You have to train for all aspects of a 400-meter race, including the final straight, where most races are won. College coach Tony Veney shared his thoughts on training for the end of a 400-meter race during the 2014 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic. The following article is based on his presentation.
All the sprints are races of momentum. Once you reach top speed, it’s a slide to the end. You'll get tired at the end of a 400-meter race, but you still have to run quick when you're tired.
What is the event’s critical zone? The critical zone is the last 25 percent of the race. No matter how fast or slow you run, the last quarter of the race is where the medals are decided. Because that’s where the psychomotor stress is the highest. You get three or four runners coming off the turn together, and with 50 meters to go, now you’re going to see what’s happening. They're either going to fish or cut bait. And their training is going to determine how well they finish that last 50.
Train to Win
You have to train at race pace and then train at a winning pace. What does it take to run the last 50 to win? Everybody can run the race pace. You line up eight or nine runners at a high school state meet and they all can get through the 300. Because they earned it. But who can run the last 50? You’re going to have that runner that clears everybody out, or you’re going to have a couple who are going to battle. You need to know what that requires.
To train to win, run “overs” and “unders,” as well as doing race modeling at 400 meters. To run the unders, you might do some 150- or 120-meter drills. Then come back and run an 800-meter pace. For example, a high school boy who can run 50-flat for 400 meters, or a girl who can run 59-flat, the 800-meter pace for the boy is 1:53 and for the girl is 2:08. Have them run 800, give them a short break and then have them run some 200s and 150s.
Schedule Your Training
Spread your over and under drills out during the season, working around your meet days. For example, if your 400 runners do unders on Monday they can do overs on Thursday. And then come back to race pace. So have your meets on a calendar and then say, ‘OK, I’m going to do an under here, an over there’ – and this is how you formulate things. That way you can cross out the days that are rest and recovery and then you can begin to fit stuff in. To figure out your schedule, consider the season as a whole: How long does your season last? How many hard days can your runners handle? Schedule the workout dates by moving backward through your calendar, starting with your state meet, or your final championship meet. If you don’t, then you will go through each week and you'll get behind in your training and you won’t be able to figure out why your runners have pulled hamstrings, why they're hurt, why they have stress fractures.