The steeplechase is one of our primitive events. It simulates a cross country race and requires the speed of a middle distance runner, the agility of an hurdler and the stamina of a long distance runner.
In the U.S. the steeple has been the bastard child of distance running. Coaches have put their kids who not so fast at 5,000 meters there, or perhaps too slow for the mile. John Chaplin, the coach of former WR holder Henry Rono, and USATF Chair of Men’s Track & Field, insists that 800 meter runners who an run about 1:48 should be groomed to the steeple.
The U.S. has had an Olympic champion at the steeple-Horace Ashenfelter, way back in 1952. Ashenfelter broke the WR in the final, beating the prohibitive favorite in an epic struggle. In 1968, George Young took the bronze medal in Mexico City, in an tough race made brutal by the altitude.
Since then, we have had Henry Marsh, Brian Deimer and Mark Croghan. Marsh had run 8:09:17, and Daniel Lincoln finally broke Marsh’s record for the steeplechase, with his 8:08.82 in 2006, at the Rome Golden Gala.
Dan Huling is a runner on the verge. An American runner who is running well in a discipline dominated by Kenyans and French runners. Dan has learnt quickly that in order to improve, in order to develop his racing skills and callous himself, he needs to race. That means sticking with the best in the world for as long as he can, and do that a bit more each race. This past summer, Dan won the US championships in the brutal humidity and heat that was Des Moines, Iowa.
Right after that, Huling headed to Europe, where he ran a fine 8:13.29 personal best in Laussane, Switzerland. Huling is now the fastest active American steepler. From the interview, one will see that Dan is pretty darn focused, and should continue to improve this coming year. Huling knows that, in order to battle the world’s best, he needs to continue to improve, and get that 8:05 race. Dan Huling has the drive and tools. We wish him the best!
RBR, # 1. What was your first experience with running?
Dan Huling: I’m
not sure I really remember. It was either doing Junior Olympic Track as
“rec” program in the summer or the cross country “rec” program that my
town ran in the fall. My next door neighbor got me into it.
RBR, #2: Do your
remember your first race?
Dan Huling: Man, I don’t remember my first
race either. First MEMORABLE race was probably a cross country race when
I was 9 or 10. It was always muddy and cold at that time of year. I
always had fun with it.
RBR, #3:What kind of high school runner were you?
Dan Huling: I was an
OK high school runner. I did 2 years in Rhode Island and 2 years in
Illinois. I graduated in Illinois. I was definitely a goof off the whole
time, but always knew when it was time to work hard. But once I got to
the Illinois high school environment I learned the work that needed to
be done. I ended up being All State in RI once and IL once. I was second
to Stephen Pifer in the 1600 in Illinois my senior year.
RBR, #4: What was your high school training like?
Dan Huling: I have no idea
what we did in RI really. Not too many different kinds of workouts, low
mileage. In Illinois, I had a great coach, Suzy Yaeger, that I think
coached out of the Jack Daniels book. I found out that later. So however
the Jack Daniels book coached kids, I think I did that. My senior year I
got a little more serious and got up to maybe a few 60 mile weeks in
RBR, # 5. What was the biggest mistake you
made as a high school runner?
Dan Huling: DEFINITELY trying out for the
tennis team my junior year of high school. I had this strong desire to
play JV tennis. I didn’t even want to play varsity. I got cut and went
back out from track but it was too late, and I was in awful shape. I
think I ended up running 4:39 or something for the mile as a junior. I
went to watch a teammate run at the State Meet that year and was super
inspired to work harder and make sure I was there the next year.
RBR, #6:What was the smartest thing you did as a
high school runner?
Dan Huling: Smartest thing. Good question. I’d have
to say just letting me coach tell me what to do. I was a bit defiant
coming to IL as I had this idea of how stuff could be coming from a
different and much smaller state where I had already had success. But
once I just let Suzy coach me I improved quickly.
RBR, #7: Differences between high school and college
Dan Huling: Differences was just more intensity really. I
didn’t do a whole lot more mileage. Obviously cross was a lot more
distance to race and it took me until my senior year to really get used
Dan Huling: I watched Daniel
Lincoln at the regional meet my freshman year crush everyone at
regionals, then go on to win the 10K/Steeple double at nationals and was
like “Wow I really wanna try that next year.” I couldn’t even imagine
running that fast (8:27 or whatever he ran) but I worked really hard
that summer and tried in the next spring. I ran just off the regional
standard my first one so figured I should keep doing it.
RBR, #9. What are the
keys to mastering the steeplechase?
Dan Huling: I would say the keys to
attempting to mastering the steeple is being able to maintain momentum
and to be able to gear down at the end even though you’re feeling
exponentially worse after every barrier.
Dan Huling, 2010 Laussanne, photo by PhotoRun.net.
RBR, # 10. What was your 8:13 race like?
Dan Huling: That race was a
surprise. I wasn’t really looking to run that fast there. My coach and I
thought 8:17 would be a good first race over in Europe and we were
really focusing on Paris. But I got in the race and felt really strong
and smooth and the whole race felt pretty easy. I was disappointed with
how I closed the last lap there as I felt really good and only managed
to close in 64 or something. I thought I competed really well though
maintaining focus after getting dropped shortly after 1K.
RBR, # 11: Tell us about the US championship race in Des Moines?
Dan Huling: USA’s
was really exciting for me. I was very nervous but had a concrete plan
going in. If it was faster I was going to go with 2 laps or 600 to go
and if it was slow I was going to go at the water barrier before 3 laps
and push it hard. It ended up being painfully slow, so I was really
looking forward to taking off the whole time that first mile or so! I
had great competition and the whole time I knew I had to keep the pedal
down as I have extreme respect for the talents of Ben, Steve, Kyle,
Josh, Billy, Fam etc. I was really happy to come away with the win and
my first national championship!
RBR, #12: What is the
difference between college running and running as a pro?
Dan Huling: Major
differences are the volume, intensity and extra strength work that goes
into it. Getting hurt is a disaster because you’re already falling
behind other talented runners who didn’t get hurt. Its tough to walk on
the tightrope between getting fit and getting hurt. But if you’re
getting the massages, doing the ice tubs, the core work the exercises
and all that you can really limit the chance that you’ll get hurt.
The depth of athletes is insane too. To think I had a pretty good
year and there are still THIRTEEN other guys that ran faster than me is a
reality check. I need to get better because I know everyone else is
most definitely getting better. Consistently running all season up front
with the Kenyans and the French guys is key, instead of just being
there once a year. You need to be comfortable running with them come
championship season, because if you’re not, you’re no where in sight of a
RBR, # 13: What is it about
distance running that you enjoy most?
Dan Huling: I like going to
Europe and competing against the best in the world. I like actually
being scared going into a race. Scared that I’ll be embarrassed of
getting last (which happened to me at Zurich this year). Scared so much
that it forces me to perform.
RBR, #14: Who is your favorite track
Dan Huling: Not to jump on what has been a bandwagon so far
this year, but after talking with David Oliver several times this
season, I’m incredibly impressed with the consistency he showed this
year and the grace in which he won a zillion races.
RBR, # 15: If you were not a steeplechaser, what event would you want to do?
Dan Huling: Probably the 5000 even though I’d get killed on the world scene.
RBR, #16: What do you love about track & field?
Dan Huling: Racing and the competition.
RBR, # 17: What are listening to on
Dan Huling: Matt and Kim and Temper Trap
RBR, #18: Any favorite running books?
Dan Huling: Hmm,
not really, but I did read that “Men of Bowerman” book or whatever and
thought Bill Bowerman was an incredibly interesting person.
RBR, #19: Do you have a inspirational
quote you think of to inspire you while running or racing?
Dan Huling: Not
really. A lot of the times, when I’m out alone on a run I like to think
how lucky I am that God is allowing me to do something that’s fun and
that I enjoy.
Special thanks to Dan Huling for answering so truthfully. Special thanks to Dan’s agent, Ray Flynn and Jennifer Thomas, of Reebok athletics, for facilitating this interview.
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