Fundamentals of Sprint Relay Racing
The 4x100m relay ranks high as a favorite track and field event, as it combines speed, competitive spirit, and teamwork all in one.
While track is often considered an individual sport, athletes and spectators love the team aspect of relays.
Anybody who has been to a high school track meet knows how exciting it can be to watch or be a part of a relay competition in the 4x100m, 4x400m, and other relay events.
In this article, we will cover the details of sprint relays in athletics, how they are performed, and how you can improve your relay races and times.
What This Article Covers:
- Basic Rules Of The 4x100m Relay
- Exchanging The Baton
- Relay Tape Marks
- Relay Mark Calculator
- Building The Best 4x100m Relay Team
- 4x100m Relay FAQs
4x100m Relay Sprint
The 4x100m relay is a sprint race that consists of four athletes, each running approximately 100 meters, during which they must exchange a baton in pre-determined zones.
The 4x100m is not contested in indoor track, only outdoor.
Whoever crosses the finish line first wins the relay event, which can be a great test of which team has the best overall short sprints group of athletes.
Basic Rules Of The 4x100m Relay
In general, here are the most basic rules for the 4x100m relay:
- Each relay team will consist of four sprinters.
- Athletes must maintain control of the baton at all times, ensuring they do not drop the baton on the ground.
- Athletes in the second, third, and fourth leg of the relay will have 30 meters to accelerate and receive the baton from the incoming runner.
- Each runner will pass the baton to the next runner until the anchor leg gets the baton, who is the runner finishing the race.
- The baton must be exchanged between athletes within the 30-meter zone; otherwise, the team is disqualified.
- Athletes must stay within their lane, avoiding the mistake of stepping on the line for consecutive steps.
- Athletes can place tape on the track as a mark, which will signal outgoing runners to start sprinting when the incoming athlete passes the mark on the ground.
- During baton passing, wilfully impeding the other runners will result in disqualification.
4x100m Starting Positions
Leg one of the 4x100 meter relay will start in the blocks, typically at the same start line used for the 400-meter dash.
This athlete should start with the baton in their right hand, with their hands behind the start line, and with their index finger securely wrapped around the baton. When the gun goes off, the athlete will accelerate as fast as they can, staying on the inside of the lane and sprinting toward the 2nd leg runner.
The second-leg runner will begin accelerating as the first-leg runner runs and passes the predetermined tape mark placed on the track.
As the second leg accelerates through the acceleration zone, the first-leg runner will call out a command, such as "stick!" which signals to the outgoing runner that they need to raise their left arm to receive the baton.
The first-leg runner will place the baton in the left hand of the second-leg athlete, and once the exchange is made, the last runner with the baton will sprint as fast as they can down the back stretch of the track.
As the second leg of the relay sprints toward the second turn, the third leg will be set up in a 3-point stance on the inside of the lane. When the second leg runner passes the tape mark on the track, the next runner will accelerate and raise their right arm backward and outward when the second runner issues the command.
Fourth Leg (Anchor Leg)
As the third runner makes their way around the turn, the anchor leg will accelerate from their position on the outside edge of the lane as the third leg hits their tape mark. The anchor leg will receive the baton in their left hand, and
Baton Exchange In Relay Sprints
Baton Exchange Zones
According to the most up-to-date rules, athletes in the 4x100m sprint relay have 30 meters within which they are allowed to accelerate and receive the baton.
Exchange zones are marked on the track as triangles in the center of the lane. Older tracks will have a small triangle in the center of the lane which denotes the start of the exchange zone, inside of which the outgoing athlete will start. The end of the zone will be marked by a large triangle.
Newer tracks will have two large triangles if they were built after 2018 when the relay exchange zone rule was changed. Previously, you would start at the small triangle and run 10 meters before reaching two large triangles which denoted a 20 meter exchange zone.
Athletes will set up in their stance at the beginning of the zone, with their tape mark placed 6 to 11 meters behind the start of the baton exchange zone.
Exchanging The Baton
To properly complete the 4x100m relay, athletes need to be set up properly to hand the baton off to each other:
- The first and third runners will run along the inside edge of the curve for the duration of their relay leg.
- The second and fourth runners will run along the outside edge of the straightaway for the duration of their relay leg.
Baton Exchange Technique
Multiple techniques can be used for passing the baton, but my preferred method is the Push Pass technique.
During the Push-Pass, the outgoing runner will extend their arm straight out to the side with their thumb pointing down. Done correctly, this will result in the incoming runner having a target right in front of them to pass the baton.
The incoming runner holds the bottom of the baton and pushes the top of the baton vertically into the hand of the outgoing runner's arm, who grasps the baton and runs their leg of the relay.
I have found this to be the best way to get the baton around the track, as it presents a clear target to exchange safely without dropping the baton.
Other techniques for exchanging the baton include the up-sweep and down-sweep methods.
The up-sweep is performed by the outgoing runner holding their arm back with their palm facing down, with the incoming athlete sweeping the baton up and into the outgoing runner's hand.
The down-sweep is performed similarly, except the outgoing runner holds their palm facing upward, and the incoming runner places the baton into the outgoing athlete's hand with a downstroke of the arm.
Importance Of The Tape Mark
The tape mark, also known as the checkmark, is placed onto the track by the athlete at a predetermined distance which is used as the signal for the outgoing runner to accelerate. When the incoming runner steps onto the track adjacent to the tape mark, the outgoing runner should aggressively accelerate forward.
Most athletes will use tape, but some meets may allow the use of small cones, half-cut tennis balls, or something similar. Whatever the case, the tape mark is crucial for ensuring proper timing between athletes and for running the fastest relay time.
Calculating Your Marks
There are various methods for calculating the distance the mark should be placed from the beginning of the acceleration zone.
It is typical for marks to be placed anywhere from 6 to 11 meters from the exchange zone. The specific distance is chosen based on the speed differential between the incoming and outgoing runner.
If the incoming runner is faster than the outgoing runner, tape marks will be further out to give the outgoing runner a chance to accelerate. If the outgoing runner is faster than the incoming runner, the mark will be relatively closer.
General Guidelines For Relay Marks
If you do not have an accurate way of timing athletes, such as with a timing system, you can estimate the distance needed and adjust things from there. Here are some examples of where you can start with your relay marks:
- 16 to 22 steps from the exchange zone.
- 7 to 9 meters for men.
- 6 to 8 metes for women.
- 5 to 7 meters for youth athletes.
Calculating The Relay Marks
If you do have a method of timing athletes, you can use the following approach to assess what distance the relay marks should be placed at.
- Time the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd leg athletes' final 20 to 25 meters of their relay leg, as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leg's initial 20 to 25 meters of acceleration from the stance they will use in the relay.
- Use the following equation: [(Outgoing runner's 20m acceleration time) - (Incoming runner's final 20m time)] X [Incoming runner's average velocity over the final 20m]
- Example: [3.00 - 2.00] X [10 m/s] = 10 meters
- Add reaction time: Since an athlete's reaction time is around 0.20 seconds, you can adjust the relay marks to account for this. To do so, use this equation: [(Incoming runner's average velocity over final 20m) X (reaction time of 0.20)] + (Mark calculated previously)
- Example: [(10 m/s) X (0.20)] + (10m) = 12 meters
You can use the following calculator to determine the distance your marks need to be placed from the exchange zones.
Relay Mark Calculator
Building The Best 4x100m Relay Team
Structuring your 4x100m relay team is a critical aspect of whether or not you will be successful.
To assess who should be on your relay team, evaluate your athletes for who can run the fastest, flying 100m sprint. Since athletes get a running start in the relay, a flying 100m time is more appropriate than an open 100m dash race time for selecting relay team members.
Once you know who can run the fastest flying sprints, you can select the relay order. Here are some tips for ordering your 4x100m team:
- First Runner: This athlete should be good at coming out of starting blocks, running the turn, and have an aggressive mentality to get out fast and beat other teams to the first passing zone.
- Second Runner: The second runner should be one of the fastest runners on your team who possesses sufficient speed endurance, and excellent flying sprint ability. This spot is often given to athletes who excel at the 200m dash.
- Third Runner: The third runner needs to be good at running the turn, as well as competent with both receiving and handing off the baton. This is often the slowest runner on the relay team, though sometimes the first runner is the slowest on the team.
- Fourth Runner: The anchor leg of your relay should be very fast, competitive, and able to operate well under pressure. I often place my fastest runner fourth, as they can take the lead in close races and bring home wins for our relay team.
All four runners should be fast, competitive, and able to work well with others. Running a successful relay requires teamwork, cooperation, and a positive spirit to run fast times.
4x100m Relay FAQs
Why is the 4x100m sprint relay record faster than four times the 100m record?
The 4x100m relay time is faster than four times the world record 100m dash because athletes in the 4x100m get a running start before receiving the baton. Acceleration is the slowest portion of a 100-meter dash, so getting a running start makes the 4x100m time faster than the sum of the relay team members' individual 100m dash times.
How long is the 4x100 relay race?
The 4x100m is 400 meters in length.
What is the world record for the women's 4x100m relay?
The current world record for the women's 4x100m relay is 40.82 seconds.
What is the world record for the men's 4x100m relay?
The current world record for the men's 4x100m relay is 36.84 seconds.
Which is the safest and slowest method in 4x100m relay?
The safest method of baton exchange in the 4x100m relay is the push-pass technique, but this may be slower than other methods, such as the upsweep or downsweep.