"Coach, What's My Split?"
By Matt Coy- RunSodak Magazine 2012
Apparently, this is the thing to do on Thursdays...this gem "Coach, What's My Split?" was written by Matt Coy a few years ago for Runsodak Magazine. I read it sometimes when I need a good laugh or want to relive memory lane.
Photo by Kernit Grimshaw (kernit.zefolio.com)
I still get butterflies thinking about relays.
As individual as track may seem, nothing embodies the concept of a team like relays.You have three guys counting on YOU to do your part and it's the sum of four that equals success.
To better understand the magic of relays and the intricacies of track and field, a story is needed- a true story.
THE 1999 STATE MEET
I remember waiting at a relay exchange zone my sophomore year at state in the 4x400.
I was pumped and planned on cutting 3 seconds off my blazing fast 56 second flat P.R. I made the relay team by default, anyways, and was stuck as the dreaded 2nd leg- I had nothing to lose.
As the gun fired, a whole lot of craziness flooded my mind.
“Don’t drop the baton.” I reminded myself.
“Don’t forget when to take off….crap, which one- in the landmine of tennis balls- was mine?”
“Which hand am I reaching back with?”
“I I the guy that cuts in?”
“I hope I am in the right lane? Was it lane 7 or 8?”
If you’ve ever run in a relay, particularly an important one, none of those thoughts are unfamiliar.
CEREMONIAL WAVING OF THE ARM
As our leadoff man appeared around the final turn I did that stupid 'arm in the air' wave-thing to him.
It’s silly really, because why do you wave at your incoming teammate? They know you’re there. Did I expect him to wave back?
I don’t know I guess, but I was a sophomore and everyone else was doing it.
As my teammate got closer, I crouched down and set my all-time best in the vertical leap as I jumped in the air and nearly touched my knees to my ears.
I saw Eddie Filipovich from Vermillion do it once.
Forty meters away now.
I remember my teammate's face looked terrible. Lactid acid surged through his body as he ran by my perfectly placed tennis ball.
I never moved.
After a near collision, and I fumbled for the baton and took off like the JV runner I was.
In a flash I set a P.R. in the 100 meters.
Unfortunately I had 300 more burning meters to go.
I cut in at the right spot, made up a little ground on a few guys on the backstretch and then struggled down the homestretch onward to the third runner.
Luckily he was doing the hand in the air wave thing too, because I couldn’t see a thing.
I handed off, wandered aimlessly to the infield and collapsed.
ONLY ONE THING WAS ON MY MIND: WHAT WAS MY SPLIT?
Athletes can surely relate to the first part of this story- the race.
However, there is another crutial element to any relay race- THE SPLITS.
THE COACHES CRUX
As a coach you need to be prepared to tell your athletes their splits- and kids are darn good at finding head coaches at meets when they want to know their splits.
When they come walking across the field you need to know how to handle this tricky situation.
Do you lie?
Do you tell the truth?
Do you tell them your watch stopped working?
Are they going to cry?
Are you going to cry?
It’s all fine and dandy if they ran fast, but it can be a dreadful confrontation if their time wasn’t up to par.
It's hard to break the news to an athlete who had a poor relay showing. I liken it to riding an escalator at the mall or when someone hands me a newborn baby.
How do I stand? What do I do with your hands? Should I pretend to get a phone call or text?
It can get weird.
Let’s take a look at the world of splits.
There are a lot of them, and if I missed some, comment on this article.
THE "PINOCCHIO" SPLIT: This is the split that keeps getting faster, and faster, and faster.
I have heard of 800 meter splits that have dropped a full ten seconds over the years. As a coach I have even overheard of my own athlete’s run a full two seconds faster just moments after I told him their actual split.
THE DOG MUST HAVE FOUND A BETTER HOME” SPLIT: This will make sense once I explain.
When we were kids, we grew up in the country. We set records with the number of pets we had over the years. We had dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, parakeets, hedgehogs, squirrels, you name it.
When you live in the country, your pets get sick, run over by tractors, run away, you name it.
My dad was very gentle with my younger sisters' emotions and when one of the dogs died, he would simply say “The dog must of ran away and found a new home.”
Now let’s relate this strategy to track and telling an athlete their split.
I can be very clever with splits.
Sometimes an athlete doesn’t need to know the truth. The truth can hurt when they have a bad relay leg.
I also don’t handle crying too well, so I would rather tell a 14 year old girl they ran a 2:37 in the 4x800, rather than the actual 2:40 they ran.
Eventually they will figure out the truth. Much like my sisters will about all their pets when they read this.
THE "EVERYBODY GETS A RIBBON" SPLIT: I have used this one a lot too.
Let’s say my boys 4x200 ran 1:36.8 and I had 2 faster guys and 2 slower guys on the team.
I have often said, “Wow, you guys all split exactly 24.2” Nothing like all kids getting a ribbon.
THE "TRACK ANNOUNCER" SPLIT: Most track meets have announcers with strict rules to mention 1st, 2nd, and 3rd call for every single race.
They also get the privilege of ridiculing that one random freshman who gets caught standing up on the infield during the 200.
How dare he!? Doesn't he know to GET DOWN!?
A few though will go as far as to give relay splits during the race. And wow can these splits get crazy.
Never, ever, ever trust an announcer's split. I think some of these guys just count in their head- “one-one thousand, two-one thousand.”
THE "ROUNDING DOWN" SPLIT: I am guilty here, too.
When I hand kids their relay P.R. sheets at the end of the year, I can’t tell you how many of them end in “.9”.
Try to convince me a 51.9 doesn’t sound WAY faster than 52.0. Heck, stores use this method all the time.
I know I would rather buy something for $.99 rather than a $1.00.
The rounding down method is a great strategy where everyone wins. Try it a couple of times.
THE "MANAGER’S" SPLIT: Without managers, a coach’s life would be miserable.
But there is one thing a manager should not be allowed to do: take splits.
I am very adamant about taking splits from the exact middle of the exchange zone. This is hard to teach, yet alone explain to managers as naturally they take splits when the baton is exchanged, whether at the beginning or end of the exchange zone.
I remember in high school a kid on our team was told he ran a 10.7 split in the 4X100.
Our team didn’t even break 50 seconds in the race, yet he ran a time that would have put him the ranks with Slade Hinrichs from West Central. In reality, he was more of a 12.5 100 meter runner, but By-Golly, for one day he was a 10.7 kid…thanks to the manager.
THE "WEATHERMAN" SPLIT: I like to give shout-outs to the weathermen and women.
I am a weather-junky if there is such a thing. Chances are if you run into me, I can tell you the 7-day forecast pretty accurately. It’s really not something to brag about I guess. We all know that sometimes meteorologists are extremely vague in their predictions.
The king of em’ all Jay Trobec, can even get away with- “This weekend should be sunny and little cloudy, with a chance of rain and temps in the 60s-70s, with variable wind from 10-25 miles per hour.”
Isn’t that the forecast for most days in SD?
It is an estimation, much like when you tell a kid they ran a 200 leg “somewhere in that 24-25 range…nice job!”
If you end with a positive comment they usually forget that you gave them a made up time. Kind of like when Trobec smiles and gives a little wink after he makes a guess in the weather.
THE "BAD MATH TEACHER" SPLIT: This happens far too often, and I have seen this turn into full-fledged epidemics on some teams.
It’s when a coach starts writing down splits for their runners and the end result ends up being way faster than the time actually ran.
The Bad Math Teacher Split kind of ties into the “.9 theory” as well. I know Mom said it was O.K. to lie if it is to prevent hurt feelings, but you have to be careful with this one.
COACHES READ THIS: This is a dangerous split technique that should be used with caution. Your splits have to equal the final time.
Remember, there's always going to be that smart kid that figures this out, even without a calculator present.
THE "PARENT" SPLIT: I can honestly say this was my personal favorite.
Dads are great at splits. My dad was my best friend after races because he always had good news for me.
I would sometimes ask my coach my split. If I wasn’t satisfied I knew I could ask my dad because his were always a little faster for me.
BACK TO THE STATE TRACK MEET AND MY 4x400 SPLIT...
I had to know my split in that 4x400. We didn't make finals, so I had no chance for redemption.
I began my search for my split.
My coach used the weatherman trick and said I ran a 54-55ish.
One of my teammates who took pretty accurate splits said I ran a 54.6.
An assistant coaches awarded all four of us a ribbon and gave us 54.5 splits.
But I of course rested my hat on my dad.
When we got back home late Saturday night, he told me he had everyone's split and he had me at… 53.9!
I took it.