Racing 400 Meters: Differences in Elite Men and Women

One of the oldest calculators for predicting 400 meters is double your 200m season best time and add 4 seconds.  Some say it’s 3.5 seconds.  But the lactate training must be there (i.e. speed endurance and special endurance)

As far as race strategy goes, you run the 1st 200 1 sec slower, then the next 200m within 1.5 to 2 sec slower than the 1st.

That formula usually works for men.  But what about women?

Charlie Francis once said men can train the 400 meters either long-to-short or short-to-long (he preferred short-to-long)

Women, on the other hand, must train short-to-long, because speed reserve will always be your greatest asset.   He said you simply do not find women with the same “strength” levels as men, like a Butch Reynolds who can run even splits.

One week prior to Marita Koch’s 400m 47.60 WR, she had ran 200m in a 21.56 FAT time trial. This 200m performance was never verified by the IAAF and remains unofficial with her 21.71 being the official WR.  Her 400m splits were 11.3, 22.4, 34.1.

2013 World Championships

Thanks to Darren Alomes and Mike Hurst for giving me the inspiration to this data, obtained by T&FN.

As you can see, the Men’s 400m sprinters followed the general strategy of 1 sec slower than PB, and then 1.5 sec slower than 1st 200m (though I prefer to use SB – season best – to calculate this).

The women, on the other hand, rely on their speed reserve, and run their opening 100m faster than 1 second of their PB.

I guess Charlie was right after all. 

Everyone is going to “die” over the last 100m, as the 400m is one long deceleration event after reaching top speed between 50 and 100 meters.

Of course, it’s the one with the least amount of deceleration that will win.

And, of course, the best speed reserve.

And that is why I focus on speed and acceleration development 48 weeks of the year.

2013 WC 400m Mens Race Splits

2013 WC 400m Womens Race Splits

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
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
  • Jimson, having conversed with PJ Vazel over the years the most accurate splits for Koch’s 47.60 are 11.67, 22.47 (10.80), 34.14 (11.67), 47.60 (13.46) (22.47 + 25.13)

    The 21.56 FAT time trial is believable and in line with her 21.78 (-1.3) in Leipzig on 11th August ’85 (her 47.60 came on 6th October ’85)

  • Btw the time trial was in training so not IAAF affiliated at all.

    On an unrelated note the backstraight 100-200m in elite runners is often very close to their open 100m PR

    Also it Would’ve been interesting to see Koch’s best effort over 600m or 800m.

  • I’m a bit surprised by the splits and saying that females take a higher priority on speed in the 400. Speed development should be a priority for both males and females, but I would think that “strength” would be just as high if not higher of a priority for women than men because the longer duration of the race would mean that they spend a higher amount of the race decelerating and accumulating lactic acid.

  • sorry zack with the respect.. anybody whose run competitively at 400 will understand that men just have more strength then their female counterparts ..dont forget speed is synonymous with strength..priority has little to do with it .. eg ohorougu of gb has her strength from 800 meter training but does not have the speed reserve of a sonya richards but until sonya figured out her race strategy , she didnt beat ohorougu at a major championship.