How to pass the baton in a 400 metre relay race
Passing and receiving the relay baton
I used to consider myself lucky if I was running the first leg or last leg of a 400 metre relay race, as then I only had to worry about either passing or receiving the relay baton. Generally, though, even if running the second or third 100 metre leg of a relay race, I managed to pass and receive the baton well. Of course this also depended on how well it was passed to me, or how well it was received by the next sprinter in our team of 4.
I'm not sure what the relay rules are for adult athletics, and am basing my details described here on what I remember from my high school athletics days, and from having helped train one or two primary school relay teams at the school my children go to.
Bad passing of the relay baton
Not too bad a pass
The first runner in a 400 metre relay team
For this tutorial, I will refer to the athletes as "he" - probably because I have two sons - and will also have our first runner starting with the relay baton in his right hand.
The sprinter goes down into the starting position clutching the baton quite close to the end of it that he is on, and far away from the end pointing down the curve of the track ahead of him.
It is a bad idea to hold the baton in the middle or close to the end closest to the track ahead.
As the first sprinter approaches the second member of the relay team, waiting at the 300 metre mark, he swings the relay baton firmly up and into the open and outstretched left hand of relay runner number two.
The second athlete in a 400 metre relay race
The second relay runner has:
- his left arm outstretched behind him, with the left hand being at about the same height above the ground as his waist is
- his left palm facing downward, with all his fingers other than his thumb close together
- his thumb well extended away from the rest of his fingers angled generally at a 45 degree angle toward the inside of the athletics track, and the other fingers angled in an opposite 45 degree angle, towards the outside of the lane he is standing in, forming a 90 degree angle between his thumb and fingers, almost like the tip of an invisible arrow pointing at himself
This second runner in the 400 metre relay race, stands well to the right of his lane, as the first runner will have the relay baton is his right hand, and needs to have space in the left of the lane to easily approach the second runner, without stepping out of his lane, or colliding with the second runner.
It must not happen that the first runner slows down as he approaches the second runner due to a fear of running into him or stepping out of his lane!
He watches for the approach of the first team member, and as the team member gets very close, he looks ahead of him, and starts to run.
He feels the "whack" of the baton swung firmly up into his hand by the first runner, he closes his hand around the baton, and he sprints off like mad toward the 3rd athlete waiting for him at the 200 metre mark.
The third relay team member
The passing and the receiving of the baton from the second to the third relay team athlete is the same as that for from first to second team member, except that the second runner will have the relay baton in his left hand, and the third runner will be standing waiting with his right arm outstretched towards the approaching member, and he (the third runner) will be positioned closer to the right side of his lane than to the left.
The fourth and last member of a 400 metre relay
(is freaking out, as even though he is usually the one with the fastest 100 metre time of the 4 relay team members, their team is up against some tough and speedy competition who are all passing and receiving their batons perfectly, while their own team have not been, and they're coming last!)
Let's imagine that there are 6 teams in the relay race. Let's also imagine that all 24 athletes have very similar best 100 metre times. The team that has ALL members of its team passing and receiving the baton perfectly, is the team that is going to win.
As members of a relay team, do not tell others "Hey, we have a really fast first and last runner and it's going to be a breeze winning the relay race!"
Rather say "Hey, we have been practicing ourselves silly to be able to pass and receive the baton perfectly, and if the other teams have not, we're going to win!"
In my tutorial, the fourth runner is standing with his left hand out, and is postioned well to the right of his lane.
The relay baton has been passed to him, and he sprints to the finish line.
Like with the finish line for all sprints and not just relays, he remembers to aim at an imaginary finish line some distance beyond the finishing line, so that he can still be going at top speed as he crosses the line, but, even though he remembered to do this, and some of the other teams' fourth runners didn't, he, and his team, come last.
They will need to train for relays a LOT more.
Training for a 400 metre relay
The team members have already been picked due to fast 100 metre times. Keep sprint training for other athletics training days, and concentrate on passing and receiving the baton perfectly.
If you're the coach or helper, have athletes stand just 20 metres or so apart, and have them walk to the next athlete down the lane, passing and receiving that baton, perfectly, over and over again.
You may finish the training session with one or two full 400 metre relays.
Things to remember
Don't just stand there as your team member approaches you; move!
At the same time as remembering to move, also be careful not to move too soon and run beyond the area allowed for the passing of the baton (while the runner holding the baton struggles to get to you in time.)
Make sure you have the correct hand outstretched towards your team member bringing you the baton, and that your hand, palm, thumb and fingers are positioned correctly.
Look ahead as you start to run, keeping your arm and hand nicely in position for receiving the baton.
The team member ahead of you is not looking at you as you approach (this is good) and you remember to "whack" that baton firmly up and into his hand, so there's no doubt at all that he feels it, and can react instinctively to clutch it and sprint away like mad.
Remember to leave space on either the right or left of your lane.
Remember to grip the baton closer to the end of it - you cannot pass a baton nicely if the person you are passing it to cannot get a good grip on a large part of the baton - if the baton is passed from the hand of one team member to the next perfectly, no adjustments have to be made during running (which slows you down.)
Do not slow down when reaching the person you are passing the baton to. If they are perfectly prepared for receiving the baton, there will be space next to them in the same lane that you can use for slowing down, after you have passed the baton.
Do not step out of your lane.
Train. Train. Train.