In the time it takes to read this sentence, Joslyn Woodard ’06 and Katrina Castille ’07 can cover a distance of 55 meters on the track.
(Break out your stopwatch — it takes 7.9 seconds. Woodard can beat that.)
The Eli sprinters, who race in events ranging from the 55- up to the 400- and 500-meter dashes, are a big reason the Bulldogs have become contenders for the Ivy League title. For much of the last decade, the Bulldogs finished in the middle or back of the Ivy League pack, but this year, they hope to unseat Cornell, the defending champion, and take their first indoor Heptagonals crown. Much of their hopes for success at Heps rides on the shoulders of their very young, but very fast sprint corps.
Sprinting seems easy: run as fast as you can. But while the best runners make everything look effortless, months and years of training go into shaving fractions of seconds off of times.
“In order to get results, you have to have everything: natural talent, good coaching, intense training, the desire to compete and work hard, and an overall love for the sport,” Castille said.
The team’s indoor and outdoor seasons stretch from January until May or June, but the Elis begin training in the early fall, usually after taking some time off to allow a recovery period for tired legs and battered bodies.
“We train six days a week,” Jessica Pall ’07 said. “One day is usually [running] in the pool and doing track drills so we don’t pound on our legs everyday.”
The obvious way to run faster is to practice running fast. And much of the Bulldogs’ practice is devoted to running repeat sprints on the track. But simply building speed and endurance by running does not maximize a sprinter’s potential.
“We lift three days a week,” Castille said. “We do an insane amount of drills. We do longer runs during the fall pre-season. We practice starts since the start is the most important part of any sprinting event.”
Practice can only go so far though. Nothing in practice can substitute for feeling the flow of adrenaline while settling into the blocks at the starting line and waiting to hear the gun go off.
To the uninitiated, the sprinting events seem to require the same skills and strategy. But the Eli women draw attention to the differences in the sprint races.
“I think in the long sprinting events, you need to be more mentally prepared because they are hard and painful,” Pall said. “In the shorter events you need to be more focused because there is not a lot of time to make up for mistakes.”
Woodard, who holds school records in the 55-, 60- and 200-meter dashes, agrees.
“The 55 and [the] 60 are a lot more explosive,” Woodard said. “You give it everything you’ve got because if you don’t even for a second, you’ve already wasted over 10 meters.”
Katie Dlesk ’07, who runs the 400, points to the difference in strategy between indoor and outdoor races. She says positioning, both physical and mental, is key in the indoor season.
“You don’t stay in the same lanes the whole race whereas in outdoor you do,” Dlesk said. “You can get caught behind someone, get boxed in. Also, a lot has to do with where in the race you pass someone and kind of mentally taking down opponents that way.”
Intangibles come into play as well, at least for Woodard. Like many sprinters and athletes in almost any sport, she has certain rituals before races.
“I sleep in my uniform the night before the first meet of the season,” Woodard said.
Woodard, who also long jumps, has a ritual for that too, which now includes her teammate Castille.
“I try to be the first to touch the pit when we come into a meet,” Woodard said. “Now that Castille is here I never want to jinx her so I make her do it with me. I also sing “I Believe I Can Fly” to myself before I plan on taking a really big jump. The words obviously fit, but it’s slow enough to calm my heart rate down so I can concentrate more.”
Castille, who has challenged Woodard in many races, and beaten her a few times, aptly summarizes her view of her sport.
“Real women run track.”