Podcast #39 also addresses this topic.
Let’s look at negative splitting, what it means, why you would want to do it, and how to train to negative split.
A negative split is when you run the second half of a race – or any run, for that matter – faster than the first half, whatever the distance.
This is by far the best strategy for running any race for just about anybody. The only exception would be if the conditions were more difficult during the second half of the race, and by that I mean the terrain or the altitude or the wind could make the second half more demanding, making negative splitting either a bad idea, unlikely, or virtually impossible. This is seldom the case, though.
In almost every situation, the best race strategy, both from a time perspective and a physical perspective, is to negative split. That’s right. A negative split is more likely to give you the fastest time and be the easiest on your body, which is not to say it is easy. If you’re racing hard, trying to PR, then it won’t be easy, ever, but it will be ‘easier’ than the alternatives, and especially easier than a positive split.
Three basic race strategies:
- Even split. This means running the whole race at about the same pace per mile.
- Positive split. This is running the first half faster than the second half.
- Negative split. Ding, ding, ding. This is the clear winner, running the second half faster than the first half.
The reason negative-splitting is better is that it meshes better with what is most natural for your body. Let’s look at what happens in a race – well, in any run – from a physiological perspective.
Even if you warm up before a race or run, you’ll still continue to warm up during the first part of the race, the first few miles. Then, you’ll be able to comfortably pick up the pace, which is much easier on the body than trying to run at a faster pace before your body has been through that longer warmup phase.
Some people – and many first-timers – try to start at a fairly quick pace, and they pay for it later in the race. This doesn’t just happen sometimes; it always happens. In fact, the extent to which you go faster than a comfortable pace, the more you’ll pay during that last six miles – not ‘sometimes,’ but all the time.
It makes much more sense to run at the pace that is comfortable for your physiological state at any given time, and running a negative split is perfect because it matches your body’s state as you move through the miles.
Can you negative split? Well, that depends, mostly, on conditioning, but also on training.
If you are properly conditioned and trained, this is how it goes:
Once the body warms up, then it can comfortably pick up the pace, and at the end, then, there is almost always gas left in the tank that will allow you to pick up the pace the last couple miles, and that’s the best time because since you’re near the end, you don’t need to save it for the end. You’re almost there.
If you go hard too early, the result can be very bad. You may end up totally spent, even walking, and what you thought might have been a PR race, ends up being one of your slowest. Negative splits almost always result in a faster time, a better race experience and a lower incidence of injury.
Running this way is smart because it’s much more of a sure thing than the other two options.
A rookie runner, if not under the guidance of a running coach, will often plan to start out fast and hold on as long as possible. They’ll say, “I’ll go out fast and just try to hang on.” – OUCH! That is a terrible strategy, actually, the worst race strategy, and one that reveals a lack of understanding of running and racing.
Now, the longer the race, the more difficult it is to negative split, but it is still very doable if you are fit and if you train with this goal in mind. It feels great to get faster as you get farther into a race, and you’ll gain mental confidence as you start passing people who are slowing down. That will give you the strength to keep on pushing hard.
One reason I like to train for negative splitting is that it helps you get over the tendency to go out too fast, one of the best ways to ruin a race. Once you’ve had the experience of negative splitting a race, you’ll always want to repeat it.
So, your question is probably, “How do I train to negative split races?”
Here are a few examples:
- We might do a series of 4 sets of three quarter miles, each quarter mile 5 seconds faster than the last within each set. Each set is independent of the others, time wise, though. In other words, you’re doing a total of 12 quarter miles which will be grouped into 4 sets of 3 with a brief rest between quarters and a longer rest between sets. You might do your first quarter mile in the first set at 2:00 minutes. Then, your second would be at 1:55, and your third would be at 1:50. Your rest between quarter miles could be anywhere from 10 seconds to 30, depending on how intense you want to make the set.
Then you rest about 2 minutes (or approximate time it took for one of the quarters). Then you start over, and your first one is at 2:00 again. Each set of three starts off at the same point.
How hard you work the first one determines how hard the set will be. You don’t need to work it as hard as you can to get the negative split effect. My recommendation is to start by doing the first one at 5k pace.
A variation of this would be to do the first one at 10k pace but do each one 15 seconds faster than the last.
2. Two sets of 3 half miles with each half mile getting faster than the last. So, you would do a half mile three times with a short rest between them. Make the break equivalent to about half the time it took to do the half mile, and the point is to make each one of the three faster than the last. Then rest twice as long between sets. Each set is independent of the others, starting with a higher time and progressing to faster and faster within that set.
3. Broken mile. You run ¾ mile at 5k pace, then run the last quarter mile at a pace that is 5 to 10 seconds faster than 5k pace. Repeat this three times.
4. Broken ¾ mile. Do a half mile at 5k pace and then do a quarter mile at a pace 5 to 10 seconds faster than the pace of the first half mile. It helps greatly if you have a gps watch for this.
5. There are various ways to do negative split workouts as fartleks. A fartlek is simply a segmented run. So, let’s say you are running where there are street lights. Let the streetlights define your segments. Let’s say you let one segment be equal to two street lights. You might do one segment at 10k pace, one segment at 5k pace, and one segment at faster than 5k pace.
6. This is especially good for half marathon training. Do a 3-mile run with each mile 15 to 30 seconds faster than the last. This will take practice; it won’t work if you start out too fast. I don’t want you sprinting the last mile. I almost never have my runners sprint. That should be saved for racing because it takes too long to fully recover, and you can get just as much benefit by maxing out at a 95 percent effort. To adjust this for marathon training, just do three 2-mile segments.
7. A variation is to do a 5-mile run with each mile 20 to 30 seconds faster than the last. To do this, you must start at an easy run pace. The problem here is that people have a tendency to misunderstand the purpose and start out too fast.
8. Run, say six miles, and make each mile faster than the last. As long as you get faster with each mile, you’ve succeeded, but I recommend picking a target, say 10 seconds, and try to get 10 seconds faster with each one. So, by the time you get to your last mile, it is 50 seconds faster than your first. That may sound quite intense, but it doesn’t need to be. Just make sure you don’t start out too fast. This will be doable if you have a gps and can adjust your pace accordingly, but it’s also a good idea to try to do it by just timing each mile. This will help you learn what pace you’re running which is quite helpful. By the way – and I’ve talked about this before – everyone’s easy run pace – and by that I mean the pace at which you do your non speed work runs, should be 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than your 5k pace.
9. My last suggestion is to run two or three 2-mile repeats at race pace and then add a quarter mile pickup at the end, ending up at 95 percent effort for the last 100 yards. A pickup is when you continue to increase speed over a given distance.
Obviously, these workouts could be varied in plenty of ways, and now that you get the idea, I’m sure you can think of some of your own negative split-training workouts. I have found these workouts to be hugely beneficial for my coaching group, and they enjoy doing them.
Remember this saying, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten”? So, if you haven’t been training to negative split, now would be a good time to start. Give it a try; it works for all distances, and it is an especially good marathon race strategy.