Snow track

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    It’s something track and field coaches notice each January during normal Wyoming winters. Around the third week of the New Year, the weather warms up to the lower 50s and it seems like spring is just around the corner.

    Track coaches often comment that we should hold the season now, rather than wait for the bad weather from late March through the end of the season just before Memorial Day.


    This wasn’t one of those winters. The aforementioned time around the 20th of January was cold, frigid beyond recent memory with the mercury dipping to 20 below zero regularly, and at times doubling that to our unofficial cold temperature of -42.

    Nope,  no one wanted to run outside in those conditions.

    The Wind River track team cleared lanes at Leroy Sinner Field so they could practice – {h/t Wind River Schools}

    During the indoor track season, it’s routine to see teams practice outside during the warmer days of January and February, but we didn’t see that this season.

    To say Wyoming weather isn’t conducive to track and field is a gross understatement.


    I wish it were just this year, but track is a crapshoot every spring in the Rockies and Great Plains. They don’t have these problems in Arizona, Texas, and Southern California, but our kids are made of tougher cloth when it comes to running, hurdling, jumping, and throwing.

    In 2006 my wife and I drove to Dickinson, North Dakota for the NODAK Decathlon Championships at the Bluehawks’ home stadium.

    It was the first weekend in May, and the weather was nice in Fremont County. Sue packed for a spring event, capris, a light jacket or two and she planned to enjoy the two-day competition. Well, as they say about the best-laid plans.


    We arrived the day before the competition and the weather was already changing, and not for the good.

    Our son Brian was one of three decathletes competing for Dickson the following two days. Senior and eventual National NAIA runner-up Kevin McElvaney led the group along with Brian and Joe Gentilini.

    The trio finished 1-2-3 in the NODAK picking up 24 team points for the Bluehawks in the process and adding to their more-than-double place finish over runner-up Jamestown in the conference meet the following week.


    The weather was atrocious. It was 15 degrees on opening day, with a strong wind gusting to 20 mph, and it was raining. Not snow, but rain was freezing in droplets to any metal object in the stadium.

    I was fine, packing as I always did for track meets with shorts, heavy sweatshirts, a windbreaker, and sunscreen, all shoved into a duffel bag. I learned long ago that anything could happen weatherwise.

    Sue was freezing, and despite wearing all the sweaters she’d packed, it wasn’t enough. She ended up wearing a pair of Brian’s oversized track sweats, then borrowing another pair from one of his friends on the team. I’m not sure she was able to see any of the competition with the drawstrings on both hoodies pulled up tight with just a few inches or two left to peek through.

    The 13 guys in competition from seven NODAK conference schools were apparently immune to the elements. They high jumped, vaulted, hurdled, threw the shot, discus, and javelin, and long jumped without concern for the weather. Their times in the 100, 400, and 1500 were competitive with the best that the rest of the nation was posting that same day.

    Head track coach Pete Stanton gave the guys a high plains “rah-rah speech” with this little gem, “Guys, it’s 83 degrees at Pacific this afternoon, and no wind. Your times are beating theirs.”

    It was a reference to the team at Azuza Pacific, Dickinson’s biggest challenge for the national championship in a few weeks.

    It was just another day on the high plains for the hardiest of track and field athletes the world could muster outside possibly Scandinavia or Siberia.

    Track is a challenge in winters like this one. It’s a challenge for the athletes, and possibly a greater challenge for the coaches who are given the responsibility of setting up workouts to keep their teams competitive.

    The gym is your friend, up to a point. The hallways of the school become workout zones, and any brief respite in the weather has the teams running outside, even in bad conditions.

    We had a couple of weeks of good weather during my sophomore year at Wind River when a storm hit one Monday with heavy snow. Coach Leroy Sinner had us practice in the gym, not the palatial gyms schools have today, but those tiny cracker box courts that were once common across Wyoming.

    Coach Sinner set up cones on the corners since a few nefarious types would cut corners to the point that they were just pivoting the center-court circle without them.

    The workout was 150 laps. We ran 75 laps in one direction, waited for everyone to finish, then he sent us on 75 laps the other way. Not a fun workout.

    The next night he gave us a choice, another 150 laps in the gym, or a three-mile run, which was 15 laps on the old 330-yard track at Morton outside. We took the outside option, taking turns breaking through the 18-inch deep snow on the first mile. By the start of the second mile, the snow was packed down in the first four lanes by 40 sets of feet tramping through it. The final two miles were a breeze.

    As head coach in Lusk, we brought the high jump mats into the gym, long jumped into sliding floor pads, and had an eight and a 12-pound indoor shot for the girls and boys that bounced off the gym floor. I welded an above-ground vaulting box that screwed into the volleyball supports in the gym floor for my pole vaulters.

    We ran a variety of sprints, did high kicks, rear kicks, “Drum Majors” and modified Fartlek routines, but it wasn’t the same as an outdoor workout.

    It was adequate, but not exceptional and it kept the 45 boys and girls occupied, and at least working a little bit until the snow melted.

    One year as the head junior high coach in Shoshoni we practiced a full seven weeks before the conference meet took place. The weather was horrible, and we were only able to go outside a couple of times.

    The kids wore out the foam hurdles, and my imagination in the almost two months we practiced before the conference meet.

    That final meet was no box of chocolates either, but school was ending in two weeks and we held it anyway on the old asphalt track behind the Wyoming Indian Middle School.

    Hopefully, this season offers more promise and a better finish than those of yesteryear.


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