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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How to run the 400m
In my previous article, I explained why I think that the 400m is the best foot race on earth. One thing all 400m runners know, it is the race that has the most painful training regime. Anyone who has done a lactic tolerance session will know how bad this pain is (I once had a very good athlete who, at the end of one session, swore she had lactic pain everywhere including in her teeth. Another, just last night, reckoned she had lactic pain at the end of her nose!).
So training for the 400m is pretty rigorous. However, many athletes (and their coaches), make it harder on themselves, because their training lacks an indispensable element – race strategy.
The 400m is not something you can just go out and run. I talked about the importance of the 200m split times before, but there is more to it than that. You need a race strategy. Race strategy is critical to effective training, and it should shape your overall preparation. Design your training program to provide a basis of consistency from which you can make real improvements.
Simplistically, the 400m can be broken down into 4 stages, but for a greater level of granularity, I prefer six.
The start and the drive phase should be executed almost the same as for any sprint. Take maximum advantage of the whole of your alactic energy system for the 7 or 8 seconds that you have it for. The only real change is to lengthen the drive phase out to about 50m.
The transition phase is also lengthened out to a further 50m. This means that just as you are coming off the bend you come up into maximum speed running. This gives you the whiplash effect off the bend as both the lane and your body straighten up at the same time. It’s difficult to explain in writing, but any 400m worth their salt will know this feeling from running 200m. The second thing I prefer here is that at this point you are running at 100%. Although the 400m is run at roughly 95% as an average speed, this for me is the only point in the race where you run at maximum. Not for long though, just enough to know where maximum is and then back off for the next stage. The reason for this is that who can gauge, at any given time where the percentages are? By hitting maximum and then backing off, this is a lot easier; otherwise the tendency is to gauge from your competitors, which will never work.
The second 100m, the back straight, is run as a ‘float.’ This is the fastest you can run in a relaxed way. Or, as Latif Thomas calls it, the edge of insanity. The aim here is to conserve energy and time concurrently. It is the most difficult part of the race and will dictate the time you get. Too fast and you will die in horrible pain somewhere around the 320m point. Too slow and you will get left behind. Jimson has an excellent workout to practise float see the workout on this link:
While these workouts are focused on last 100m, there is a significant amount of float work in it, so you get double the benefit!
This stage is not real acceleration, nor is it even re-acceleration, but it should feel like it. At 200m, you should start to wind up the speed over the course of the bend. Actually, what happens is that you slow the rate of deceleration, but it will feel like you are accelerating, because you will be pushing instead of floating. The trick is to increase speed gradually through the course of the bend, like a slow squeeze of your speed, spread over the whole bend. Do not try a sudden speed change at the 200m point, as this will waste considerable energy.
At the 300m mark, just before the bend straightens, it is time for your final push, the kick for home. The kick here is the same as the kick coming out of transition off the first bend. You aren’t moving quite as fast, but the feeling should be the same, you’re straightening up, and the track is straightening at the same time, giving you the whiplash feeling again and a burst of speed. If you use the valsalva technique, this will be the perfect point to apply it. See this article to explain valsalva in greater detail:
The Final Phase
The final 100m is primarily psychological. It will hurt.
On the positive side, no matter how you ran the first 300m, the last 100m will still hurt, so you might as well put the right level of effort into the first parts. The final 100m is about mental fortitude and pain tolerance. All those lactic threshold sessions (tooth and nose pain) will now be worthwhile. This is where races are won and lost.
Everyone has a different way of getting through the last 100m. I usually tell my athletes to focus on one thing only. Usually this is their arms, but sometimes it will be about posture. It depends on what starts to break down for them. The aim is to focus on one thing to try and blot out the screaming in your legs, arms and lungs (and in some cases, teeth!).
You need to lose as little speed as possible. That’s all there is to this.
The 400m is always tough, but if you run the race incorrectly, without a strategy, you will be in double jeopardy. You will run slower, and it will hurt more. Having a strategy and practising so that you can execute despite what your competitors are doing, will bring you success.
And ever-so-slightly less pain.
About the Author
My 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.