Strategies for the 4 x 100 Relay Race

Relay runner passing baton
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Employing proper strategy is a key to success in the 4 x 100-meter relay race.

The 4 x 100 relay race is just as much a skill event as a speed event. A team with four decent sprinters can out-race a team with four better sprinters by beating the faster team in the exchange zones. The key to this event is how much time the baton spends in those exchange zones. The goal for boys high school teams should be to spend no more than 2.2 seconds in each exchange zone. The goal for girls high school teams should be 2.6 seconds.

The 4 x 100 Relay Team

The initial runner in the 4 x 100 relay begins the race in starting blocks. The next three runners receive the baton via exchanges. The exchange zones are 20 meters long and are preceded by a 10-meter acceleration zone. The receiver begins running in the acceleration zone but the baton can only be passed within the exchange zone. It’s the position of the baton, not either runner’s foot, that determines whether the baton is passed legally.

In the 4 x 100 relay, as in any sprint event, every second count, so runners do not switch hands when carrying the baton. Therefore, if the first runner holds the baton in the right hand, the second runner will receive the baton – and will run with it – in the left hand, the third will receive and carry the baton in the right hand and the final runner will handle it in the left hand.

A strong 4 x 100 team will have interchangeable spare parts. At a minimum, a coach should either have one runner who is trained to take over any spot in the relay, or two runners, one of whom is trained to receive the baton in the right hand, and one who is trained to receive it in the left. That way, if a starting runner is injured, a substitute can fill that specific spot, rather than shuffle some of the other starters around.

4 x 100 Relay Race Strategy

Each runner should use the exchange zone the same way. Coaches shouldn’t try to “cheat” a faster runner-up or a slower runner back. The goal should be to pass the baton as quickly as possible – certainly in the first half of the zone – no matter the relative speeds of the two runners. By aiming to pass the baton quickly, you leave more room in the zone in the event the passer can’t deliver the baton to the receiver on the first attempt.

Each runner uses half of the lane during an exchange. For example, a runner carrying the baton in the right hand will use the left half of the lane, while the receiver, who’ll accept the baton in the left hand, will use the right side of the lane. In that way, the runner’s arms line up for an easier exchange. Also, by remaining in different halves of the lane, the passer can never step on the receiver’s foot, even if their timing is off.

4 x 100 Relay Technique

The baton receiver must always be facing forward. It’s up to the passer to put the baton into the receiver’s hand. The only time a receiver will look back to the passer is in a case of emergency. A 4 x 100 team should have just one verbal code, which is employed in that emergency situation. If the passer believes that he can’t pass the baton to the receiver within the zone, he yells out the code word and only then does the receiver slow down, turn, and get the baton in any way possible. Such a slow exchange will almost certainly prevent a team from winning the race, but better to pass the baton and keep running than to be disqualified. Even if the baton is dropped, the receiver can still pick it up and continue, as long as the baton doesn’t leave the exchange zone. If in doubt, runners should be trained to pick up the baton and run – the officials will let you know if you’ve been disqualified.

Both runner and receiver should be running as hard as possible at all times. The passer’s mindset entering the zone should be that he will blow past the receiver – obviously, you don’t really want that to happen – but you don’t want the passer slowing down at any time. Indeed, the passer should continue running hard for at least 10 more yards after passing the baton, to ensure that he doesn’t slow down earlier. Likewise, the receiver’s mindset should be to run so hard that the passer won’t catch up.

What happens if the passer really does catch up to the receiver? Even then, the passer can’t slow down. Since each runner is in his own half of the lane, the passer won’t bump the receiver. If the passer catches up, he must simply hand the baton off, using the emergency code if necessary. If the passer slows down prior to the pass, he’ll be decelerating at the same time the receiver is accelerating, and you risk not making the pass at all. Again, it’s better to make a bad pass and possibly salvage a few points in the meet rather than suffering a disqualification. Should the receiver run so fast that the passer can’t catch up, the passer must use the emergency code. Only then does the receiver slow down.