Putting together a winning 4 x 400-meter relay team involves more than just throwing your best 400-meter quartet on the track and letting them run. You don’t want to gamble on blind passes, as you do in the shorter 4 x 100, but you still want to drill your runners on sound passing techniques to shave seconds off of your time. The following tips are adapted from a presentation by Mike Davidson, coach of Ben Davis High School in Indiana, at the 2013 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association’s annual clinic.
It’s at the end of the meet – the meet comes down to the 4 x 4. When you get into coaching, you realize how important it is. If you’ve got a team concept and the meet’s coming down to that event – there might be guys that messed up earlier, but if there’s a chance to make things happen and you don’t win that 4 x 4, everybody puts it on those guys.
Every single kid (on Davis’ teams) runs the 4 x 4, except for the two-milers who just finished a race, so we don’t make them run the 4 x 4. In a dual meet, we’ll sometimes have three or four teams. We’ve got freshmen and every single kid that can breathe, he’s got a team. We line them up.
Importance of the Baton Exchange:
What we do in the 4 x 4 is a little bit different, but we really work hard on the exchange itself. Several things are critical to teach the 4 x 4. The first thing is, you’ve got to get out after you receive the baton. When you don’t take off, you waste time you never get back. So when that baton’s in your hand, we’ve got to get out. We want to make sure that when a guy gets the baton, he’s getting it at a maximum speed; we want him to really be moving through the zone. How many times do you see two guys coming in pretty close together and then, at the exchange zone, all it takes is one receiver not blasting, and you look at the turn and you say, ‘How are we 4 or 5 yards behind? We were in the race!’ And he tries to catch up, and he ties himself up and he struggles to finish. What we say is, by the time you get around that first turn, if you’re even close, you need to be in front. Because a big part of that is, I don’t want you speeding up, then slowing down, then speeding up and slowing down in the 400. You’ve got to be able to run the race the way it needs to the run, which means, get out. That first six, seven seconds after to get the baton, that energy system’s going to be used, depleted and gone. Whether you’ve blasted or not, it’s a different energy system than the rest of the race. So if I chill, I use energy. If I blast I use energy. It’s gone, wherever I am. Well, I might as well be ahead instead of behind. And I’m still going to feel the same.
Carrying the Baton:
It’s very important that you carry the baton in the right hand, pass it to the left hand. And that means you’ve got to switch hands when you get the baton. I think it’s critical to do that and it’s pretty simple. If I have the baton in my right hand, and you put your right hand back, I’m running at you, we’re going to get our feet tangled, we’re going to stumble, we’re going to make mistakes.
Establishing Room in Exchange Zone:
We work on this, because we’ve had times where guys have had congestion, we’ve bumped or fallen down, or fought some things. This is a thing that goes crazy in a meet. The best thing is to have your fastest runner go first and not have any collisions in the zone. But if that guy is the most competitive guy, you might want him to be last. But we teach ourselves and work on how to keep ourselves in a position where there’s space. The passer should establish his lane and make a beeline for the receiver. That spacing in the exchange zone is extremely important.
The receiver should turn his shoulders, take off for two steps, then put the arm back with a flat hand. The arm is fully extended, so the passer can reach and put the baton in the receiver’s hand, because the receiver’s length is part of it also. So if the receiver gets a little too far out, the passer can probably still reach the receiver. It’s two or three really extremely hard steps, then the eyes come back and the head comes back and you watch it into your hand.
We do the same thing in the 4 x 4 as the 4 x 1, which is, the passer is not allowed to be dead. He hands off, then he’s still got to chase the receiver all the way through the zone, and then he can go off and fall off the track. He has to get to the receiver and keep chasing him as hard as he can, and then he can get off the track once he gets out of the zone. No matter what tempo the passer is running, you still force that kid to have to accelerate to the receiver. So the receiver is sitting here and the passer is kind of dying, and the receiver takes off and the passer forgets how he feels and he accelerates two or three more steps to get the baton to the receiver. It’s amazing. Where did that energy come from? Why didn’t he use that in the last 30 meters coming in?
Also, the passer and receiver have to stay inside the zone at all times. We teach all the little things like that to our kids, and let them know how technical things can be.
Drills for 4 x 100 Relay Teams
LaShawn Merritt's Running Tips
Strategies for the 4 x 100 Relay Race
Kirani James: Whirlwind at 400 Meters