Negative Splits 101 For Runners

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Negative Splits 101 For Runners

Whether you’re trying to set a new personal record (PR) or finish your first half-marathon, strategy and pacing can make a huge difference toward achieving your goal or falling short.

One tried-and-true race-day strategy that can keep you from bonking and help you feel strong at the finish is negative splits. From what they are to how to practice this strategy in your training, here’s everything you need to know to get started:

WHAT ARE NEGATIVE SPLITS?

Though it might sound complicated, the concept behind running negative splits is fairly straightforward. By running the second half of your race faster than the first half, you’ll conserve energy and feel fresher as the race goes along, lowering your chances for bonking and increasing the likelihood of a faster finish.

Unfortunately, employing this strategy isn’t always easy, especially when the adrenaline is pumping at the start line and all the other runners around you begin the race in a dead sprint. But if you can be methodical in your approach, practice the strategy during training and stick closely to your predetermined pace, running negative splits can be a much more enjoyable way to race.

HOW TO RUN NEGATIVE SPLITS

To run negative splits, you’ll need to have a good idea of the pace per mile you can maintain for the distance of your race. For the first third, you’ll want to focus on conserving energy by running 10–25 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. As you hit the middle third of your race, speed up to the pace you know you can maintain for the duration of the race.

When the last third of the race hits, the energy you’ve saved during the first half of your run will be available, allowing you to pick up the pace and pass all those individuals who were sprinting at the start line. Run this last portion of your race at 10–25 seconds faster than your goal pace, picking up the pace from here if you feel comfortable doing so.

This allows your body to get into the race slowly, warming up until it feels good and keeping you from slowing your pace to a crawl because you’ve started too fast. The longer the race, the more beneficial this strategy can be. The key is to predict an accurate finishing time, taking-into-account hills, weather and other factors that may slow your speed. Once you’ve calculated a pace per mile you feel comfortable with, add 5% to the total to stay on the safe side.

NEGATIVE SPLIT TRAINING TIPS

Like anything else, if you want to run negative splits on race day, you’ll need to spend time practicing them during training, too. Whether it’s a short recovery run or your weekly long run, make it a point to start slower than you normally would and run the second half of your distance faster than the first. This helps you build confidence in the strategy and gets your body accustomed to this pacing.

The best way to practice negative splits is with a structured, interval-based workout. For example, if you’re training for a 5K, your workout might be 12 x 400 meters at your goal mile pace, with 60 seconds of recovery between each effort. For the first four intervals, run 3–5 seconds per lap slower than this goal pace. For the middle four, run at goal pace, and on the final four intervals run at least 3–5 seconds faster than your goal pace. Try to make your last one or two intervals your fastest of the set. This same type of workout can be applied whether you’re running 800- or 1,600-meter intervals as well.

The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll get with running this way and the more your body will adapt. Running negative-split workouts also gives you a better idea of the pace you can maintain over various distances, allowing you to gauge your predicted finishing time easier and make a PR at your next big race a realistic possibility.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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