Relay Time Trials – Find Your Four Best Legs

John Brumund-Smith Illinois HS Cross Country Leave a Comment

Like many of you, the relays are my favorite events in Track & Field. I love the team element, love working on the handoffs, love the technical aspect, love figuring out who’s going to run each leg, love relay meets, etc. As much as I loved running the relays (back when I was actually athletic), I probably love coaching them even more. As coaches, however, we have a dilemma on who’s going to make the relay teams at the championship meets almost every year. The subjectivity of the sprint relays especially makes them ripe for controversy.

Ninety-nine times out of 100, your four fastest 400m runners will be on your 4x400m and your four fastest 800m runners will be on your 4x800m. There’s no real dilemma there. The handoffs are very simple and do not usually decide a race. The distances are all relatively the same. Obviously not all the athletes on these relays will run their respective open events, but over the course of a season it’s easy to compare times from the relays and open events to figure out who should be on those relays.

There are so many factors to consider in the 4x100m Relay. Some athletes are left-handed and are only comfortable running the second leg. Some are great on turns but average on straights, or vice versa. Some have a great start, others have a terrible start but are great once they get up to speed. These are just some of the considerations you have to make when picking a relay. Why, then, do some coaches just assume that their four fastest open 100m Dash runners will be their four best 4x100m Relay runners? As often as not, that isn’t the case.

We’ve all seen it. The outdoor season starts up and a coach will either hold a 100m Dash time trial in practice to figure out his 4x100m, or chuck all his athletes in the 100m Dash in the first meet of the season to see which four emerge. The indoor meets offer us no real way to gauge the 100m, of course, so you’ll start seeing this once April hits. There’s got to be a better way, right? Actually, there is.

120m Time Trial
How many of your athletes only run 100 meters in the 4x100m Relay? None, unless your leadoff hands off before the middle of the zone. Counting time spent in the acceleration zone, second and third legs are running 130 meaningful meters. Anchor legs should all be starting at the back of the acceleration zone, which means they’re running 120 meters. So shouldn’t we be gauging which athletes can run longer than 100 meters?

The 120m time trial is extremely easy to set up.

-Starting line is the acceleration zone triangle for the final zone of the 4x100m Relay. Finish at the common finish line. You can have the athletes start with either their front foot or their back foot on the triangle (starting with the back foot on the triangle more closely mimics an actual 4x100m Relay).

-Instead of using blocks, use a three-point or four-point stance like the athletes use in a relay.

-Every athlete holds a baton.

-If you want to get real specific, you can even have the athletes look back (as they would in a 4x100m) and react to a motion rather than reacting to a gun.

This is as specific as you can get with a common finish line. Obviously it isn’t perfect, because each leg in the 4x100m Relay has its own unique elements. In general, this will give you a much better idea as to whom should be on your 4x100m than the open 100m Dash ever will. If your main question is between a few kids for the anchor leg, this race is absolutely perfect (assuming they all know how to catch a proper handoff, which isn’t tested here).

110m Leadoff Trial
The leadoff of the 4x100m is incredibly easy to test. Here’s how you set it up.

-Start on the 200m Dash start line.

-Finish at the end of the final 4x100m Relay exchange zone.

-Use blocks and a baton.

This is a 110m race on a curve with a straight finish line. Perfect. You can put a camera on the finish line (or just stand there) and tell exactly who ran faster. Second and third leg are much trickier, but you can make an objective decision for your lead-off and anchor legs based on the 110m and 120m time trials, respectively (as long as you line them up correctly). A more specific trial for third leg would be to just run this 110m trial, but without blocks. That will give you a good measure of speed on a corner.

The 110m Leadoff Trial helped determine the first leg of this relay. The 220m Time Trial helped determine the final leg of the relay pictured at the top of this article.

The 110m Leadoff Trial helped determine the first leg of this relay. The 220m Time Trial helped determine the final leg of the relay pictured at the top of this article.

220m Time Trial
For the most part, your four fastest 200m runners will be on the 4x200m Relay (assuming you’re loading it, which many of us don’t do). However, most athletes are really running 220 or 230 meters in the relay. That’s a 10-15% difference, which is enough to cause some discrepancies. The 220m Time Trial can objectively tell you which athletes should be on the relay.

-Starting line is the acceleration zone triangle for the final zone of the 4x200m Relay. Finish at the common finish line.

-Instead of using blocks, use a three-point or four-point stance like they’d use in a relay.

-Every athlete holds a baton.

-Just like with the 120m Time Trial, you can even have the athletes look back (as they would in a 4x200m) and react to a motion rather than reacting to a gun.

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The best real-world scenario to figure out who should be on your relays, of course, are the actual races themselves. However, I would advise against taking hand-time splits in the 4x100m Relay and comparing them from meet to meet. What are you hoping to get out of that? How are you possibly taking accurate splits? I’ve actually seen coaches who give a stopwatch to a kid to take 4x100m splits from up in the stands! You may as well just pick times out of a hat. They’d probably be just as accurate.

One of the very few benefits of the five dual meets all the teams in our conference are forced to participate in every year is the opportunity to run people against each other in the relays. We can match up athletes on any of the relays, make sure they end up in the lanes next to each other, and see how they do. This is especially helpful on the second-leg of the 4x100m Relay.

Objectivity is one of the greatest parts of our sport. The 110m, 120m and 220m Time Trials outlined above can help bring objectivity to your sprint relays.

 

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