I watched several videos this past weekend and I want to comment on 2 things that could be improved in some of the sprinters I watched. That is, (1) race strategy and (2) how to run the curve.
For simplicity sake in this discussion, I will assume a standard 200 meter equidistance track of 50 meter curves and 50 meter straightaways, banked or unbanked. We have some funky 160 meter tracks as well as 309 meter ones! Of course, Ottawa, Canada is lucky to have the 4 lane indoor 400 meter track! Right, Glenroy?
Running 400 meters is like playing 18 holes in golf. You can have a bad “front 9” and comeback with a good “back 9”. You can have a great “front 9” and blow up with a bad “back 9”. Or you can just play consistent golf and play a great 18 holes.
You can look at the indoor 400 meters as a 2 lap analogy.
Unlike the outdoor 400 meters where you run in your lane the whole way, the indoor 400m is a different story because you break for the pole after 2 turns. (Some high school meets use a waterfall start like the outdoor Mile, which I truly detest, but I will save that rant for another day)
Here is how I breakdown the indoor 400 meters
One this is certain: YOU MUST HAVE YOUR RACE STATEGY IN YOUR MIND BEFORE SETTING IN THE BLOCKS. In fact, you must have your race strategy planned in the warm-up! You must also have a Plan B if it does not go according to plan. Always have a Plan B, right Jerome Davis? One reason for this is constant fake heat sheets, and poor seeding of athletes, plus the dark horses that will run a superb race out of nowhere.
First 40 meters
Go all out. Run the first 40 as if it’s a 40 yard dash, but stay relaxed. No saving yourself. Unused ATP-CP will not come back and help you.
Depending on your lane and the track dimensions, take advantage of the downhill portion if you are on the outside lane on a banked track. Like using overspeed training devices, any artificial method to achieve your top speed more efficiently is a plus.
In some cases, that first 40 meters may actually be 50 or 60 meters. Remember, youth athletes will reach top speed sooner than elite sprinters, so don’t be afraid if that is only 30 meters.
40 meters to 150m (Break for the Pole)
This part is crucial. You have to stay relaxed but at the same time you must get out quick. You must stay in your lane and be very careful not to touch the lines on the track, especially coming on the second curve.
150 to 350 meters
After 2 turns, you break for the pole position. Again, be very careful not to touch the lines on the track, and of course, do not cut in too soon. (You’d be surprised at the number of DQ’s I see every year)
If you are on the outside lane, and clearly in the lead, start cutting gradually, to the shortest possible distance between two points.
If you have someone very close to you, re-accelerate to get in front if possible, but don’t expend too much energy on this segment or you will be in a World of Hurt over the final 100 meters.
If you are not in the lead, re-accelerate to get in the best possible position, then relax and draft behind (but not directly behind) the runner in front of you. You want to be slightly to the right of the runner and ready to pass at any given moment.
At the 2011 Boston Indoor Games 400 meters (by the way, I love the Reggie Lewis track!), check out DeeDee Trotter in Lane 6 try to overtake Natasha Hastings in Lane 5. Trotter is clearly behind Hastings at the break (150m) and tries to reaccelerate and pass her. Also, a lot of energy is spent trying to pass her on the outside on the 3rd turn. Hastings runs a smart and aggressive race by not giving up the lead. Look at Trotter’s form over the last 50m, as she is clearly rigging. Hastings wins the race from gun to tape.
Here is the video for the 2011 Boston Indoor Games Women’s 400 meters:
340 to 401 meters
This phase is the last ~50 meters on straightaway (more or less… but it always feels like more!)
If you are in front, relax, and keep good form, putting more emphasis in your arms. It is rare to see someone come from behind, unless you are Tyler Christopher.
If you are not in front, start your kick for home just before the curve ends and where the straightaway begins.
Gather, and get ready for the lean. Lee Evans was the master of this final and important last phase. Dig, dig, dig, lean.
Curve running is another important aspect as half your races over 200 meters on the oval track are on the curve.
Should you treat curves the same as straightaways?
I’ll break this section of this article down into several parts:
- indoor curves: banked vs non-banked
- outdoor curves
- starting on the curve
- approaching the curve
- running the curve
- exiting the curve
(Recommended reading from the archives: Do Curves Matter? Indoor vs. Outdoor World Records)
Indoor curves: Banked vs non-Banked
It’s no secret you will run faster on a banked track compared to a flat track. The reason is the banked track helps keep the centripetal force preventing you from going to an outer lane, and therefore get DQ’ed. And that would be bad.
Ironically, my indoor PB for 200m was at a flat track at Dartmouth College, and not the 22 degree banked track at Sherbrooke University… that’s from a lack of indoor 200 on a banked track, as well as the overall hardness of the Dartmouth track. Being in a Canadian University, the focus was on 60 & 300 meters.
Obviously, the curvature is greater on the inside lane, as the outer lanes resemble closer to a straight line than the inside lanes. But when you think of it using physics and vectors, the curve is simply a series of 46 straight lines! (i.e. 46 strides in a 100 meters)
There’s no use bitching and complaining about a bad lane draw (unless you get Lane 1, then you can bitch and complain!) as they are all 200 meters. Several good 200m performances have run in Lane 8. And let’s not forget MJ 200m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics from a “tight” Lane 3 and still ran 19.32 (and he stumbled, too). Imagine if he had Lane 6 and didn’t stumble?
Starting on the curve
Approaching the Curve & Running the Curve
My secret when I was running open races was dipping the shoulder to gradually lean into the curve.
But years later, I realized that the only adjustment you need to do is tilt your head with the chin pointing down a bit. Thus the hips and shoulders will follow. Your body will naturally lean into the curve. That’s it. Basta!
So when I say “It’s all in the head”, it’s really true!
Out of the starting blocks, the first few steps are a straight line until the curve begins..
Going INTO the curve, as in a 300m or 400m outdoor, or 200 meter indoor, start the “lean” (i.e. the head tilt) a few meters back or about 1 or 2 strides before the curve starts.
In the picture above, take a look at American-born-Italian Andrew Howe on the right. Note his body is leaning, with hips and shoulders in excellent running position. His head is nearly straight, but he is leaning. If you straighten him up (using Photoshop), what will you see? Yup, his head will be tilted with the chin slightly down.
SIDENOTE: don’t “burn the turn” on the 200m unless you have the speed endurance of Michael Johnson. (again, review my video on how to race the 200 meters)
Exiting the Curve
The final tip is don’t raise or straighten the head until you reach the straightaway. Straightforward advice, I assume with no pun intended.
So there you have it. I hope this clarifies a lot of confusion in curve running. You should have everything you need to run a great race (assuming the fitness and training is there and that you are injury free!). I’ll be watching!