A Glimpse of 400m training

I often wondered whether I could have been a decent 400m runner after I met Iwan Thomas, the British record holder, at Eastleigh parkrun back on New Year’s Day 2012. What I realised standing face-to-face with him is that we are about the same size and build. I never found distance running easy and it’s only as I’ve stumbled across the training of friends and acquaintances on Strava, who have achieved so much more, off much less training, that I realised my struggles are because I’m full of fast-twitch, anaerobic muscle and suited to something shorter. That’s why I’ve been giving the 800m a try.

I’d never seen any sprint training plans, but when I was doing my run coaching courses under the guidance of UK Athletics, I came across a video titled Training for the 400m with Richard Buck (embedded at the end). This 45+ minute video is a fly-on-the-wall documentary of sorts following the training session of a Great Britain medallist.

While Richard isn’t a well-known athlete, he medalled at the 2011 European Indoor championships in Paris. He competed for GB frequently at major indoor championships with his Personal Bests being 6.98s (60m), 10.92 (100m), 21.32 (200m), 45.61 (400m), 1:57.2 (800m).

Any training plan is a progression to build up speed and endurance appropriately for the event. You start off with a small amount of overall work and this grows to be a large one. That doesn’t necessarily mean low volume, remember that the overall amount of work being done is a product of the volume and intensity.

Richard’s training is based on a long-to-short methodology which means he starts his training plan with longer efforts at slower speeds, gradually shortening the distance covered but getting faster. In the video his coach talks about how some of the earlier sessions totalled 3,000m at a medium intensity (5×600 or 10x300m). During the filmed session he only completes 690m of running but all at close to race-pace.

(The alternative to long-to-short is a short-to-long approach which is about always doing work at race pace but starting with short distances and gradually lengthening out the distance of efforts as endurance builds).

As I say the total volume of this session is 690m which breaks down into 4x10m, 3x30m, 1×60, 1×300, 1x200m with breaks of 10-20mins between the final three efforts. Low volume, high intensity, long recoveries. This is not how distance runners should train.

Video overview breakdown

The video is embedded at the bottom of the post but for those who don’t have over forty-five minutes to watch very little happening (!) here’s a breakdown of what goes on.

Warm-up at 4:45

This isn’t shown in full, but involves various movements and dynamic stretching

Heel walks at 6:30

A drill specifically for Richard to help him with dorsiflexion and activation of the muscle in the shin that pulls this up to help with his running action.

Therapy screen at 7:15

His coach does manual manipulation and movement of his lower body, particularly ankles, to check everything feels ok.

Muscle activation at 9:20

The coach applies manual pressure to the back of his left leg and glute to get this ready for being recruited in the training session. The coach states that if it isn’t activated properly, Richard feel pain in the top of his hamstring the next day (because this will have be doing more of the work).

Drills at 10:30

A simple slow march (A-walk) for Richard to work on his motor programming to get the correct movement patterns.

Trackside Therapy Intervention at 12:20

The coach has noticed some internal rotation on his left side so does some physical therapy to try and correct this as he thinks it may be a tight TFL (tensor fasciae latar) muscle on the outside of the hip.

Accelerations at 13:25

4x10m, 3x30m from a crouch position allowing the body weight to fall forward

Block starts at 19:15

3x30m from starting blocks

Speedwork at 23:40

A single 1x60m @95% instead of 100%. Timed at 6.6sec

Nutrition at 25:10

The coach discusses the changes they’ve made to Richard’s nutrition timings – in particularly getting him to eat immediately in the hours after a session. Then a look at drinks, Richard is taking during the session.

Training plan progression discussed at 28:20

Other sessions mention at 30:05 which were 5x600m, another 10x300m where the intensity was medium with appropriate volume and recoveries.

Explanation of recovery between intervals at 32:20

1-2mins per 10metres. Since he ran a 60m at high intensity there has been a break of 10-15 minutes between this and the 300m.

Using the same methodology there will be a break of twenty minutes between the 300 and the final 200m effort.

300m effort at 32:40

After further physical therapy and the fifteen minute break Richard run an all-out 300m effort in 33.4sec. The first 200 is run in 21.5sec.

200m effort at 37:50

After twenty minutes of rest and some more physical therapy during it, Richard runs his final effort of the session – a 200m in 21.6sec slowing down towards the end.

Throughout the session the coaches remark about how fatigued Richard is looking and that this is due to the high volume of training he’s undertaking during this phase. They discuss how when he starts to taper, he will freshen up and his times will improve.

Breakdown of seventeen weeks’ training at 43:50

In these seventeen weeks before his competition, Richard completed 51 specific sessions (95% of race-pace or better) for a total volume of 30,580m. That’s just over 76 laps of a 400m track or in miles – it’s nineteen.

The average volume per session was 600m with a peak of around 1,400m early on. This session videoed was a total volume of 690m.

Of course these stats relate to running on or around race pace and there will be have been many other sessions at lower paces (e.g. running 300m in 36-37 rather than the 33 in this video) but it gives an indication of how training for the long sprint of the 400m is in comparison to distance running.

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