400m Race Pace Strategies – How your 200m PB Influences your Performance Options

If you enjoyed my last article Racing 400 Meters: Differences in Elite Men and Women then you’ll like this article.

This journal review was written by 3 authors:

Ric Willis – Sprints and Hurdles Coach, School of Health and Sport Science, Faculty of Science, Health and
Education, University of Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia

Brendan Burkett – Regional Engagement Coordinator, Faculty of Science, Health and Education, University of Sunshine
Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia

Mark Sayers – Program Leader (Sport & Exercise Sciences), School of Health and Sport Science, Faculty of Science,
Health and Education, University of Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia


Running the ideal 400 m race strategy is the goal for many athletes, unfortunately the demands of the event often hinder their training performance.

The choice of initial race speed has a significant effect on the ability to preserve time during the 3rd 100 m split, which had a very strong correlation with final time (r=.90, .89, p<.01) for females and males respectively. Identifying a particular percentage of an athlete’s 200 m personal best has been proposed as a modifier of late race deceleration. Central regulatory control has been implicated as the primary influence in maintaining functional homeostasis during intense exercise.

It appears to be regulated by the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) which in turn has been linked to an athlete’s current maximum speed and the percentage of this speed used to maintain race pace. Increasing maximum speed and lowering an athlete’s current 200 m personal best are seen to be the key contributors to continued improvement in 400 m performance.

Click here for the full research paper. (PDF, 143 Kb)

400m Race Pace Strategies 100m splits

400m Race Pace Strategies 200m splits

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
  • Hi Jimson, great article ( as so often). I posted this question before, but didn’t get an answer, so I’ll bravely ask again. How do you differentiate a 200/400 m runner from a 400/800 m one?

    • @Bavesh, that topic was covered in a previous article in “400m runner moving up to 800m”. Basically it depends on the body type of the athlete (long skinny runners like Jeremy Warnier or Martyn Rooney could consider moving up) and the ability/desire of an athlete to do aerobic work and mileage. If he or she hates running more than 20 min, then forget about the 800. They will just hate it.

  • Jimson, This article says the opposite of the last one you published about the difference between elite male and female runners? The last one argued that Charlie Francis was right and that women have to run at a higher percentage of their 200m PR. This says that the slower your time, the slower you need to go out because you are running for longer and therefore need to have more energy stores. (Although, it does agree that the most important factor in determining race time is the 200m PR). Do you think this is because of the much larger sample size? Could it be that, although all of these 50 women are “Elite”, the 8 that make the final in your previous article are the TRUE elites and therefore have better race strategies? And on the flip side, would the larger pool of men reveal that the lower tier of elites have to run harder their first 200m to keep up with the top guys, but don’t have the endurance, tech, talent to hang on? It is often the case that the slower guys try and hold pace with the faster runners in the finals, and that could potentially affect all of these times. This seems to raise more questions then it asks…They need to do a continuation of this study and look at how these race times and splits in the finals of the big races compared to their PR’s and see the difference between the race strategies in each athlete.

    Also, the bigger question I have is how do you prevent the nervous system from feeling over worked. In reading this I was thinking, okay I need to do more lactate work with my athlete, but then he said, “But if you try and improve endurance through more lactic tolerance training for example, you only reinforce the sensation of fatigue. This will just encourage central control to respond to high levels of RPE and as a result, counterproductively fine tune the pathway for continued motoric inhibition.” Haha …ok???… so then what are we supposed to do?

    • Sorry, I meant you need to go out slower so that your RPE is lower, not that you have more energy stores… sounded like I missed the main point.

  • ‘Coach’ raises some interesting points. In Jimson’s last article Racing 400 Meters: Differences in Elite Men and Women he quotes Charlie Francis as saying women’s “speed reserve will always be your greatest asset”. Charlie seems to be saying that you’re going to fade in the straight anyway, so use more of your speed early to see how far it will take you (without getting too carried away), but never lose sight of the importance of always trying to improve your speed. I argue that you need to temper your instincts and carefully monitor how much of your speed you use in the first 200m. 2 examples: from the grandstand, it appears as though Antonia Krivoshapka seems to wilfully disregard her speed limits in the first 200m. She gets away with this in the 1st round, less so in the semis + then seems to run out of gas in the finals due to accumulated fatigue from the 3 rounds. In contrast, Christine Ohuruogu seems to know exactly how much speed she has and is prepared to back her judgement in spite of what the other athletes may be doing.

    ‘Coach’ mentions the often observed fact that slower athletes will get ‘sucked in’ to running at their competitors pace early on, only to find there’s nothing left in the tank to finish. I agree with ‘Coach’ in that studies should be made of each athletes’ race strategy instead of relying on the group mean, however not all recorded PB’s are indicative of your current speed. Jimson always insists on using your season’s best, as a comparative base, but even then I believe too many athletes get caught up in their 400m preparation and when at their best, don’t necessarily race the 200m and so getting an accurate picture of the correct percentage of their current 200m speed is difficult. Koch, Brisco-Hooks, Perec, Freeman, Richards-Ross, even Ohuruogu (with the slowest 200PB of all recent Olympic 400m champions), made it a habit of improving their 200m times in the season prior to their Olympic success.

    All movement is monitored by the brain. RPE represents a measure of how easily (read fast) you move compared to what your brain understands as your limit. Repeated movement sets a template (Template RPE) against which sensation or expected outcomes can be assessed. Note Template RPE goes a long way to explaining how athletes reach their speed barrier and find it difficult to improve beyond that point (and why varied pace training is so effective in overcoming those barriers). Is lactic tolerance training important to improving 400m performance? Of course! But not at the expense of measures to improve your maximum speed (movement) against which the brain will ‘objectively’ measure your RPE.