400m Hurdles: The Run-in

One of the most important parts of the 400m hurdles is the run-in off the last hurdle. But it’s not a part of the race that gets practiced very often, or very effectively. Still, no one would argue that the run-in can make the difference in the race. This article will discuss the run-in and how to prepare for it.

The run-in off the last hurdle actually begins during the last couple steps before the tenth hurdle. It is very important to attack the final hurdle without chopping or over-striding. Any lack of rhythm going into that hurdle will cause you to lose speed. And with fatigue being such a huge factor at that point in the race, a loss of rhythm heading into that hurdle can cause critical damage and basically ruin your race, no matter how well you were running up to that point.

Because the run-in begins on the front side of the last hurdle, it’s important to know how many steps you want to take between hurdles nine and ten. And this is a matter of knowing your own body and knowing the rhythm that works best for you. There is no one “right” way to approach the last hurdle. Conventional wisdom says less strides is better, but that’s not always true. Sometimes, you lose too much turnover by trying to hold on to your stride pattern. In the 1987 world championships, for example, when Edwin Moses, Danny Harris, and Harald Schmid crossed the line at virtually the same time, Moses barely held on for the win with a perfectly-timed lean at the finish. Moses, of course, always 13-stepped the whole race. In looking at that race, it’s apparent that 13-stepping the last hurdle forced him to over-stride a bit. Had he switched legs and 14-stepped, he would’ve had more momentum going into the hurdle, and thus more momentum heading toward the finish line. He would’ve been able to create some separation instead of needing to rely on that perfect lean.

But yes, sometimes less is better. If, in the above example, Moses had dropped down to 15 strides, he’d’ve been done for. Both Schmid and Harris would’ve blown by him.

With a 35-meter run-in to the last hurdle, a lot can happen between the last hurdle and the finish line. You can go from first to worst, or vice versa, in that span of space. So it’s important to train with that fact in mind. To run well over 10 hurdles and then to fall apart on the way to the finish line, that’s not cool.

A workout that would help to develop the proper running instincts coming off the last hurdle would be the following:

Set up the last three or four hurdles and have the athlete run 150s or 180s over those hurdles, having him or her focus on sprinting off the last hurdle and through the finish line. The idea is just to get the athlete in the habit of coming off the last hurdle sprinting, of conceptualizing the finish line as an 11th hurdle, if you will. I don’t advocate the idea of running 300s or 400s in which the athlete clears only the last three or four hurdles. You can’t develop a hurdling rhythm that way. To add a sense of late-race fatigue, have the athlete do something like a set of 30 pushups, followed by a 30-meter lunge, and then go to the line and start the rep. That way, the athlete can get in more reps without a lot of unnecessary pounding on the legs.

The above workout will also appear on the “workouts” page of this site for easier access.

© 2008 Steve McGill

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