If you run the 400 meter, you deserve to be congratulated for your courage in choosing an event that is uniquely challenging. At the SME Track & Field site, coach David Pennington writes that running the elongated sprint "...takes guts. There will be a point in the 400m when you will have to ask yourself am I going to compete or am I going to cave?" Michael Johnson, who won the 200 meter and 400 meter at the 1996 Olympics -- and still holds the 400 meter world record of 43.18 set in 1999 -- explains the difficulty of the 400 meter succinctly. "No one can run 400 meters at full speed from the gun."
First 100 Meters
Johnson cautions against getting too aggressive out of the blocks. He focuses on staying smooth as the field establishes a pace for the race. High school and college coaches advise running just below your top speed. If someone is running inside you, keeping pace with them means you're actually running faster, since you're running farther by being on the outside.
Second 100 Meters
The key to this part of the race is to run in a controlled sprint without pushing too hard. Your face and body shouldn't show any strain. If you run too hard, your muscles tighten, stride shortens and you slow down. Johnson tried to relax and neither slow down or speed up. He usually didn't make a move toward the lead until later in the race.
Around the Turn
When you hit the far turn, you'll start to feel the pain of the 400 meter. Coach David Tiefenthaler at Tips4Running says you have to shift gears and feel like you're picking up the pace, even though research proves that every 400-meter runner slows down during the final half of the race. Johnson says you have to increase your energy at this point and force yourself to maintain your pace. Research shows that elite runners become more fatigued than less-experienced runners, which seems to indicate a greater commitment on their part and/or a higher capacity to run through their fatigue.
Expect your lungs to be bursting and your legs to be burning as you drive toward the finish line. The key is to stay relaxed and maintain good form as you sprint down the stretch. Of course, this is easier said than done. Johnson, who usually tried to take the lead coming off the curve, concentrated on keeping his arms and legs going straight up and down and his head straight as well. By avoiding any side-to-side movement, Johnson ran as efficiently as possible despite his fatigue as he thundered to the tape.
- SME Track & Field: 400 Meter Race Strategy
- Speed and Endurance: Michael Johnson's Racing Strategy in the 400 Meters
- Tips4Running: 400 Meter Tips -- How to Race It Successfully
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Velocity and Stride Parameters of World-Class 400-Meter Athletes Compared with Less Experienced Runners
- Matthew Lewis/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images