The 5A girls compete at the 2018 UIL state track and field 3200m
Now, let me first say, that I am fully aware of how awesome and outstanding the Texas UIL state track and field meet is. I have been attending the meet since in 2001 and there is no equal comparison.
This year, we were lucky enough to cover the the SPC and TAPPS state track and field meets and witness more of the outstanding talent in this great state.
The level of speed displayed at each of these meets is really unbelievable and just when you think it couldn't get any faster, it always does.
The entertainment and display of speed collectively just may make these meets and the state of Texas the best high school track and field state in the country.
However, while the format helps speed and jumping events flourish, is the progress in distance running in Texas being held back?
We are talking about a state that boasts some very good distance programs and a distance scene that is rising at all corners of the state and in between.
This year, the state meets had outstanding athletes like Libby and Riley McGrath and teams like San Antonio Feast at the Home School track meet? In TAPPS and SPC, they have San Antonian, The Woodlands Christian, Austin St. Stephens, and Dallas Ursuline and athletes like Carter Cheeseman, Luke Estes, Clayton Carrozza, Elizabeth Reneau, Celia Holmes, and Adoette Vaughan. Then in the UIL, you have Southlake Carroll, Keller, Marcus, The Woodlands, Luling, Flower Mound, Hebron, Eastwood, and many more.
Austin Zirkel set a 1A state record in the 3200 at the 2018 UIL state meet
Yet, the disparity of sprint events to the distance events during track season is significant. There are only two legitimate distance events (1600m and 3200m) and three if you want to include the 800m.
That means only six spots from each region and a grand total of 27 maximum distance athletes per event can qualify for the state meet in each classification for UIL.
In contrast, the sprint events have five open events enabling a potential 45 individuals from each classification and 10 from each region in those classes. That doesn't include the three sprint relays and the three field events (high jump, triple jump, long jump) that are speed and power required qualities that favor sprinters rather than distance running qualities.
During the cross country season, the question was asked what would it take for Texas to get the consideration as the rest of the states for at large bids to the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN). NXN is considered the event that invites the best cross country teams and decides which team is the best cross country team in the nation.
A couple of things that could help would be to run faster and better, mental strength, confidence, and experience of running at high level meets like the regional and state track meets.
What role would track play in that? Speed and training. Would having more to run for in the track season bring out the best of the distance programs and runners? Faster events and more opportunities to train for could assist the times and runners and equip them for better cross country seasons.
I mean, seriously, how much motivation does a distance runner have to spend their spring semester to run track and compete for only 2 available spots out of their region to go to state?
There are nearly 200 runners that qualify to the cross country regional meets in each class and gender. With that, there are about 150 runners that qualify to the state cross country meet in those same classes and genders. How many of those runners do you think make it around to competing in their district track meet?
The 3A boys compete in the 3200m at the 2018 UIL state track meet
What is the purpose or motivation to run track season for a distance runner?
Granted, there are distance festivals and carnivals like the Lovejoy Distance Festival, Texas Distance Festival, North Texas 1600, Schrader 1600, The Alamo City Mile, and the Moonlight Mile that give the distance runners an outstanding opportunity during and after the track season to get some distance runs in and compete meaningfully.
Events like those are crucial for our distance runners and are for forging the path to our future destination of Texas high school distance running.
But, the pinnacle of high school running is and will always be the state meet and post season meets.
The odds of that happening for the distance runners in Texas, as the numbers have shown are minimal.
Other states who Texas annually battles for the the at large bids to NXN and the ones that seem to produce some of the top distance runners are New York, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, Utah, North Carolina and others.
Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri each have 16-32 athletes qualify for their state track meets in each event. They also have qualifying standards that a kid can meet that enables them to qualify them for state. That gives kids a more realistic opportunity to make their state track meet dreams come true. That gives them more motivation to train and excel in track, hence time being spent potentially becoming a better runner.
Virginia, North Carolina, and New York advance 4 athletes from the regional meets to state and other athletes can also qualify by also meeting time standards. All of those states qualify a minimum of 16 athletes in each event per classification and up to 20 or more based on time qualifiers throughout the season.
There are clearly more opportunities in other states for distance runners to compete at the state meet individually. That gives more quality training time and effort from the athletes to the sport and could possibly enhance their abilities and competition level. Not to mention a time to train for providing motivation for their training.
The 5 boys compete in the 3200m at the 2018 UIL state track meet
Two more things that make a difference in those states are relays and point systems.
Each of those states have a 4x800 relay. That enables even more distance runners to have a purposeful season and an opportunity to qualify to their state meets. It also plays into the hands of what cross country runners are taught when it comes to running and performing as a team.
Having 16-30 distance individuals and the same number of relay teams opens the likelihood that the distance programs in those states have meaningful and competitive seasons and can accomplish more in their track seasons. Hence, raising the bar and level of competition and the level of runner that they can become for their team in the distance events and cross country.
In Texas, specifically the UIL state meet, relays heavily favor the sprint programs. There are the three sprint relays and no distance relay and then there is the double point system is currently utilized for the relays. That makes it even harder for a distance heavy track team to win a state track meet.
It is possible a team with four sprinters could win a UIL state track meet -- it has happened. All they have to do is score big double points in the relays. If they score any in the individual then that brings even more points to their over all score. A team can have the best four distance runners in the state and it wouldn't matter. Only two of them can qualify and with only two or three events and no relays to earn the double points, they would still not be able to win a state meet.
Now, in no way are the other state meets and their way of doing things perfect. Neither are the ones in Texas, and who would expect them to be?
Sports are forever evolving as are the associations. For example, 2017 was the first year the UIL enabled a distance runner to compete in all three events from the 800m - 3200m.
There is talk that the coaching associations and the sport associations in Texas are discussing adding a distance relay. That would be a positive step in leveling things out for distance runners and giving distance programs more purpose during track season.
Could that be one of the difference makers that helps improve Texas distance running in the minds of the national perception?