How to Run a 4X100 Relay

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The 4 x 100 relay, also called the 400 meter relay, is a sprint relay with four runners. Each runner runs approximately 100 meters before handing off a baton to the next runner. Before running the 4 x 100 relay, make sure that you and your teammates are experienced with sprint running and have practiced the baton exchange. This will help you to decide the order of the your team, and ensure that you run your best race possible!


EditChoosing Runner Order

  1. Place your best starter first. The ideal first runner has an explosive takeoff and never gets disqualified for false starts. This position also requires fast running around the bend of the track.[1]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 1 Version 5.jpg
  2. Choose the second runner. The second runner should perfect their baton handling skills, as the second leg involves both receiving and passing the baton. This is a straight leg, so this is a good spot for a fast sprinter who is not necessarily good at bends.[2]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 2 Version 5.jpg
    • This is a great spot for your fastest runner if they are much faster than the other three.[3] This is especially true if your fastest runner is also great at baton handoffs.
  3. Pick a good bend runner for the third leg. In general, shorter runners are best around curves because they can accelerate faster than taller runners. This position also benefits from good baton handoff skills, and from the ability to compete under pressure.[4]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 3 Version 5.jpg
    • Although unorthodox, it could be smart to put your fastest runner here if they are also good on bends. A 200m specialist could do well on this leg.[5]
  4. End with an eager finisher. Many teams place their fastest runner last, perhaps so they can claim the glory! In fact, psychology may be more important than raw speed. This runner cannot get discouraged if they start the fourth leg behind the other teams. Choose a competitor who thrives under end of race pressure.[6]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 4 Version 5.jpg
    • If your two fastest runners are much faster than the other two, place them second and fourth. This allows you to maximize the distance they run.[7]
    • At high levels of competition, choose a runner with advanced finishing techniques.[8] This includes “lifting,” a running form with light ground contact and rapid knee lifts, and lunging, a carefully timed forward fall so the chest crosses the finish line sooner.[9][10]
  5. Adjust for smooth handoffs. All of your planning above will fall apart if an athlete can’t perform consistent baton handoffs. Consider these problems before you finalize the positions, and don’t hesitate to rearrange if issues arise during practice:
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 5 Version 5.jpg
    • Size differences: If one runner is much taller than another, they may have trouble exchanging batons smoothly. Space them out so they don’t have to do a baton exchange.[11]
    • If a pair of athletes do not practice well together for temperamental reasons, and the coach cannot solve this problem, consider rearranging so they don’t have a handoff together.
    • If one athlete is particularly poor at passing, consider placing them fourth. If an athlete is poor at receiving, consider putting them first.

EditPracticing the Relay

  1. Pick the baton exchange method. There are generally three methods of passing the baton: the upsweep, the downsweep, and the push pass. Try all three and see which your teammates prefer:[12]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 6 Version 5.jpg
    • Upsweep: the outgoing runner runs with their hand behind them at hip level, palm down and thumb outstretched to form a V shape. The incoming runner inserts the baton upward between the thumb and fingers.
    • Downsweep: similar to the upsweep, but the outgoing runner’s hand is palm up and receives the baton in a downward motion.
    • Push pass: the outgoing runner holds their arm high up behind them, with the palm sideways and the thumb pointing down. The incoming runner holds the baton vertically and pushes it into the palm.
  2. Stay on the correct side of the lane. When all goes well, the relay race is a smooth series of transfers, with no awkward jerks across the lane or switching from an athlete’s left hand to the right. Practice this pattern until all four runners find it automatic:[13]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 7 Version 5.jpg
    • First runner holds baton in right hand and runs on the inside edge of the lane.
    • Second runner holds baton in left hand and stays on the outside.
    • Third runner holds baton in right hand and stays on the inside.
    • Fourth runner holds baton in left hand and receives on the outside.
  3. Decide where to relay the baton. Each baton handoff must occur inside a 20 meter changeover zone, between two yellow marks. The outgoing runner can start running up to 10 meters ahead of the changeover zone, but can only receive the baton within the zone. Use tactics as well as trial and error to find an exchange position that maximizes speed and smooth handoffs:
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 8 Version 4.jpg
    • Ideally, you can exchange the baton about 5 meters from the end of the zone.[14] This gives the outgoing runner more time to accelerate before receiving.[15]
    • If the athletes have trouble with a quick handoff, or if they get nervous and slow down while waiting, exchange the baton just past the middle of the zone.[16]
    • If one athlete is significantly faster than the others, they can receive earlier in the zone, carrying the baton for more than 100 meters.
  4. Keep running after you release the baton. A huge mistake in relay racing is to slow down before you release the baton. The best way to prevent this is to form the habit of “running through the zone.” Keep up a full sprint until you’re about halfway through the next leg.[17] If both runners have positioned themselves well (on opposite sides of the lane), the incoming runner should be able to run close behind without fearing a collision.
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 9 Version 4.jpg
  5. Do speed drills. The 4×100 is all about speed. To prepare for the race, do drills such as hill sprints, suicides, and sprinting around cones to work on your agility and speed. Hill sprints are especially good for improving acceleration.[18]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 10 Version 4.jpg
  6. Practice the whole race. You don’t want the first time you run the race to be at the track meet or event. Run the event several times at leas, at full speed. Have a coach or friend who is knowledgeable about running time each of your attempts. Also have your friend or coach watch each runner and offer any critiques that they might have.[19]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 11 Version 4.jpg

EditRunning the Race

  1. Position each runner. After doing warm ups, make sure that every runner is in position. The first runner should be positioned on the starting blocks, holding the baton in his or her right hand.[20]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 12 Version 4.jpg
    • The second runner should be positioned at the acceleration zone 10 meters before the first exchange zone. Each exchange zone is marked on most tracks by large, usually red, triangles. There should be a smaller triangle that marks the acceleration zone, which is where the second runner should be positioned.
    • The third runner should be at the second acceleration zone before the exchange zone, and the fourth runner should be at the last acceleration zone.
  2. Start at the whistle. As soon as the whistle is blown, the first runner should start sprinting. Make sure that they lean in and accelerate through the bend in the track. They will run slightly more than 100 meters to the first exchange zone.
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 13 Version 4.jpg
    • Make sure that the runner runs on the inside of their lane, on the left-hand side, so that they can pass the baton to the next runner’s left hand.
  3. Do the first baton exchange. The first runner, with the baton in their right hand, will approach the exchange zone. The second runner should have their head turned, watching the incoming runner. When the incoming runner is about 7 meters from the outgoing runner, the outgoing runner should turn their head back and start running with their hand out. The first runner will hand the baton over to the second runner, who will take the baton in their left hand.[21]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 14 Version 4.jpg
    • Make sure that the baton exchange happens within the exchange zone, because your team will be disqualified if it happens before or after the zone.
  4. Do the second baton exchange. The second runner will a straight leg of the track for another 100 meters. Make sure they are running in the right side of their lane. Meanwhile, the third runner will start running as soon as the second runner approaches the exchange zone. The second runner will pass the baton from his or her left hand into the right hand of the third runner.
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 15 Version 4.jpg
    • Again, be sure that the baton exchange happens within the exchange zone.
  5. Do the final exchange. The third runner will run around the bend in the track, the baton in their right hand. As they approach the last exchange zone, the fourth runner will start running with their hand out, and the incoming runner will put the baton in their left hand, making sure the exchange happens within the exchange zone.[22]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 16 Version 4.jpg
  6. Finish the race. The fourth runner, with the baton in their left hand, will run another 100 meters past the exchange zone to finish the race. Make sure that the fourth runner doesn’t slow down before the finish line, and instead sprints until they have crossed the line, with the baton still in their hand.[23]
    Run a 4X100 Relay Step 17 Version 2.jpg


  • Look back at the incoming runner while you are in starting position. Once you’ve started running, however, do not look back. Just put your hand behind you and trust your teammate to get you the baton.
  • If the team has trouble with silent handoffs, use verbal cues (“hand!”) to guide yourselves through the process. You can also practice verbal cues to tell the runner ahead of you to speed up or slow down.
  • Don’t panic if you drop the baton. Pick it back up and keep going. Even though you may have lost a little time, never stop after dropping the baton.
  • Even if you are the first or fourth runner, learning to receive and pass the baton can unlock doors later on. If you advance to higher levels of competition, you could end up on a team of “anchors” (fourth leg runners), and discover no one has trained in passing.[24]


  • Make sure you make the exchanges inside the exchange zones, or you’ll get disqualified.

EditSources and Citations

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