A 10-14 day Taper: The BU 4×4 Experience

Posted by Gabe Sanders

BU 4x4March 2nd and 3rd, 2013 will forever be one of the most memorable in Boston University Sprinting history.  On the very same weekend both the Men’s and Women’s 4x400m relay teams scored school record performances, with the women’s walking (more like running!) away with a new record of 3:47.14 and the men’s team not only coming away with a school record, but also the fastest relay time of any team/school in the New England Region in history with a time of 3:08.41.  The days leading up to these remarkable performances were filled with a great deal of anxiety and excitement.  This excitement came not with a “fingers-crossed” mentality, but with one knowing that the ground work had been laid and the appropriate finishing touches were exercised.  Those finishing touches are/were the 10-14 day taper put in place and that ground work was the overall program which dictated what the taper called for.  The following is BU 4×4 tapering experience and how it fit perfectly within the context of the whole program.


Before going into great detail, below are the approximate days leading up the momentous for the 4×4 teams and a few side notes.

*Days highlighted are what I felt were key components in 1) The final preparation for optimal performance, and 2) practical indicators for potential competition outputs.  Another, simpler way to put it, they are what I consider true bench mark workouts for 400m athletes.

*Below are the main bodies of the practice sessions.  There were/are key nuances within each day through warm up modalities, cool down modalities and other auxiliary components.

*Weight training was indeed taking place twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays through competition with a high intensity, low volume theme including a single Olympic movement exercise and single core lift exercise (form of squat).

*LS – Long Sprinters; SS – Short Sprinters; M – Men; W – Women

>*Numbers correlate to days leading up to final performances

*3/2/13 – 3:08.41 (Splits of 47.7-46.0-46.7-47.8) – Boston U Men’s 4×4 School Record; All New England Area Record

*3/1/13 – Men – 3:11.64 (qualified for IC4A final) / Women – 3:47.14 (Splits of 57.3-55.7-57.0-56.9) – Boston U Women’s 4×4 School Record

  1. All: 3 x 30-40m Block Starts
  2. Shake out – Warm Up, go home
  3. LS: 3 x 150m @95+% w/full recovery (approximately 15 minutes); SS: 80-100-120 @95+% w/full recovery (approximately 15 minutes)
  4. Shakeout – 6 x 50m strides
  5. All: 2 x 30, 2 x 40, 2 x 60 Block Starts
  6. Full Rest
  7. 3:09.45 – Boston U Men’s 4×4 School Record / 3:48.12 – 3rd best time in Boston U Women’s history, ECAC qualifying mark
  8. 3-5 x 30-40m Block Starts
  9. Massage / Shakeout – 6 x 50m strides
  10. 10. M-LS:  320m Time Trial; 15 min Rest; 200m; M/W-SS: 180-150-120 @98% w/full recovery; W-LS: 3 x 150m @95+% w/full recovery
  11. Massage / Shake out – Warm Up, go home
  12. LS: 3 x 30, 3 x 60, 450m@85-89%, 2 x 200@85%; SS: 3 x 30m, 3 x 60m, 2 x 150m Build-up
  13. Full Rest
  14. 14. LS: 6 x 250m @90+% of 400m race pace, rest: 3 min; SS: 3 x 3 x 150@90% or 400m race pace, rest: 90 sec/6 min.

Loading/Training Patterns

The first thing I would like to point regarding the set up is the emphasis on a very high/low pattern of intensity combined with a overall lower (emphasis on lower, NOT low) volume of work throughout this period.  One area that must remain constant in training so that it truly reflects the time of year is the intensity level.  During this time of year, the true competitive and championship peaking season, resting and recovering from hard training sessions, even those with a low dose of activity is critical to optimal performance.  With recovery being a key theme while training intensity still remaining high, the premium variables affecting this are:


A)  The overall volume of training

B)  The density of training.  That is, how frequently you are prescribing specific training intensities.

C)  The consistency of training stimuli during this period


With that being said, I try to stay away from activities or training patterns that might make the athletes tired and/or sore for more or less the only reward being making the athletes tired and/or sore!  In most all cases this would come from a high overall volume, a high density of training, and brand new training modalities!


At this point leading up to key competitions at the end of a season we must understand the fitness and speed levels for the most part are set.  In my mind the final weeks and days leading up season ending performances are not the cause of those performances but instead act as the catalyst that allow all the work put in to come out to fruition.  For instance, if you have not done an adequate amount of true speed and speed-endurance work, a single session of 3 x 150m at 95+% with full recovery will not make up for that, but from both an energy system and a CNS priming stand point for a 400m sprinter, this session can act as the perfect final tune up for an upcoming key or primary competition.


RELATED: Advanced Concepts in Training 400 Meter Runners


I’m sure many of you have asked yourself, “So why a tapering blog now in the beginning, headed towards the middle of the season?”  If you are to take anything at all away from this entry, it’s that your tapering process is a direct result of every aspect you have completed in training up until a couple weeks out, so now we a given a whole new perspective on “work now with the end in mind!”


Benchmark Sessions (and how they fit the context of the program):

Benchmark sessions should be a reflection of the specific demands of the event you are tapering for. For example, there are vastly differing demands between the 100m and 400m events.  While both events have a very high neural demand, there is a very low dependence on energy system demands in the 100m dash, whereas in the 400m dash there is a larger energy system demands based on the extended time frame of the event.  Benchmark session within one’s own program should also a reflection of the training modalities that have been in place for the entirety of a program.  Introducing new training concepts or technical components in the weeks leading up to final championship competitions can have disastrous effects, severely negatively affecting performances.  Instead, these sessions should have the goal of stabilizing and finalizing key performance and technical parameters that have been set up through the body of your program up to this point.


A Benchmark Session Example: 6 x 250m @90+% of 400m race pace, 3 x 3 x 150@400m race pace


In our 4x400m relay training group our first benchmark sessions was 6 x 250m efforts at approximately 90% of 400m race pace with 3 minutes rest for the ‘true’ 400m athletes (long sprinters) and 3 sets of 3 x 150m efforts at approximately 400m race pace with 90 seconds rest between efforts and 6 minutes between sets for 100m/200m athletes (short sprinters) who were also in the relay pool.  I’m a big fan of intensive tempo run use for 400m athletes as an anaerobic capacity/lactate tolerance developer.  When prescribed in the right manner with timing and application, intensive tempo runs can actually “bleed” (credit to my friend and colleague Matt Gardner for terminology) into the realm of speed/special endurance type work.  How so?


I asked my athletes to focus on hitting 200m splits that were in the range of 80-85% of their approximate 200m fitness and continue/maintain pacing through 250m.  For the men, this ended up averaging out to 25.3 seconds for each rep with a slow rep of 25.7 and fast rep of 24.6.  For the women this averaged out to 30.4 with a slow rep of 31.5 and a fast rep of 29.  Where does the bleed into speed/special endurance come into play with a workout focusing on 80-85% of max efforts?  If you take a step back and look at the broad picture of this workout, these athletes were able to accomplish 1500m of total work averaging over 90% of goal 400m race pace in approximately 15 minutes. This physiological (and psychological!) place these athletes were put in created a state that could be nearly unmatched by anything short of an actual 400m race effort while still gaining a large bang for one’s buck stabilizing very specific 400m race/event qualities of lactate capacity and tolerance.  This session can actually be even more challenging with a smaller recovery window (all the way down to 90 seconds) which I intend to administer later in the outdoor season when there has been a larger training window.


For the short sprinters that were in the relay pool (one male and one female) that may have a more challenging time with the effort distances and rest intervals, the same goal can be achieve by toying with both variables, in this case shortening interval distance and rest periods, thus you have 3 sets of 3 x 150m @ 400m race pace.  I asked them to give me 85-89% 150m efforts over the course of the workout.  For the male sprinter this came out to approximately 17.5 second efforts and the female 21 second efforts.  Again, much like the 250m session these athletes were able to accomplish 1350m of total work averaging their goal 400m race pace in 450m segments in 3 total minutes and 15 minutes for the full session.  *These athletes went on to split 46.7 seconds and 55.7 seconds.


These sessions are not ones that were picked out of thin air but were built up to through the training year.  We have completed sessions throughout the year of repeated 200m efforts ranging from 16 x 200m @65-70% with 90 seconds – 2 minutes rest, 8 x 200m @80% with 3:30 minutes rest, and 6 x 200m @85+% with 5 minutes rest.  The athletes were very accustomed to sessions similar to this and in turn it was not necessarily a “shock” to their systems that they would cause a negative adaptation (either not able to functionally accomplish session and/or taking too much time recovering from brand new stimulus) but more of a “challenge” to their systems that would encourage a positive training adaptation.


A Benchmark Session example: The 320m Time Trial with a 200m secondary effort


Later in the tapering process our final benchmark session was a 320m time trial followed up by a single hard 200m effort exactly 10 days out from the goal performance date.  The goal of this session is to finalize and stabilize the absolute speed endurance nature of the 400m race with a secondary aspect of repeatability.  The nature of 320m allows for a near all out race effort without the total unforgiving aspect of the anaerobic point of no return involved in running efforts beyond 300m.  That extra 20 meters takes the athletes just to the red line point of TRUE race simulation.  In my experience, and in the experience of many of my colleagues, as a performance indicator higher level athletes can translate a 320m time trial by adding approximately 10-11 seconds and 12-13 seconds for women to achieve their predicted 400m race time while athletes on the lower level end of the spectrum are closer to 12-13 seconds for men and 14-15 seconds for women.  The secondary hard effort of 200m comes into play to help indicate “round readiness”.  That is, can an athlete duplicate their speed abilities over a given period of time?  Another, simpler phrase could be an indication of repeat sprint ability.  The top athlete in my training group was able to achieve a 320m time of 35.7 seconds with a secondary 200m time of 22.0 seconds.  He went on to run 46.85 and 46.82 seconds in the open 400 and split exactly 46.0 seconds in our school record relay.


RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Acceleration and Max Velocity Activities & Progressions w/ Gabe Sanders


For a fun trivia fact, the fastest session on record is that of indoor 400m record holder Kerron Clement, who 10 days prior to his world record run of 44.57 seconds ran 320m in 34.4 seconds and 12 minutes later ran 200m in 20.4 seconds!  WOW!


Notes on the Athletes

While at face value the mark of 3:08.41 seconds for the men’s team may be a superior mark (ended up being exactly .57 seconds away from NCAA qualifying) to the women’s mark of 3:47.14, I am in no way being politically correct when I say I am equally proud of both groups.  Both are school record marks and both groups of athletes put just as much time, energy and group effort into these achievements.  If you get into more of the background of the athletes, you may be even more impressed with the accomplishment of the women’s team.  While each individual member of the men’s team were very highly touted athletes coming out of high school, and to date 3 out of the 4 have been nationally ranked in individual sprinting events, the women’s team was comprised of a group walk-on athletes that entered college with a single 400m best of 57 seconds.  The next was 58.8, and the final two were a 16 second 100m hurdler and a 12.4 100m runner!  In the set up you can see the women’s relay pool did not perform the 320m time trial, that group had not yet qualified for the ECAC Championship meet and I felt the need to be sure the team felt extra fresh going into their initial post season competition.  I felt confident enough that their training up to that point would see them through and my bet paid off!

They were able to achieve the qualifying standard and still maintain peak form going into the championships the following week, reaching higher heights and a brand new school record!


The point I am getting at is that the training set up for all of these athletes were very similar in nature and for some identical.  The key was the proper build throughout the entire process and at the end setting everyone up to put all their hard work to the forefront.  In this case our tapering process seemed to truly let everyone shine!


I’m sure there will be plenty of questions for the rest of the tapering set up presented, and I welcome all inquiries!  Best of luck the rest of the season in setting up your taper!

Follow Coach Sanders on Twitter @CoachGSanders


Gabe Sanders - Sanders has completed three years as Stanford's sprints and hurdles coach, having joined the Cardinal staff in October 2015. Sanders previously coached at Boston University for seven seasons, where he was the program’s recruiting coordinator. Fifteen school records were set under his watch and Terriers’ sprinters and hurdlers combined for 16 Patriot League titles and 28 America East crowns. He also coached athletes to 10 conference meet records – six in America East and four in the Patriot League. Sanders was named 2012 USTFCCCA Northeast Region Indoor Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year and had 21 NCAA regional qualifiers and one NCAA Championships finalist. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sanders earned his degree in kinesiology with minors in sport management and communication from the University of Michigan in December 2005. In 2014, Sanders earned his master's in physical education with a specialization in coaching from Boston University.

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