Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mental preparation for the 400m

I found this lecture on 400m training and preparation from Lee Evans, 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist whose world record stood for 24 years - 43.86 - and is the 7th fastest performance of all time. The 400m is a race that needs to 'learned' as well as 'trained for.' And, as Evans notes, much of the pre-race preparation is mental:

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.
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 on 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 is 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.

Evans is an advocate of running near even splits, running the first 200m one second over your 200m best and the second 200m one second slower. If I could do that, it would translate to 26.3 + 27.3 = 53.6 ish. Sounds impossible. Knowing that I'm a 100/200 guy trying to be a 400 guy, I really need that aerobic base. I would love to see what my 400m time would be if I had that aerobic base I had developed when running 19+ min 5ks. I think that type of training is the hardest. Also, I need to be able to improve from the other side as well improve my 200m speed. I need to get below 25.

Evans is also a big advocate of running 500 repeats and 'split intervals' (Hart mentioned these as well) ... like:
300m - 1 min rest - 100m - rest 3:30 min- 3x
150m - 40 sec rest - 50m - rest 2 min - 6x
500m - 35 sec rest - 50m x 4 w/ 35 sec rest - rest 6:30 - 2x
800m of sprint 50m / jog 50m - rest 4:30 - 3x

It's been 2 weeks and I'm still not fully recovered. My ab still hurts but the hip/groin is better. (Troublesome stomach aches continue). As predicted, I gained 10 lbs. I was up at one point after a big meal to 151, but I've settled in at about 147. I really feel it. Just climbing the stairs feels a whole lot different. But, I am starting a cleansing diet tomorrow of raw fruits and vegetables in preparation for my fast on Wed and colonoscopy on Thurs. As soon as I start training, my weight will drop to the low 140s, which is nominal.

Here's Michael Johnson winning the 1993 World Championship from lane 3, being very patient, running the first 200 in about 21.6, and smoking the field in the last 200 with a nearly even split of around 22. in the last 200m. Note Bada from Nigeria (in green) in lane 6 - going out too fast (20.9) only to finish fifth.


  1. Bill,

    Thanks for sharing this post....I really like the ideas from Lee Evans (and also the ones from Clyde Hart).

    Best of luck this week with your procedure.