400m Masterclass with Morgan Mitchell
The 400 metres is one of the most brutal events in track and field. It’s classified a sprint race, but it pushes athletes’ tenacity, commitment and guts to the absolute limit.
What is it like to race the 400 at an elite level?
GC2018.com caught up with Olympian, three-time Australian champion and Commonwealth Games hopeful Morgan Mitchell to break down everything that happens in the 400m event.
What is it like running the 400?
You have to sacrifice a lot.
For one lap, the work we go through is hell, it is absolutely hell. You need to be on point with every little thing that goes on in your life.
It’s like any job, you have to work hard to get results, ours is such a basic movement, left leg, right leg, to be efficient and to be very fast, you have to put your body through hell.
The 400 is brutal.
What does it feel like when you are on the track at the start of the race and your name is called?
It is electric. The feeling with all eyes on you, it is crazy.
All these people are here watching me at this moment in time. It is the most exciting feeling. So many people are getting behind you and it gets you really revved up.
Does the lane you are in matter?
We are all running 400 metres at the end of the day. It is the same distance for everyone. Some people do like to be in the middle; in lanes four, five and six, so they can see what is happening.
I ran my personal best in lane eight, where I couldn’t see anyone. I felt like it allowed me to run more freely. You have to focus on yourself, you are forced to.
Wayde van Niekerk broke the long-standing men’s 400 world record in lane eight at the Olympics. So I don’t think it matters which lane you are in.
Talk us through the race, what is happening when you hear:
“On your marks”
When they say ‘on your marks’ this weird feeling comes over me, I literally forget about everything. It is so weird.
I can only see my lane, nothing else.
I am nervous, I just think ‘go’, I try to keep things simple. Subconsciously I can feel myself thinking about every single 100 and breaking it down into sections.
But the word that comes into my head is go, go, go.
I’m such an aggressive runner, if I get held in ‘set’ any longer, you just feel like boxing.
You get so aggressive, because you are so fit and ready, it is really exciting. Anything can happen. You are stepping into the unknown, I love that.
When you are in ‘set’ it doesn’t feel long at all. I’ve watched races and everyone is on edge and you think come on let’s get this race started, but when you are in ‘set’ – if you are held for a long time you are thinking ‘come on my fingers are going to break’. You forget about everything.
When you are in ‘set’ it doesn’t feel long at all, but to outsiders it can feel a lot longer.
I just try to stay in tune with my body. You have enough time to overthink in the 400. Sometimes you finish the race and think where did that time go.
If I overthink, I get sidetracked, you have to focus on what you have to do.
Focusing on getting out hard and using the fresh legs while you have got them and then chilling when you get the chance. That sets me up for the final straight.
“Bang” - First 100m
The first 100 is exciting, everyone is fresh, it really sets it up. You have to get out hard, because the 400 sucks, you are going to tire as you get further and further in the race.
My mindset is that I might as well get out harder than I’m used to at training, because these girls might run away from me. You can’t really re-accelerate with 150 to go when you are really feeling it.
The first 100, we are all fresh, we get out hard.
Second 100 – The back straight
Once you get off that bend into the back straight, it is time to go. I just like to float and keep as relaxed as possible. Because that is the only time you have to feel good.
That back straight seems to go forever because I’m relaxed, I’m still in the mix.
I’m chilled, that’s the thing, who’s chilled in a 400?!
That is a good feeling when you nail it, I feel invincible if I nail that back straight.
Third 100 – The bend
My third bend has been a bit rusty, I can admit that, and we are working on that at the moment.
Once we get from that back straight into the three, that’s when everyone starts to turn on because you only have 200 metres left.
But that is where we very slowly and subtly start to pick it up.
People can’t even notice it, when you get it right it is amazing. You start to pick it up, because you know you are about to go through hell. You don’t want to deaccelerate. Going into the 250 mark, you try to pick it up, pick it up.
For some reason I always see the water jump and think bang, 150 to go. Once I see that, I do suss everyone out for a quick second to see who is going and who is not.
When you are really fit and in tune with your body, you know when to really step it up.
Final 100 – The home straight
It’s all just guts down that final 100.
Sometimes I might leave it to 40 metres to go when everyone is tiring. Or sometimes I might need to go a bit earlier if the girls are running 49s.
I have this mantra in my head and people think ‘how do you finish so strong’ and I guess it’s guts.
You have to block out the lactic acid, because otherwise you would fall to pieces.
Some people attack it differently, they go out really hard and pray. I wish I could do, but I’m not that fast. As a youngster, if you go out too hard, you really pay for it. Some people get it right, when you haven’t gone too fast.
The perfect example is new world record holder South African Wayde van Niekerk. We all thought he had gone out way too hard, but I think he was just on the brink where he could keep his body going and he ran 43, it was incredible. When you nail that, it is the best feeling.
Not that I’ll ever run 43.
The mental edge
Whatever level you are at, everyone is at that level for a reason, that is why we have these major events. I like to think if we are all running within a second of each other, it comes down to who wants it the most.
If we are all here physically, who is actually here mentally, that is the next step. The mental component is just as important. Some people disregard it.
It is important to block out whatever has happened in that day, month, whatever is going on in my life, you really need to be there, in the moment, 51-52 seconds is nothing. Switch on and get it done.
You go through hell in the 400, but it’s only once you cross the line that you really feel all that pain and that lactic acid. Then it really hurts. A lot.
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