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The Brief Psychology of Lane Placement — Whisper Running | Sport Psychology

Imagine the 400m dash being run in a straight line. Exhilarating!

With Grayson and Josh hashing-out their final 400m together in the prelims of the WIAA State Track & Field Meet last weekend, I couldn’t help but reflect on the countless times I’ve considered lane selection as a potential influence of outcomes. This was to be their final meeting of their high school careers, with Josh graduating from Camas High School the following month. Courtesy of the governing rules, Josh was slated to run in lane three, and Grayson would be running in lane six. The runners between them in lanes four and five were regular sub-50 second runners in the open 400m, heavy favorites of this event.

Whether a simple dual meet, or state championships, I often wonder if there are any psychological advantages of inside, middle, or outside lanes in the 200m and 400m races. Based on some light browsing on the internet, and sifting through a few articles, it appears that lane selection has no significance on outcomes, and if there is any advantage at all, it would be to run in an outer lane in the 200m, as doing so takes less energy to run on a wider curve. The open 400m has seen no statistical advantage, although the 2016 Rio Olympics produced a shocking result in the open 400m dash – from lane eight.

One thing we continuously focus on at Whisper is setting personal running goals. Race goals are supported best by practice goals, and prescribed practice intervals along with markers placed at regular distances help kids learn to govern their pace. Two time medalist, Enefiok Udobong contends, “If you have been trained to self pace and work on yourself, you will not be bothered about lane placement.”

It’s fun to discuss, and undoubtedly track enthusiasts have certainly bantered about this topic for years. To consider the role Nature v Nurture may play, or Fight or Flight, add additional layers in the factors that influence outcomes. No matter the outcome, no matter who wins or loses, or from what lanes they participate, one thing that is important to remember, is on any given day, any one runner may be beat – or win! Run a race 10 times and get 10 different results.

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