Meeting the hurdles


Even during their short races, sprinters have numerous things to think about. There’s form, technique, timing, breathing; the list goes on. But Iowa sprinter Ray Varner has a different philosophy.

“Honestly, the best for me is not to think,” he said. “When I think too much, I just don’t do correct things, and I think about what I did wrong. If I don’t think, it just comes smoothly.”

Not thinking has catapulted Varner into the NCAA outdoor championships in the 400-meter hurdles Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark.

At the Midwest Regional meet in Norman, Okla., the junior ran a personal best of 50.54 seconds in the prelims, which ranks as the 15th-best time in the event nationally. He didn’t take first place, but Varner’s time was fast enough to earn him an at-large bid to this week’s meet.

“I didn’t get that automatic bid, but knowing my time from the previous day, I knew I was in,” he said. “I was excited because it was my first time going 14 [seconds] through the first five hurdles, so I’m figuring out the race a little more.”

The Wadsworth, Ill., native wasn’t upset about not winning the regional meet. Along with not thinking, Varner also does something else out of the ordinary when racing — he isn’t focused on winning.

“One of my goals was to finish top eight in every single meet,” he said. “Don’t go for first all the time, but if you finish top eight every meet, good things will happen.”

This is the third year he has run the 400-meter hurdles, the second-consecutive year he has qualified for the national meet, but the first year he has not been injured at this point in the season.

There is a difference between being injured and being hurt, though. The speedster says he experiences some pain and fatigue now, but that won’t be the case when he steps into the starting blocks and the adrenaline kicks in.

“That’s how it was at regionals,” Varner said. “I was kind of limping around warming up, then once finals came, standing there getting ready in the blocks, the pain went away, and I just got after it.”

He says he is finally comfortable running the race. Many consider the 400-meter hurdles the toughest event there is. But he feels otherwise.

“I would give it to the 800 because it includes endurance and speed,” he said. “My race kind of includes endurance and speed, but not as much endurance as the 800.”

Joining Varner in Fayetteville is fellow teammate and 800-meter qualifier Adam Hairston. They may argue over whose race is more difficult, but they both respect each other’s work ethic.

“[Varner’s] a good leader, and guys look up to him,” Hairston said. “He’s a good example of working hard every day in practice. He comes in and gets after it every day.”

Varner and Hairston are just two of six Hawkeyes who will be competing at the NCAA championships.

“It says that we’re growing and shows that we have potential,” Varner said.

Iowa assistant coach Joey Woody is proud of what this group has accomplished but says the job isn’t quite done yet.

“Obviously, it’s a goal that we’ve had for these guys since the beginning of the year,” Woody said. “It’s just building on the success they’ve already had this season. Now, our goal is to get to the next level and make it to the final and be an All-American.”

Varner has a tattoo of the Flash that is a personal confidence booster. He is confident heading into Fayetteville. Just don’t expect him to be thinking about it.

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