schools (as mentioned above) run 300m in most states, boys at 36", girls at 30" except when local rules cause a change.

Steeplechase

Steeplechase actually seems easy compared to the various hurdle heights and markings. Steeplechase is much less precise, meaning the distance runners do not count their steps and plan their distance between barriers. In fact, the distance between barriers could be different depending if this is an inside, slice or outside design. The only rule is the spacing between the 4 barriers and water jump should be evenly spaced around the odd sized lap, that the water jump is the next to last barrier and that the last barrier should be 68m before the finish line (which kind of puts the others in their relative position). Most tracks that have steeplechase already have that worked out, but there are a couple of exceptions to look out for. If the water jump is on the same end of the track as the finish line, the steeplechase will finish at the opposite finish line from the common finish line (examples: Mt. SAC, USC, LBCC, Mira Costa College and CSLA). And if the water jump is a slice, meaning a short runway across just half the inside of a turn (examples, Stanford, West Valley College, College of the Canyons, CMS and SJCC), the finish line could be about 20 meters down the straightaway from the common finish line.

There are only two barrier heights to be aware of. Youth, Women and Men over 60 run 30" and Men from High School up to age 59 run 36" barriers. Masters and Youth run 2000 meters. If they are adjustable, it is usually with a bolt or pin arrangement--the fancier models use a knob to tighten. Some have combinations of locking rings (you lift up on the ring then after it is in the new location putting the ring back down locks it in place).

There is a calibration line on this variety--this one (currently at 30") is even marked for 27" which is only used for international Masters 70+

This one (currently at 30") needs to remove both bolts which act as pins. Both helpers need to lift to the next hole before pins are replaced.

To move the barriers, it is suggested you use two people, so you don't drag these heavy barriers on the easily damaged all weather surface of the track. To adjust the barriers, you should have three people--one to hold each end and the third to do the adjustment. If most of these adjustable barriers are not balanced (meaning if one end slides lower than the other) as they are adjusted, they are so closely aligned to the support frame that it will get stuck. Do not try to do this by yourself--you could damage the barrier.

On a 3000, the barriers before the common finish line (meaning the water jump and the one on the straightaway after it) are not used on the first lap. That first partial lap is run on the regular track. That means the first barrier is the the one just after the finish line after you have seven laps to go. The barrier on the straightaway needs to be put in place AFTER the race has started. Depending on if the water jump is inside (or outside) the curb (or cones) separating (or directing) the athletes from (or to) the water jump also should be removed (or placed) after the athletes pass that point. Doing the math, that means 28 barriers and 7 water jumps in a 7 and a half lap race.

Obviously moving barriers and removing curbs during the race requires the staff to do so.

The difference in a 2000 is it is a 5 lap race. And it is missing the first two barriers, which are the two between the start line and the water jump. Again doing the math, that is 18 barriers and 5 water jumps.

Most tracks are not marked for the 2000 start. To measure the 2000 start where it does not exist, you measure the distance from the (leading edge of the) 200 meter start line in lane one to the existing 3000 steeplechase start. For the metrically challenged, I really suggest you do this metric or it will fry your brain. Of course you need to take note of the direction FROM the 200 start, if the track has an inside water jump you will be walking back into the straightaway. If it is an outside water jump you will be walking forward into the turn. The easiest way for me to calculate is to divide by 7 then multiply by 5, but if you have a calculator with you, multiply by . 7143. Then measure out that distance from the common start/finish line in the same fashion and direction as you took the original measurement.

Old Hurdle Races

There used to be other hurdle races and occasionally new hurdle races are invented. The most common of those defunct races is the 220y and 180y low hurdles. Being invented in the imperial days, these followed imperial measurements. The hurdles were 30" 20yards to the first hurdle and 20 yards in between. California High Schools ran the 180 low hurdles until 1974 (many other states evolved about the same time), so many of us relics can still claim high school records in those events (since nobody is running them anymore). The old 220y (and its metric equivalent) are two of the 5 world records set by Jesse Owens that one day. Since this race was usually run on a straightaway, many old facilities still show remnants of the 220y straightaway that was needed for this race. Because the straight 220y existed, one turn 440y and straight 220y races (without hurdles) were also contested causing separate records to be kept. It took until 1996 for Michael Johnson to finally beat the old straightaway 200 record held by Tommie Smith set in 1967.

Another permutation I have seen is a metric 200 low hurdle race, which was doubling the distances of the women's 100m hurdles. This was a fun addition to some local meets that gave otherwise unrecognizable athletes a chance to chase a record. Because I was able to consistently get through this odd race without falling flat on my face, I held the "World Record" for over a year as I ran through the carnage of my faster challengers who had impaled themselves on hurdles before I ever got there.

The above were the basics, here is the unique information this page offers:

Age Group Hurdles

Since this contains more (corrected) information than the rulebook, meet directors are urged to print these charts out and use it as a guide to place your hurdles.

Men 19-29 of course run the Men's 110HH at 42" as described above.

High School, Women up to age 39, Intermediate and Young Women run the Women's 100H at 33" as described above

High School, Men 30-49, Intermediate and Young Men run the Men's 110HH at 39" as described above.

Men 50-59 run the women's 100 spacing at 36"

For all the races below, you will need to create special locations to accomodate the hurdle placement. The chart will show the easy way to place those hurdles.

Men's 60-69 and (from a different start line) Women's 40-49

Men 60-69 do 100m at 33"

Men 70+ do 80m at 30" The rule book calls for men 80+ and women 60+ to do 27" internationally.

For the charts below all references are to the Women's (W)100m hurdle marks, + is toward the finish line, - is toward the start line.

Women 40-49 also do 80m at 30" The placement is same as the Men's 60-69 but is missing the first two hurdles.

The start line for 80m is exactly at the 6th 300H mark (high school hurdles), 1.5m before W2 (relative to a common finish line).

The Women's 40-49 and Men's 70+ first hurdle is equal to the Men's H3, meaning they only do 8 hurdles.

Hurdle # Distance Adjustment
H1 16 W1 +3.0m
H2 24 W2 +2.5m
H3 32 W3 +2m
H4 40 W4 +1.5m
H5 48 W5 +1.0m
H6 56 W6 +0.5m
H7 64 =W7
H8 72 W8 -0.5m
H9 80 W9 -1.0m
H10 88 W10 - 1.5m

Women 50-59 and Men 70-79 do 80m at 30" with a different spacing, the start line is still the 6th 300H mark, meaning W2 -1.5

Hurdle # Distance Adjustment
H1 12 W3 +2.0m
H2 19 W4 +0.5m
H3 26 W5 -1.0m
H4 33 W6 -2.5m
H5 40 W7 -4.0m
H6 47 W7 +3.0m
H7 54 W8 +1.5m
H8 61 =W9

Women 60+ and Men 80+ do the same spacing as above but at 27"

Long Hurdles:

Men and Women up to age 49 all do the normal international 400m races, males at 36", females at 30" Men 50-59 lower the hurdles one notch to 33"

Men 60+ and Women 50+ do 300 hurdles at 30" but continue to use the 400 meter placement, chopping off the first three hurdles, meaning it is a 7 hurdle race that is different from the high school race. This confuses most meet directors, particularly those who concentrate on divisions other than masters. Let me repeat, the hurdles stay on the 400m locations (meaning the run up to the first hurdle is 5m longer) and they only do seven hurdles, so last high school hurdle does not exist.

Again the rule book calls for men 80+ and women 60+ to do 27" internationally. Currently, the United States has voted to take exception to that rule because our hurdle manufacturers do not provide 27" hurdles and we do not want to burden our meet organizers with having to find 27" hurdles for the rare occurrence that we have such a hurdler. Clearing a 30" hurdle meets the qualifications of clearing a 27" hurdle (though it puts the competitor at a disadvantage obviously) so any records set with 30" hurdles will qualify for international recognition..

Youth age divisions are by names rather than exact ages because they determine their ages differently, by birth year rather than date.

Bantam divisions do not do hurdles.

Midgets Boys and Girls both do 80m at 30", the start line is the 6th 300H mark, meaning W2 -1.5

Hurdle # Distance Adjustment
H1 12 W3 +2.0m
H2 19.5 W4 +1.0m
H3 27 =W5
H4 34.5 W6 -1.0m
H5 42 W7 -2.0m
H6 49.5 W8 -3.0m
H7 57 W9 -4.0m
H8 64.5 W9+3.5m

Youth Girls do 100m at 30"

Hurdle # Distance Adjustment
H1 13 =W1
H2 21 W2 -0.5m
H3 29 W3 -1m
H4 37 W4 -1.5m
H5 45 W5 -2.0m
H6 53 W6 -2.5m
H7 61 W7 -3.0m
H8 69 W8 -3.5m
H9 77 W9 -4.0m
H10 85 W9 +4.0m

Youth Boys, Intermediate and Young Women do the Women's 100m, same height 33" and same spacing

Intermediate and Young Men do the High School High's, meaning the Men's High Hurdles at 39"

Long Hurdles:

Youth Boys and Girls do 200m at 30" for the Long Hurdles. They start at the 200m start line and run the last five hurdles of a normal 400m race.

Intermediate Boys, Intermediate Girls, Young Men and Young Women all do the normal international 400m races, males at 36", women at 30"

To answer any further questions, contact me at info@trackinfo.org