"The Rodney Dangerfield of sprint events" -- that's how track coach and former runner Latif Thomas refers to the 200-meter on the website Athletes Acceleration. Interest in the 200-meter race was piqued following Usain Bolt's electrifying victories in both the 100-meters and 200-meters at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. If you're training for the 200, Latif and other runners and coaches offer a wealth of tips to help you reach your personal best.
The start of the 200 meters can be critical, and there is some confusion about the correct approach in the starting blocks. Research published in 2008 in the journal "Acta Psychologica" shows that total response time was better when runners put their left foot forward and right foot back. However, that's a general finding. Measuring your time over the course of the first 10 meters by alternating lead legs can determine which approach gives you the fastest acceleration. Don't force yourself to stay low as you leave the blocks, let your upper body unfold naturally. If you try to stay low by breaking at the hips, you'll limit the amount of force you apply to the ground and lose acceleration
Run Your Own Race
Before -- and sometimes even during -- his biggest races, Lewis would tell himself to relax and run his own race. Sometimes, while he flew down the track, he would say to himself, "This is the best race you've ever run," another mantra that relaxed him and enabled him to focus on the task at hand and not the other runners.. Running your own race is especially important in the 200-meters because some sprinters will peak too early in the race. If you ignore them and stick to your running plan, you might blow by them in the later stages of the race.
You can't sprint 200 meters, according to Thomas. In fact, you start to slow down after sprinting about 60 meters. So you must conserve energy at some point during the race. Latif breaks the 200-meter into four phases. For the first 40 meters, go all-out. From 40 meters to around the 120-meter mark, you should "float," a skill that is learned in practice through long endurance sprints at 90-percent intensity. The third phase is the re-acceleration from 120 to 140 yards. Even though you are actually slowing down, you crank it up to maximum speed and drive your arms. In phase four, the final all-out dash to the wire, it's all about relaxing the body.
Although it might sound contradictory to tell runners they must relax to run their fastest, it's a key to 200-meter success. Any form of tension in your body, such as clenched fists or elevated shoulders, is counterproductive. Tension spreads throughout the body, tightens muscles, reduces the range of motion in your arms and shortens your stride -- so you must relax your face, hands and shoulders. If your face looks strained, you are losing time. If you are totally relaxed during a race, your mouth will be relaxed and you will have a loose "jelly jaw," says sports coach Brian Mac. Picture yourself holding a potato chip in your hands. If you crush it during the race, you are not sufficiently relaxed.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.