Prep Talk

Prep Graduate Phil Fanz Finds Success In Running Steeplechase ( AC Press )

Posted August 1st, 2011

By BRITTANY GRUGAN, For The Press | Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:25 am 

Phil FanzPhil Fanz never paid much attention to the steeplechase in high school.

The track and field event is rarely contested in high school. Locally, it only appears in two meets – the Woodbury Relays and the Rowan University Open.

Fanz, a 2010 St. Augustine Prep graduate, was one of the Cape-Atlantic League’s best distance runners. He never even considered running the 3,000-meter race, in which competitors jump over hurdles and water.

Fanz, 18, entered his freshman track season at Temple University without jumping over a single hurdle in his entire life. He missed the entire 2010 fall cross country season with an ankle injury.

Despite all that, Temple assistant coach Matt Jelley wanted to see Fanz run the steeplechase.

Temple head coach Eric Mobley entrusts Jelley, also the Owls’ distance coach, with free reign over his runners. The pair agreed Fanz was a good fit for the steeplechase based on a combination of his speed, strength and mental attitude.

Jelley convinced him to try it out at the Greyhound Invitational at Moravian College in April.

Fanz won his first attempt at the race in 9 minutes, 42.41 seconds. His coaches insisted he keep doing it.

“I won the event without much training, so they saw a potential,” Fanz said.

Fanz turned that potential into a trip to to the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., in late June. He placed sixth in the men’s junior steeplechase in 9:24.78 on June 25.

His finish earned Fanz junior All-American status. He and three teammates competed at the USA meet and gained the Owls some precious national recognition.

“Anytime you can show that you can have someone come in as a freshman in our program and develop, get better and reach a national stage, it does wonders for the program,” Mobley said.

Ed Fanz, Phil’s father and former high school coach, traveled to Oregon to watch his son compete. He said the St. Augustine Prep coaching staff avoided placing Phil in any hurdle events in high school.

On each of the steeplechase’s 7 laps, competitors have to clear four 30-inch high hurdles.

“He never expressed an interest or ran over a hurdle in his life,” Ed Fanz said. “We discouraged it so he didn’t get hurt. It’s actually a pretty popular event among distance runners in college.”

A difficult event

The steeplechase is one of track and field’s most intense races.

Unlike those used in hurdling, steeplechase barriers do not fall over if hit. Some runners actually step on top of them.

The fifth hurdle is the water jump, which consists of a barrier followed by a pit of water 12-feet long and sloping upward to end even with the surface of the track. The slope rewards runners with more jumping ability – a longer jump leads to a more shallow landing in the water.

“This is the hardest event I’ve ever done,” Fanz said. “You can’t really get into a rhythm when you have to jump over a hurdle every 80 meters. Toward the end of a race, it gets tough.”

Training for the steeplechase was surprisingly routine for Fanz.

He still doesn’t see any hurdles during practices. He simply runs his regular workouts, and warms up on the hurdles the day of a race.

“I may have trained over hurdles maybe four times throughout the season,” Fanz said. “I just go over them a few times (on the day of a race) to get my form right, and then I run.”

Fanz, who majors in mechanical engineering at Temple, won’t come near a hurdle for some time.

At home in the Atco section of Waterford Township for the summer, he follows a routine designed by Temple’s coaches and mostly just runs around his neighborhood. He will move back to Temple’s campus in late August to start the cross country season.

‘Thrilling’ trip to Oregon

Fanz and his father, who still coaches cross country and track at St. Augustine, were delighted to visit Oregon for the USA Track and Field Championships.

Fanz was motivated by the professional athletes appearing in the four-day event. Among those present were sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner (2008 Olympic Games silver medalist in the 400).

A sixth-place finish in the junior steeplechase made the cross-country trip even sweeter.

“It was thrilling to watch all those world-class athletes run, and then to see my son who’s just a freshman competing with the best in the country,” Ed Fanz said.

Looking back at the race, Fanz is happy with his place, but not so happy with his time. He tied his personal best, but it was a mark he set six weeks earlier at the Atlantic 10 Conference Track & Field Championships.

Fanz wasn’t aware he qualified for the USA Outdoor meet until after the A-10 finals. He said he trained to peak at the conference championships.

“Then we trained for six weeks more. If we would’ve planned in advance when I should have peaked, I could have run better. But it’s still a good accomplishment,” he said.

Fanz could have a stellar college career.

He has fully recovered from the ankle injury which caused him to redshirt his first cross country season. With that behind him, he quickly bounced back to top form.

“I think, and I think his coaches would concur, he’s progressed better than our expectations,” Ed Fanz said. “By the time he got to the spring, he was right back where he needed to be.”

As for the upcoming cross country season, Fanz plans to use his experience in the steeplechase as a reference for his future distance races.

“Maybe come cross country season, if I feel tired in a race or I want to give up, I can think about how hard the steeplechase is. It’s definitely the most difficult event I’ve ever ran,” he said.

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