November 30 2017
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Oh, the elusive negative split. If you’ve been running and racing for a while, you have probably heard the term, which is defined as running the second half of a race faster than the first half. Many consider a negative split to be a sign of a race plan well-executed and of “smart” racing.
Although I’ve been running and racing since 2009, I can probably count the number of negative splits I’ve run on one hand. When I started training for the Prague Marathon back in January, I decided that I really wanted to train myself to finish strong—historically a problem for me in marathons—and see if it improved my overall fitness. Spoiler Alert: It did and I’ve negative split my last two races.
Here’s what I’ve been doing:
We hear all the time that running is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental, but how many of us actually believe it? I spent years working on the physical side of my running and ignoring my mental game, and it showed. I started subscribing to YouTube channels and podcasts (like those from #TeamWR’s own Run Selfie Repeat) and began reading books on sports psychology, and I’ve noticed a huge difference in how I think about my running.
One super simple change I made is eliminating the phrase “have to” from my running vocabulary. I don’t “have to” run today, I “get to” run today. I even have a label on my phone alarm for all those early morning runs that says, “YOU GET TO RUN TODAY!” When I approach the workout from a positive place, I feel stronger.
My first goal was to finish every single run with a short burst of speed to prove to myself that I always have just a little bit left in the tank. Even if I only pick up the pace on my street from the corner to my house (which happens to be downhill and about a tenth of a mile long), I’m training my brain to get used to running fast on tired legs.
After starting small and getting used to running fast at the end of my runs, I started working towards the goal of making my last mile my fastest on my long runs. I don’t actually look at my Garmin during my long runs because pace isn’t my goal, so I run that last mile just based on feel and try to pick up the pace. When I get home, I check my splits, and it has been working! In fact, usually, my last three miles are my fastest.
It goes without saying, but if you want to negative split, you need to make sure you don’t start out too fast. For me, that actually means starting slow! My first mile is done at whatever pace feels good to my legs and keeps my heart rate nice and low. Depending on the length of the race, I try to keep the effort level mostly even until there are about four miles left in the race (for the ten-miler and half marathon I did recently). With four miles to go, I slowly start speeding up. For a marathon, I might go for more like six or eight miles left, while for a 10K, it would be closer to two miles—really, whatever distance feels doable to hold an increased speed based on the length of the race!
I am really not a competitive person, but I have started to find great joy in counting the number of people I pass as I speed up at the end of the race. Each person gives me something to focus on and a reason to keep pushing myself when my legs and brain are ready to quit. This trick has pulled me to the finish line in my last two races, both of which I negative split by several minutes!
While there is a certainly a great deal of race-day strategy and smart running that goes into achieving a negative split, the biggest factor for me has been boosting my mental training. To me, it’s not a coincidence that I almost never negatively split a race in seven years of running, but after just a few months working on my mental toughness, I have accomplished that goal in two races in a row. While not every race will go perfectly, we can come a lot closer with the right mental and physical training.