Training around the 400m: Ideal for a High School Program
Unfortunately, as a high school coach early in my career I had instant success in the short sprints. This success came in the form of multiple school records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m, and 4x200m. Along with these records we placed in the top three at state in the 100m, 4x100m, and 4x200m. Now, even the most casual observer might ask, “Why would early success be unfortunate?” The answer is simple: my team had a serious lack of versatility in the range of events we could perform at high level. We could not run a decent 300IH, 4×400, 4×800, 800m or 1600m. In addition, due to the number of qualifier rounds in consecutive weeks, our kids did not even have the strength to qualify to state in the 200m, which would have been their third event.
Looking back on the training in my first couple of years, I have to apologize to the kids I coached. I need to ask for forgiveness because I did not give them the tools to succeed in a number of events beyond the 100m dash.
Why does a 400m based training system help to deal with the previously mentioned problems? When looking at the events in a high school track meet, a large portion of the events contested require the same energy system development needed when building a competitive 400m athlete. Arguably, the events include the 200m, 4x200m, 400m, 4x400m, 300/400IH, 800m, 800 sprint medley, 1600m sprint medley, 4x800m, 1500m and 1600m runs. (Add a point about field events, maybe that a jump event requires 4-6 attempts of sprint and explosive effort). All of these events require the enhancement of Acceleration, Maximum Velocity, Speed Endurance, Special Endurance I and II, and aspects of tempo work. The above lists of both event versatility, and energy systems are lengthy, yet further validates the importance of a 400meter based training program. A 400m based training system is also useful to provide your athletes the overall fitness to perform at a high level in more than one or two events in a track and field meet. You can equip athletes with the strength to repeat hard efforts over a variety of distances, while at the same time not eliminating their ability to run the 100m dash.
One cannot ignore the inherent psychological benefit of this training. The athletes will perform with increased confidence, believing in the hard work they endured in practice. They will have a decreased fear the first time they step to the line for a 400m race, or a 4×400 relay leg. Your athletes are allowed to attack the race and have a greater chance for success when running the event. A successful first run at this distance is important, as it will increase their buy in for continued training throughout the rest of the season or the athletes’ career.
As a high school coach, this training is very helpful in allowing your kids to move up an event in distance. For mid-distance coaches, this will also allow athletes to move down an event. I have had a number of sprinters “discover” they were actually mid-distance athletes and “distance” runners find out they might be long sprinters. This system is not magic. You will have to sell the workload every step of the way before workouts, during workouts, after practice, and at track meets. Most importantly, if you decide this is the route you want to go, you MUST have your kids trained properly so that when they do compete in the longer sprint events, they are prepared to make it successful, albeit a tough experience.
From my own personal experience since changing to this type of training, we have broken our school records in the 100m, 400m, 300LH, 800m, 1600m, 3200m, 4x100m, 4x200m, 4x400m, 4x800m, and 800m Sprint