Planning Training and Racing for Quality 400 Meters by Lee Evans

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George Payan
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Planning Training and Racing for Quality 400 Meters by Lee Evans

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There are many ways in which to help your athletes to train and to run quality 400 meters races. Coaches look for athletes who can win, become local and national champions, Olympic Champions and World Record holders. I believe the first important thing to do when working with a young athlete is to find out what It Is that he wants to accomplish. What are his goals? Does he want to be the fastest in his town? In his state? In his country? The fastest in the World? Before I would work seriously with an athlete I must know what he really wants to do with me helping him. What does he really want to do with his ability in whatever event he wants to compete in? Once this is defined, I can then set a course that I feel we can work together to help him reach his goal. Some athletes like being 3rd or 4th in a race; they do not like the pressure of winning.

As coaches we need to find the athletes who can accept the pressures of being a winner, to accept the pressures of being the best In his event and then to help them to achieve this. Hopefully everyone wants to be a champion. Many say that but they are not serious about it. Within the first month of working with an Individual I will find out how serious the athlete really Is In terms of whether he wants to do the work which Is required to become a World Champion or to be just a local competition winner. I will then plan a training schedule accordingly.

I am talking about the 400 meters because this is where I have had a great deal of experience and success. Most of you know my background. People ask me, "How Is It that your World Record has lasted so long for 16 years now ?" At first I shrugged my shoulders; but then as I reflected back I realized that I really love to run. I will run anything. I was in love with my coach, Bud Winter of San Jose, who was guiding me in my running career. This person was like a God to me. Anything he said I would do. I believed in him.

What would I look for in an athlete if he really wants to do well? How much dedication does he have? How much respect does he have for me personally? If the athlete says, "I like this guy," I will help him with his training schedule. How the athlete respects his coach and how well he listens to what the coach has to say is most Important. I have had coaches for whom I had very little respect. I was very fortunate to have a college coach whom I was able to believe in. Somehow he was able to instill in me a strong feeling for him personally. That made me want to compete harder not only for me but also for him.

As a coach you might want to find a way to communicate with an athlete so that he can produce his best. It may be human nature that makes it possible for an athlete to do better in competition not only for himself but also for someone else who is very important to him. This relationship with my coach made me work harder not only to be successful for myself but I also wanted success for him. So it is important in coaching an athlete that you respect him as an athlete and that he respects you as a coach, and together you work toward the ultimate goal, which is to be a champion and to set a World Record.

Right In the beginning I will ask an athlete to write down his goals. Then I would say, "So you want to be a winner.” Now write down all the reasons why you want to be a winner. "Some athletes will give as many as 20 reasons. Others might only give 2 reasons. Some athletes really do not want to win. They might give a reason such as "it will feel good to win," or "I want to win a medal." I have had athletes who have indicated only one reason why they want to win. When coaching I try to give these athletes many reasons why they might want to win. This is the way I competed. Every day I would give them different reasons why they should want to be successful. Every day I would invent reasons to keep them interested. As coaches we need to find as many reasons as we can for athletes to want to be successful. When I was in Africa it was very easy to find reasons why the athletes there should want to do well in their events. It might mean scholarships to America. It meant moving up in their community, country socially and economically.

There are many ways to become a winner. Some of the goals we set together with athletes might be to go undefeated during the current season. Each year beginning with 196 I would write in my diary, "I want to go undefeated this year." As a coach I would try to get athletes to keep a diary in which they can list their goals and objectives for the season and I would try to stick to them.

I would develop a training program beginning in September which we would try to stick to so we could develop a solid base from then …. would begin with long distance runs. This is the time when you need to work with the athlete’s head to get him psychologically prepared to become a winner in June or July. I would get them to believe that it is easy to win because most athletes do not run the whole race to win.

I was In Africa for seven years and since I have returned I have not seen a 400-meter runner who runs the whole race. They might run 395, 396 or 398 meters. When I was running I would run 402 or more meters. This is how to win the big important races. You must teach your athletes this principle very early. Sometimes it takes nine months to get them to believe in this. The things I want them to do in July I have them working on in September. Sometimes I need to really harass them about the many small things, but this one is the most Important. Running the entire distance and beyond it will make your runners winners. I try to teach them that during the last three strides they must Push! Push! and Dip! They must push hard at the ankles and in the last stride drop the head and bend at the waist and throw the hands back and to go past the tape to 401 or more meters. I learned this from my coach. He would really harass us about this. We would continually rehearse this.

The athlete may have practiced all the many little things he must learn to be a winner, but he must work on this especially when it is important at the end of the season in the big races. Everyone is running at their best and they are all tired. You know they are all tired and the competition begins to slow down near the end of the race almost to a stop. In such cases in my experience I would say, "Thank you," because they made it easy for me to win during the last three strides.

Another important thing, which helped me win, was Mental Preparation. I was a little different than most of the others. On the night before the big competitions I would be in bed by eight o'clock in the evening and I would stay in bed in the morning after a good night's sleep. In the morning I would sit up in bed, close my eyes and practice visualization. I would see myself winning the race from each of the lanes one through eight. I would see myself run every step of the race. I would see myself have a perfect start. I would see myself run the first 100 meters fast. I would see myself run the second 100 meters with the longest stride possible, and In the third 100 meters I would feel myself run as fast as I had ever run In my life. In the last 100 meters I would see myself maintain the speed, which I had generated during the third 100 meters. I would run this in my mind over and over again at least fifty times. I would not just visualize the race; I would begin from when I would leave my room and I would go downstairs or take the elevator. I would get on the bus. I would go to the warm up track and I would go through my warm up. I would do four laps of warm up and I would stretch. I would do 3 x 100 meters and about three-fourths speed. I would make certain I would not be diverted by anything such as a girl friend or by buddies who might come over to ask how I was doing. I would always tell them I would talk to them after the race. My head was on straight and I tried to keep it that way. By concentrating on what I had to do I knew that I could win and set a record. I set eight World Records during my racing career and each time I did I can remember going through this mental practice, spending the whole day In my room. In fact it became very boring and I did not like it at all and I was glad when the race was over with. I would just sit or lie there and concentrate on how I would push hard out of the blocks, I would have a long low lead arm. I would make up half the stagger- distance of the runner In front of me during the first 50 meters and then I would catch up with him and on and on and on. I would think and concentrate all day and when I would actually go to the stadium I still had this mental set. When the starter would shoot the gun I felt I was detached and no longer a part of the race. I would lay off the shoulder of the runner In front of me and try to hold on to this runner who was running like mad and I was the one who was running like mad, but I was not there any more. I am in another place observing, the same as a spectator observing. Perhaps I placed myself in a hypnotic trance (I really did not know what it was) but I knew I could do that when I could take the time to do it. I did It out of the competitive desire, I wanted to win very badly because It was something I had worked very hard to get. I wanted to win the race and I wanted to set a record so I spent 8 to 10 hours knowing my opponents did not prepare as I did.

So mental preparation is important and I tell athletes this. You just don't show up for the race and Just say you are going to run as fast as you can. You can develop a certain magic, perhaps a spiritual oneness of mind-body coordination. To me, this is what preparation is physically and mentally. This gave me confidence by having done everything I could have done to be ready for when the important event came. You have respect for your opponents and for your coach, and you have the confidence of and from your coach, so that when you step to the line you are ready to take on anyone. I always believed I could wipe out all my opponents. I watched most of them in practice and I knew I had done a lot more than they had to get ready. I practiced doing 30 push-ups and 30 sit-ups daily before practice. I practiced each section of the race. I practiced the last few steps and the dip at the tape and beyond it daily.

You just have to get your athletes to believe and to do more than their opponents so that they feel they have an advantage. This helps especially during the last 20 meters when their arms get tired but yours don't get tired. Everyone is training and they are all in great condition but you must feel you have done more of the many little things and better. All this helps right through the last dive for the tape. The one who wants it the most is the one who has worked for it and has this confidence. If one approaches a race with any doubts, it is all the little things no one else has done that might make the difference. I knew they would be tired and I would be tired but I had that little bit extra. This is the psychology of being competitive.
Now I would like to talk about the value of even pace racing for the 400 meters. There has been quite a lot of discussion concerning this. I personally feel that the entire 400-meter race is anaerobic-run in oxygen debt all the way. I have run the first 100 meters of the race and felt winded, but as I was accustomed to running in an oxygen debt condition I learned to ignore it. By running 500's at least once a week you can learn to run a quality race under this condition. You can still work through the race since you will have trained doing these strong 495's since February. I really did not like doing 500's but when my coach said do 3 x 500 meters I would go out and do them the best I could. Athletes need to be reinforced with all these positive things, which will help them so that they believe in what they can do. I believe there should be only a one second differential between the first 200 meters and the second 200 meters in a quality 400-meter race. I have experimented with myself and with athletes I have coached using many variations-running as fast as possible from the beginning hanging on to the end; and I have experimented with running conservatively for the first 200 meters. For an athlete who's best 200 meters out of blocks is 22.0 I would convince this runner to run his first 200 at about 23.2 to 23.5; and if he has been training correctly he can come back with another 23 flat. Even if he comes in with a 24 it is fine because if we continue to work on his speed to get his 200-meter time down, his 400-meter time will come down also.

In running the 200 meters under control, the fatigue does not build up as rapidly in the body. The fatigue is delayed to where he might feel "the bear" In his muscles coming into the last 50 meters-even when running evenly. When John Smith ran 44.5 for 440 yards in 1971, he ran his first 220 yards In 22.2 and the second 220 yards In 22-3. In running that kind of a race he was in total control of the race at 270 yards. It even looked as If he was accelerating. He was not accelerating, he was maintaining the same speed he was running from the start and he kept It all the way through.

As a young runner at 18 years of age, the first time I ran 46 1 ran 23 flat and 23.1. All of the fast 400 meter races began with Mike Larabee, gold medallist In 1964, myself In 1968, John Smith, etc. Anyone can go out to burn the first 300 meters in 32 seconds and then tie up. I can do that today (maybe 33.5) but fatigue will set in and I will finish slowly.

This is what many American 400 meter runners have been doing during the past few years, and I have been telling them that if they go out In 21.2 when their best time is around 45, it is not very smart to come back within 24 seconds. It just sets up the race perfectly for a competitor to go by you in the last 50 meters. Thus they can be defeated with a 45.1 or 45.2. If a runner can run 45.4 the smart thing to do is to go out at about 22.3 or 22.4. In this way he can start racing at the 200-meter mark. The race starts at the 200-meter mark. Get to the 200 meters in a relatively good position-you should be able to reach out to touch the leader at 200. Let him have no more than 3 meters but take it back in the third 100 meters. On the back straightaway you should be either about one step ahead or one step behind. After running the first 200 meters under-control you will be able to maintain the speed you build up in the third 100 meters into the finish. This is what it takes to win the big races. Any good finisher-the one who can run the last 40 meters well, can Win. The winners look like they are making a fast move in the last part of the race but they are only maintaining their speed.

To win the big races it takes a person who can lift during the last part of the race. It takes a lot of mental preparation to be able to lift during the last 40 meters of a quality race. My best time for 200 meters before Mexico City was 20.4. 1 ran the first 200 of the 400 meters there in 21.4 so I was within one second of my best 200-meter time. I came back during the second 200 meters In 22.4, but to me that 22.4 was agonizing because I was breaking the whole time. I wanted to race, I really wanted to go faster' This was the Olympic Games and I wanted to run as fast as I could right away but It took a lot of discipline and a lot of concentration not to go faster. When I saw the 200-meter mark I knew that was the time to race as fast as I could. I ran the third 100 meters as fast as I could go. By racing the third 100 meters the other runners will come back to you if you just do not panic. The main thing to be thinking about is high knees, for- ward arm drive toward the finish line, and relaxation. Running the last 100 meters was just like having a tape recorder in my mind repeating over and over-High Knees! Forward Arms! Relax! Relax! Relax! This is what Coach Bud Winter coached into us-Tommy Smith, John Carlos and me. You learn to do this right through the finish and beyond with practice. I never really liked doing 500's but when my coach said do 3 x 500 meters I would go out and do it, and In the long run it certainly worked for me.

* Presented at the IX International Track and Field Coaches’ Congress, Santa Monica, California, July 30, 1984

400 meter training for the year 2001

3 X 300 meters/ 3 X 100 meters
1. 300 m 1:00 min 100 m 3:30 Interval
2. 100 m 1:30 min 300 m 3:45 Interval
3. 300 m 1:00 min 100 m

6 X 150 meters/5 X 50 meters
1. 150 :40 sec-50 m 2:00 Interval
2. 150 m :40 sec-50 m ETC

2 X 500 m/8 X 50 m
1. 500 m :35 sec-4 X 50 m 6:30 Interval
2. 500 m :35 sec- 4 X 50 m

10 X 100 m with 30:sec. Interval

Race 2/2/2 Sprint 50 meters jog 50 meters
1. 2 laps 50 meters 4:30 min Interval
2. 2 laps 50 meter 4:30 min Interval
3. 2 laps 50 meters

4 sets of 150-200-100 walk 4:30 between sets

3 X 300 meters-I X 500 meters-4 X 50 meters

3/2/1 = 3 laps 50's walk 1 lap interval 2 laps 50's walk lap interval lap 50's
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