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Penn Relays Random Thoughts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Shon @ 6:40 am May 16, 2011

Last Friday, I attended the Penn Relays for the first time ever.  I went with my friend Shane Pratt, an elite high school sprinter (10.32 FAT 100 meters and a 2 time Pennsylvania state champion in the 100 and 200 meters).  Shane has been either a competitor or spectator for over 25 years, so he knew Franklin Field inside and out.  As a newbie to the Relays, I needed help from Shane to manage my sensory overload.

Probably the only thing about Philadelphia that all sports fans can agree is good

For those of you who know me, you know that track and field is my favorite sport and the only high school sport I competed in formally.  Additionally, I have plans to compete in a 4 x 100 relay (and possibly the 100 meters) at the Penn Relays in the near future.  So it is somewhat surprising even to myself that this was my first time attending the Relays. 


Track Geek:Part of my vintage track spike collection, including models that won the Olympic gold medals from 1964-1980.

There are many unique things about the Relays as compared to other legendary sporting events, but what stood out the most was the fact that in one heat you could have a group of 6th graders running a 4 x 100 meter heat followed by the University of Florida and defending NCAA 100 meter champion Jeff Demps running next.  There was literally 1-2 minutes tops between heats/events and no delays in the action.  As a sports fan as well as a fan of human movement, it was an "all you can eat"  buffet. 


Me with 2 of my athletes- the one on my right is 5 ft. 8 and high jumps 6 ft. 4 (!).  The one on my left will play quarterback for the University of Chicago next year.

I'll share a couple of observations I made during the day:

1)  Out of roughly 3,000 athletes who competed, I only observed 4 serious hamstring strains.  These, of course happened during the 4×100 meter relay events, of which there were 35 heats.  Still, with 10 teams per heat and 4 runners per team (~1400 competitors in this event alone), this doesn't seem that significant an injury rate.  Zemper noted in an epidemiological study  (Med Sport Sci, 2005) that track and field injury rates were 4 times higher in competition than in training, so I was really surprised to see as few "blow outs" as I did.  This may say something about preperation of the athletes today than in years past, with the advent of the dynamic warm up, appropriate strength training and other training modalities which may help minimize significant injury risk.  

2)  The sprinters who had the best pelvic/core control were either in the top 1 or 2 positions.  This was the case where I was sitting, just over the 200 meter start, near the second relay exchange zone.  From this vantage point, you could get a good look at who was in front (by who got the baton first) and who was last (easy enough to figure out).  Consistently, those athletes in first or second had very stable pelvises, with arm and leg action not affecting pelvic/ trunk movement.  Athletes in the back of the pack had poorer lumbopelvic control across the board, especially evident in the high school races, where there was a larger discrepancy in physical ability.

3)  Masters sprinters are faster than you think! I was fortunate to see all of the 100 meter finals for ages 40-70.  The winning times from age 40-55 were under 12 seconds.  I'm willing to bet that most people reading this blog probably couldn't run within 0.5 seconds of this right now.  The 70 year old winning time was 13.50 seconds, electronically timed (which is .24 to .39 slower vs. hand timing) .   Again, the lumbopelvic control in the top 1-3 runners in all age groups 40-70 was impressive, allowing a stable platform for the legs and arms to really drive force to the ground. 

That's it for part one.  Part two will follow with a few more Penn Relays observations, including Malcolm Gladwell "Bilnk" style analysis of athletes, as well as 2 case studies involving hamstring strains in high school sprinters I have treated recently.