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Basic 400-Meter Training

Coaching advice for the one-lap race


Basic 400-Meter Training

Train well enough and maybe you'll win a gold, like LaShawn Merritt at the 2008 Olympics.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

The 400-meter run is classified as a sprint, but nobody can go all-out for 400 meters. That’s where training comes in. Successful 400-meter runners must push themselves as close to the limit as they can, without running out of gas on that last straightaway. To help prepare your runners for this unique event, check out training advice from well-respected college coach Tony Veney, based on his presentation at the 2014 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic.

A sprinter has about a 40-second window of lactate capacity and tolerance. But coaches must recognize the difference between a runner's capacity and his or her tolerance. Many runners have great capacity, meaning they have the physical ability to run the 400 successfully. Tolerance  measures the amount of discomfort an athlete can handle. Tolerance is based on a runner's capacity, but it will vary, even among competitors with equal capacity. Some runners have great capacity, but they can only tolerate the burn a little bit. Imagine a runner's capacity as an empty cup. A runner with high tolerance can fill the cup, while a runner with low tolerance cannot.

In training, therefore, coaches must increase their 400-meter runners' tolerance to the pain. The way to do that is to run them, according to their abilities. Some runners can run two 350s on a training day, while others can only handle one. In the latter case, you can have the runner do one 350, one 250 and two 150s. That way, they still get their volume. Just make sure they run a little bit faster at the shorter distances. Don't let them drop two or three seconds from their pace after doing the 350, and just sort of drag themselves around the track. The key is to know what each runner can handle. So if you’ve got a sprinter who can run three 350s and can handle them every time, you’re good to go. You may have another athlete who can go 350-250-250-150.

In-Season Training

During the season, take care of a runner's fitness training and aerobic development on the recovery days. Say, for example, that your team has meets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. If your 400-meter runners have a big relay day on Saturday, where they might have to run four relay legs, you’re going to have to go easy on them on Monday anyway, because they're racing on Tuesday. Wednesday, then, is a recovery day, where you can do either intensive or extensive tempo runs, depending on how well they came off the weekend meet.

After the recovery day on Wednesday, hit them with an intense workout on Thursday. Depending on what the demand is for the upcoming Saturday meet. If they'll be running relays again on Saturday, run them at about 80 effort on Thursday. You can also do race modeling on Thursday, especially if you have a key meet on Saturday. Break the race up into sections so they get a better handle on how to run the race.

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