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One of the earliest papers I read on 400 meter training was written by William Black from the 1988 Winter edition of TRACK COACH.
You can download the PDF here (168Kb).
The paper talks about the physiological factors of performance in the 400 meters, and one specific reference was from 1980. It’s a good read if you want to know the physiological factors in relation to race distribution.
But there was some interesting data from the research of a 1980 study from VanCoppenolle. Remember that by 1980, and even by the start of 1988, only 2 men broke 44 seconds. By the end of 1988, that number would be increased to 4!
- 400 meter dashes run in 43.8-44.9 seconds were accomplished by running the first and second 200 meters in a mean time of 21.5 (20.7-22.4) and 23.0 (22.1-23.5) seconds, respectively. 400-meters run in 45.0-45.9 seconds were run with the first and second 200s covered in mean times of 21.7 (20.8-22.7) and 23.8 (22.5-25.0).
The top runners have a smaller time differential between the first and second 200 meters (1.5 vs. 2.1 seconds). The difference between the mean times for the second 200 meters for the two groups of runners is significant on the 1% level.
- For the fastest (43.8-44.9) 400 runners, there is no distinct correlation between the second 200 meters and the final time. A favorable result can be run with a reactively fast or slow second 200 meters.
- For 400 runners in the 45.0-45.9 second category, there is a distinct correlation between a better final time and a better second 200 time.
Take a look at splits from the USATF 2008 Men’s 400m Olympic Trials Finals, and you’ll see differentials of 0.86 and 1.10 from Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt.
Here’s the link to the 400 meter splits from 2009 Berlin World Championships with a deeper look from the IAAF Biomechanical Analysis.
The conclusion is straight forward: the difference between the best and the sub-best 400 runners is that the best were able to run a faster second 200!
Duh! I’ve been preaching speed reserve for almost 5 years now on this Blog!
As for physiology, here were the conclusions:
- Success in the 400 is highly dependent upon a very high ability to produce energy via anaerobic glycolysis, with the accompanying lactate acidosis. When comparing heterogeneous groups of runners, the anaerobic capacity of the athlete is the main determinant of superior ability to run the 400 meters.
- More successful 400 meter runners are characterized by superior sprint speed. When comparing homogeneous groups of runners characterized by a very high anaerobic capacity, those who are faster over shorter distances tend to also be faster in the 400.
- More successful 400 meter runners may be characterized by superior alactate anaerobic capacity. It may be that those runners who are able to produce more energy in the early stages of the race, via the splitting of high energy phosphates, are more successful.
- Successful 400 meter runners are characterized by an anaerobic power similar to that of other athletes who participate in sports requiring a combination of speed and aerobic endurance (for example, soccer and basketball). A very high maximum oxygen uptake is not advantageous, and may even be detrimental, to high-level performance.
Now the 4 points above in nothing new for intermediate or advanced coaches, but it does give you an idea of the traits for 400 meter athlete selection, as well as planning your 400 meter workouts.
Of course, all this depends on your sample pool of athletes you have to work with!