Race Strategy – How to run the 400 meters

What’s the best way to run the 400 meters?

Go hard for 300 meters and hang on; and if you die, you die? Or run even pace splits?

Both work depending on your conditioning and experience. Once you have a race plan, you stick with it. Of course, talk it over with your coach first!

In 1992, I was able to run back to back 400 meters with a 48.37 (semi-finals) and 48.36 (finals) 24 hours apart using both strategies. Hours before the gun went off, it was clear in my mind how I wanted to run my race.

However, your strategy may backfire.

Herb McKenley of Jamaica tried both tactics in the 1948 & 1952 Olympic finals, only to be beaten by his own teammates! (Arthur Wint ’48, George Rhoden ’52)

Even pace

For instance, in 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, Butch Reynolds was the favorite and liked to run even splits. He won the US Olympic Trials in 43.93 and ran a WR of 43.29 in August with a superior last 150m. In the Olympic finals, he had drawn lane 3 inside of Danny Everett, who at the time was the only person under 44 sec (he ran 43.98 at the US Olympic Trials).

But he misjudged the efforts of Steve Lewis, who along with Danny, was coached by John Smith of HSI. I can’t blame Butch at all. Steve’s PB before 1988 was 45.76 and before the Games, he ran 44.61 (QF), 44.11 (SF), and 44.37 at the US Olympic Trials. In Seoul, he ran 45.31 (heats), 44.41 (QF), 44.35 (SF).

Lewis drew lane 6 and just ran his own race. The end result was Lewis winning in 43.87, Reynolds 43.93, and Everett 44.09, an American sweep. Butch ran a well executed race, but he didn’t count on Steve running 43.87!

Go hard for 300 meters and hang on for dear life

If fitness is not there, going hard will result in carrying a piano, elephant, and bear over the last 150m.

In 2005 Mt-SAC Relays, the showdown between Jana Pittman, the 2003 World Champion in the 400mH, never materialized. Here we see Marion Jones run a very good first 250 meters. She almost makes up the stagger on Jana in lane 5 and “tucks” or “drafts” behind her until 150m to go. Unfortunately, the race is 400 meters.

Have a race plan and stick with it!



Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at SpeedEndurance.com
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • I teach my 400 meter runers to run the first 150-160 meter all-out. They should Allow their momentum to carrie them for the next 40-60 meters which will be a flot and then begin to sprint for the last 180 meters of the race. Our 400 meters sprinters should always know their first 200 meter split of the 400 meter race so that they don’t use less or more effert that’s needed for the race.

  • @Michael – My **personal** experience was to run the first 40 meters all out, “float” from 40-200, then start kicking at 200m.

    Clyde Hart emphasizes going all out the first 60 meters, then controlling the pace.

    But you are correct, the 3rd segment is where the race is won or lost, and the athlete should start kicking from 180-220m (depending on the stagger and your lane draw)

  • The 1988 Olympic 400 final was great one, Reynolds started slow and thought he could make up ground, at that level that tells you something. Steve Lewis and Danny Everitt were also coached by Joe Douglas of the Santa Monica Track club.

  • I teach my 400 meter runners to run the first 150-160 meter all-out. They should Allow their momentum to carry them for the next 40-60 meters which will be a flot and then begin to sprint

    You only have time for two moves in the 400, the start as mentioned by Hart and Jimson, and one more, either at the 200 or the H2O pit, to sprint for 150m and try to pick up is extremely difficult.

  • I just ran a 50.9 for 400 meters, but my best 100 meter times was 11.8, but i wasn’t as excited, i am just wondering do you think i can run the 400 meter sub 50

  • I think I first wrote how I train my 400 meter runners back in 2007 but now I have even changed my training. Every coach has a way of doing things. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s just my way of doing things and how the athlete feels. I train my 400 meter runners to run the first 150 meters, lets say 17 seconds. Now I have them to run the next 100 meters in 13 seconds which will be 30 seconds at the 250 meters mark. Now the last 150, I want to come in at 18 seconds. So we are talking about 48-49 seconds for a 400 meter dash. I train the front end of the 400 meter dash first, which is the first 200 meters of the race, then the back end. I find this easier for my sprinters that run the 400 meter dash.

  • @Michael – there are so many ways to break up the 400m, but I agree that having a good “start” sets you up for the latter parts of the race.

  • […] somewhere along the way.  For it, it’s the turn into the alley from El Segundo.  Well, this article by Jimson Lee talks about a couple of strategies to have when running the 400.  If you don’t […]