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How To Practice Negative Split Pacing This Fall

Bell Wealth ManagementRunners are generally very positive, upbeat, highly motivated people. But, irony of ironies, negative running is a good thing. Particularly for racers.

Allow me to explain. A negative-paced race is more properly termed “negative splits” and what it means is running the second half of any race or long run faster than the first half. Really, it should be called “positive running” because that’s what it really is.

Without any doubt, running negative is a positive and the most efficient way to race or run. By running negative splits in training, you can enjoy your daily runs better and at the same time, teach yourself how to run faster in the second half of races. It isn’t easy, but imagine running a race and just when everyone around you is falling off the pace, you can actually pick it up and finish strong and positive, passing dozens of runners in the process. (A friend of mine pulled this off in the St. George Marathon a couple of weeks ago, ran a PR and picked off more than 120 runners in the final 10-K.)

Here’s how to turn your negative runs into a positive:

On your daily runs, start slowly at a relaxed, comfortable pace. As you begin to get into the flow of the run, gradually pick up the pace so that you are running the last third of the run at a faster pace than when you started.

This doesn’t mean a full-scale sprint. But you should be moving your legs at a faster turnover than the first part of the run. Your arms should be pumping quicker and you should have the distinct feel of greater speed. But you should not be straining for that speed. Try to remain relaxed and in control.

In the final mile of your daily run, practice finishing fast by upping your pace to near 5-K or 10-K race pace. You only have to hold race pace for 5-10 minutes or so, but practicing it every day gives you a good sense of what that speed feels like. Then, when you need it in a race, you’ll recognize the feeling and be comfortable enough to execute it.

The easiest way to practice this is by timing your run on a loop or out-and-back course. You simply run in one direction for say 20 minutes and return running the same distance in 18 or 19 minutes. Or on an hour run, go out easy in 32 minutes and come back quicker in 28 or 29. It doesn’t have to be precise, but the feel of increased speed is what you’re aiming for.

Try this workout. On a normal six-miler, run the first three miles at a very relaxed, conversational pace. On the fourth mile, run it about a minute faster than the third one. For the fifth, return to a slower, comfortable pace. On the last mile of the run, pick up the pace gradually so that you’re running the final half mile at your 5-K or 10-K race pace. The second half of your run should be about two minutes faster than the first three miles.

On a long marathon training run, simply split the distance in half. (Let’s say you’re doing a two-hour run or 18 miles.) You run the first hour (or nine miles) at an easy pace. Stop, grab a drink, give yourself a minute or two for a short recovery and then complete the second half of the run, three to five minutes fast. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is, especially if the second half is on the same terrain as the first.

This is fairly easy to practice, but running negative splits in a race is much easier said than done. It’s so much harder to do than in your normal day-to-day runs because the inclination all racers have is to bolt off the starting line and use your adrenaline rush to get a few quick miles in before fatigue sets in and begins to slow you down.

As a beginning racer, everyone makes this same mistake of starting the race at a pace that is too fast to maintain for the entire distance. There’s no question that going out too fast is the least effective, most discouraging (and negative) way to run a race because the last few miles are always a struggle. In short races, going out too fast results in slower times than you had hoped. In marathons, going out too fast results in a long, agonizing slog to the finish.

In both shorter and longer races, negative splits is the best way to run. By going out at a comfortable pace, you can come back with faster running in the closing miles.

You absolutely must resist the temptation to go out too fast. The best way to do this is deliberately run your first mile slower than you plan to run the final one. Again, this isn’t easy, but it is an effective way to race.

To avoid the temptation of starting too fast, seed yourself in the starting grid well back of the faster runners. That way, you’ll avoid sprinting out with them.

Start the race at a relaxed, controlled pace and check your watch at the first mile marker to make certain you haven’t started too fast. If you have, slow down. It isn’t too late to make pace corrections.

Whatever you do, don’t try to maintain a pace which is too fast because you think this might be your lucky day and you can hold that pace all the way to the finish.

Running isn’t about luck. It’s about practicing proper pace and then executing it when it counts.

Remember, think negative and it’ll turn into a positive racing experience.