“It’s such a crazy race. A lot of people can’t handle that lactic acid. When that lactic acid hits, naturally, your body wants to do something. Naturally, your body wants to rock back, your legs want to flare up, your arms, your body is just in this shock mode and you really have to get in the mental zone and focus on just moving forward.”
--LaShawn Merritt, the reigning Olympic champion in the men’s 400-meter race, discussing the second half of the distance.
Although Merritt has extraordinary muscular strength that powers him through the first 200 meters — sometimes in less than 20 seconds — those muscles may also suffer under a buildup of lactic acid toward the end of the race.
Michael Joyner, a physiologist at the Mayo Clinic, says that sprinters who tense up, especially in the arms, move more slowly. It is known as a “bear jumping on your back” or “turning to stone.” The tension makes a runner less efficient bio-mechanically, thus expending the same amount of energy but not travelling as far.
Some coaches and doctors, including Joyner, instruct runners to let their eyes droop during a race, hoping that if they relax their face, the rest of the body will follow.
Part of relaxation is rhythm. Anthony Koffi, track coach for Amantle Montsho, the reigning world champion female in the 400-meters from Botswana, believes in using humor during practice, often yelping as he cheers runners up the stadium staircases.
Excerpt from nytimes.com (05/08/2012).