Pacing the 400m

This article is guest blogged by Lee Ness, a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics, and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.

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Pacing the 400m

There have been many articles about pacing 400m and what it should be. Jimson has written a few like this one:

Calculating Splits for the 400 meters

This article isn’t to particularly add to that, and it is fairly explanatory. This article will only reinforce it from a slightly twisted experience to show how important the pacing is.

Experiment subject:

My son Jake is a 400m sprinter and has just turned 17. I am his coach and have a couple of race pacing experiences I can share with you.

Last year (2013) Jake finished the year 2nd in the UK rankings for Under 17 boys with a pb of 48.7 seconds. When he ran at the English Schools Championships last July, he was favourite to win. At the time he was UK lead and the UK second place was Scottish, so he had some wiggle room.

He finished fastest qualifier in the heat with a 48.84 seconds. He ran a relaxed race in the heat, never looked troubled, backed off the gas in the final 60m and walked off the track in the end without any major ill-effects from the race.The final was different. He was beaten on the line by the smallest of margins, but the key was the final 100m looked the hardest, most painful I’ve ever seen him run. He was reeled in over that 100m from being well ahead and in the end, he was completely spent. The time? 48.84 seconds. So what was the difference? (You’ll have to take my word for it that there was no fatigue from the race the previous day).

The difference was that he ran the first 200m in the final faster than his 200m pb! I timed it, and I am a level 2 timekeeper. Even if I factor for inaccuracies, he still ran it way, way too quickly. That destroyed his speed reserve and led to a huge differential in his splits. For the record, his estimated 200m split when he ran the 48.7 pb was around a second slower than in the schools final. Fast forward 9 months. He has run indoors but now he is an under 20, which means he is competing up a level. This means that the first 200m is quick. The result is that he is running slower, and he has got nowhere near his pb. But then he picks up a minor hamstring niggle, but it is enough to do two things.

It affects his training in the way that we do no maximum speed work for 3 months. No other training impact, but he never goes above 90% for most of the training and only ever goes to 95% a couple of times. (So we are assuming that his maximum speed hasn’t improved).

While it isn’t an injury, the risk is that it will become one, and the highest risk is at the start of the race during acceleration. The result is that we do lots of intensive tempo work (The Clyde Hart sessions I described in my last post) and when he does eventually race he has to slow his first 100m down significantly.

Outcome

First race back, he runs what he believes to be a ‘really slow’ first 100m and in fairness his acceleration looks almost slovenly. The outcome: a 48.73 with no real competition and in fairly windy conditions. The following week was another windy overcast day at the Bedford International Games. This time he is more confident with his start, having suffered no ill effects, but more importantly more confident with his race pacing. I time it again. 23.5 seconds for the first 200m (I’m confident this is accurate to +/- 0.1 seconds but I won’t spend time explaining why). Eventual time 47.98 seconds. Using Jimson’s split time calculation and his 22.4 pb:

1st 200m = 22.4 + 1 = 23.4

2nd 200m = 23.4 + 1.5 = 24.9

Total = 48.3.

So it was pretty close. Even the discrepancy can be explained as he is probably slightly quicker than his 200m pb, and so he may well have run the first 200m a little too relaxed.

Conclusion

To gain 0.5 second in a training macro-cycle is a very stretching target even for a burgeoning 16 year old. Hours and hours of training is spent on skill acquisition, fine-tuning technical models, lactic tolerance, speed, power, weights, intensive and extensive tempos. But the simple fact is, you might find that the biggest one-off gain that you can make will be in reading Jimson’s posts on pacing and implementing them. Jake had it enforced on him, but you don’t need to!

About the Author

LeeNess-bookcover250x350My name is Lee Ness. I am a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association. I’ve been coaching track and filed for around 7 years. I coach all the sprints, from 60m to 400m plus the long and sprint hurdles. In my sprint group I have 36 sprinters and 10 hurdlers of various ages, starting from 13. In my group I have three athletes in the UK top 10 rankings for their event.

I write about sports performance in general and have written a book called The Sports Motivation Masterplan which will be released on September 1, 2014 by December House. The book is a support guide for athletes and parents, helping them with the role of mentor through their journey from young aspiring athlete, to elite performer.