A 4x800 relay race -- in which four runners each cover 800 meters, or about three strides short of a half mile -- is challenging anytime, but putting it indoors with tighter corners and a narrower track requires its own specific strategy. Still, the bottom line in any relay race is simple: Don't drop the baton.
Indoor tracks come in a variety of sizes, but typically are either 200 or 160 meters per lap. That's either four or five laps per relay leg, respectively. Indoor tracks used to made of wood but now are covered with a synthetic track surface. Tracks that have banked curves are faster than flat tracks, but you must get accustomed to running on a banked track. The length of the straightaways and the tightness of the curves varies, depending on the confines of the surrounding building.
Order of Runners
A typical relay order ends with the best runner as the anchor, or last leg. If the team is behind, the fastest team member knows the catch-up interval. Optimally, the second-fastest runner leads off, followed by the third-fastest runner, with the weakest runner on the third leg. In sprint relays, that order sometimes is changed to allow the runner best out of the starting blocks to lead off. There's a reason to customize the order in an indoor 4x800 race, too. There will be lots of jostling and bumping over the first couple of laps, so the team member best able to run in traffic should take the first leg. If that's not the second-best runner, save her until the third leg, which provides your team's two best runners the chance to make up any deficit.
The race likely will begin with each team's starting runners spread across the track in a gentle stagger, with the outside runners slightly ahead of those on the rail. The runners must maintain their lines to the backstretch -- roughly the first 100 meters -- when they are allowed to cut to the "post," the inside lane. Despite the admonition about lane integrity, there are bumps around the curve and certainly there is the danger of collisions in the break to the post. The lead-off runner must choose: Try to grab the lead -- and the inner lane -- at the post or give up the post and attack from behind. By coming from behind, you can control when you want to enter traffic, but there's danger in getting boxed in by slower runners if you try to pass on the inside, and you'll run extra distance if you must pass three or four lanes wide.
In a 4x800 relay, there's no need for blind baton exchanges. If you're the receiving runner, first establish position in the exchange zone and make sure your approaching teammate identifies you. When you take off, partially turn and look the baton into your hand. Be careful not to take off too fast or you'll run out of the exchange zone without the stick. Remember, at the end of 800 meters, it's likely that the runner getting ready to pass you the baton will be fading fast.
Back Legs Strategy
If you get the baton out of the lead, it's foolish to try to get to the front in your first lap because you're likely to be in bad shape for your last lap. Don't throw away your race plan, but try to make up a few meters with each lap. A bell will sound when the leader starts his last lap. It's tempting to wait for the bell to start your finishing drive -- and most runners will. That's too late, especially on a 160-meter track. Start your drive as you come out of the turn before the bell. That's likely to give you the jump on the other runners.
Using the Track
On banked tracks, be careful not to accelerate too much coming off the turns early in your leg when you're fresh. That can set you up for starting too fast and staggering at the finish. Concentrate on using the bank on your last three curves. Maintain your rate going into the turn and try to drift slightly up the track. Then slingshot out of the turn, accelerating into the flat straightaway. On flat tracks, be careful not to drift out and give up track position on the turns.