The 3000 meter steeplechase, or just steeplechase to the more seasoned trackster, is arguably one of the most demanding events in track and field. Not only is it a 3000 meter run, which is daunting enough, but they had to throw in a bunch of barriers to jump over. And to top it all off, one of them has a huge water pit to leap over (or into). Steeplers tend to be a different breed altogether, and have no trouble garnering the respect of teammates, because if they didn't run it, somebody else would have to.
The origins of the steeplechase go back to Oxford, England, in the 1850's. According to legend, two blokes had a bet going as to whose horse was faster (hence the similarity to the equestrian steeplechase). However, on the scheduled day of the event, the ground was far to muddy to risk running horses on it. So, the arbitrator of the bet, a Halifax Wyatt, decided that the wager should be settled by a foot race, over the same course. And the steeplechase was born.
Strategy in the steeple is key. Where in other distance events, aside from raw speed, the only tools you can use to weaken your opponents resolve are the wind, and possibly cutting them off on a pass. In the steeple, however, there are myriad possibilities. Form over the barriers and the waterjump are vital to keep up with the pack, and there is a lot of contact between competitors, especially if a water jump is taken poorly. Altogether, with the counting of steps as one approaches each barrier, keeping track of opponents, and monitoring pace, it is one of the most mentally taxing events one can enter, by far.
The steeple is only run outdoors. It consists of 7.5 laps around a 400 meter track. A waterfall start is nearly always used, although a barrel start could be used as well. For the first half lap (200 meters), all barriers are removed from the track. This makes it easy for the competitors to settle into position before going over the first barrier.
In the 3000 meter race, since there are no jumps at all in the first half lap, there are an even 28 barriers to traverse, as well as 7 waterjumps; that's 4 barriers and one waterjump in every lap. All the obstacles are spaced evenly throughout the track. The waterjump is slightly inset from the apex of the turn the racers take at the start, and all others are around 80 meters from one another.
Let's try to draw a picture, shall we?,
The barriers are (by IAAF regulations), .914 meters high for men and .762 meters high for women. They should also be at least 3.96 meters wide. It should be noted that unlike the hurdles used in the 100/110 meter hurdles and the 400 meter hurdles, these barriers weigh between 80 and 100 kg, and have a base of 1.20 to 1.40 meters that extend on both sides of it . This is so that when fatigued, a runner can step on the barrier when tired, especially the one in front of the water jump. Also, if officials had to set up knocked over hurdles lap after lap, the race wouldn't be popular for very long.
The water jump obstacle should be installed so that no horizontal movement is possible. The actual pit that it filled with water should be 3.66 meters by 3.66 meters, and the barrier in front of it should be the same length. The depth of the pit should be about 30 cm at the side closest to the barrier, and decrease at a constant rate to the opposite side.
This jump is set in from it's turn just enough to that the outer edge of the pit and the barrier is near the inside of the actual track. There are a score of other rules about this race (and it's less run variant, the 2000 meter steeplechase) available at http://www.iaaf.org/InsideIAAF/index.asp if you're interested.
Altogether, the steeplechase is quite a race to watch, and quite a feat to compete in. Also of note, Dana Carvey ran the steeplechase in college.