For most runners who are just starting out, paying an entry fee, running and just hoping to turn in a good time or turn out a good result is the usual practice. There isn’t much intention that is driving their actions, there’s no clocking a half marathon pace, there isn’t any thought that has gone into how they are going to run the race. But that isn’t how the pros do it and it isn’t the way successful races are run. In order to run a successful race, you have to take into account knowledge, strategy planning and execution topped with a fair amount of confidence. The minute you create and put a race plan into action, your potential to perform will automatically increase. You will gain a PR and then a determination to break that PR. This is where negative splits come into play. Negative splitting means completing your race at a higher speed than you started off – this means running the second half of the race faster than the first half.
A common term tossed around in running jargon is running splits. First off, what are splits in running?
The total time of a race is divided into smaller sections, generally identified by miles, are known as the splits. Running an even split race means running at a constant pace for the entire race. A positive split means running the first half of the race at a faster pace than the latter half of the race. And finally, a negative split is running the first half of the race at a slower pace than the latter half of the race.
Running negative splits is not something that you can just assume or hope to do on your very race day. There is an enormous amount of practice involved before that will teach you the best way to make negative splits work for you. Apart from that, it will also involve a great deal of discipline to hold back on yourself which often proves to be the toughest part of the challenge.
Do you remember noticing in cartoons, the character always begins running at full power…he just takes off….often with his feet in a blur. You’re going to be doing the exact opposite of that when running negative splits! That’s possibly the easiest way to answer what are negative splits.
Why Negative Splits
Well, firstly, if one only had to look at record times, you’ll notice most of the pros have applied the half splits theory into their racing technique. Therefore, it’s a tried and proven method that’s known to work very well time and again for many different runners. There are many runners who start off big, believing that if they start out with a higher speed they’ll have put enough distance between themselves and the others which will have a cushioning effect for the latter half of the race.
However, this plan has been known to always backfire, especially for a marathon. In an aerobic event, gaining a ‘head-start’ means you’ll be going anaerobic very early, running through your fuel stores quickly and putting your muscles through a fair amount of damage. All of this will see you running out of steam very early in the race and your finish which should be grand will be converted to a mix between a slow walk and a shuffle.
Benefits of Negative Splits
Theoretically, when you’re running a negative split, you’re not slowing down during the latter half of the race. In fact, your planning and execution are such that you start off slightly slower than your targeted race pace during the initial miles, conserving your fuel stores of glycogen, put off the accumulation of lactate and in general avoid being carried away in the adrenaline of the moment.
Tips for splits’ core concept is to eliminate hammering up the dry wall which will only tire out your muscles in the early stages of the race. Let’s look at the various advantages of running splits in detail:
1. Time for the Body to Warm-Up
Running at a slower and a comfortable pace, even for a few good miles, gets your joints lubricated and your muscles more pliable than normal. In addition to this, endorphins or the feel-good chemicals of the brain begin to flow resulting in an exhilarating feeling which will easily help you sail through when you do finally pick up the pace. Basically, it’s a good platform upon which to build a strong second half of a race.
2. Delayed Lactate Threshold
The lactate threshold is a point beyond which the body is incapable of efficient waste management when the muscles are working in full swing. What it means is that the rate of waste being produced by the working muscles is much higher than the rate of the waste being metabolized. Upon reaching this point the body will no longer perform at optimum levels and will slow down to an eventual stop.
When you throw yourself full-fledged into a race right at the beginning you’ll reach this point much sooner but with negative splitting, this lactate threshold can be easily managed at the later stage to push through to the finish line.
3. Boosting your Self – Confidence.
Picture this – you’ve started off the race and everyone has already taken off and are ahead of you, but when you begin to pick up your pace during those last few miles, you’re passing every one of those runners whose bodies have already reached a stage of fatigue. Paints a pretty picture doesn’t it?
Now imagine how much of a confidence boost this will bring to you in the actual race – you’ll be crossing that line feeling mentally strong a strong belief in your athletic abilities.Granted it isn’t a sure shot way of beating your PR but it is a sure shot way of running a strong race with good consistency and guaranteed to build up your self-esteem when you overtake those runners that left you behind in the beginning.
Handy Tips for Negative Splits
- Breaking into a negative split run isn’t just going to magically happen on race day. Inculcate half splits into your interval training sessions by running the first half of the practice about ten to fifteen seconds slower than your average targeted pace. You’ll notice that your pace has automatically picked up by the end of the session but you’ll be left feeling much more comfortable about it than normal. Technically this is also what progression runs are all about.
- Use short races like 5K splits are a great way of arriving at a decent starting pace for the longer runs, like a 10K. What it means is that similar to your practice running, running negative splits in a 5k too would have you begin at a much slower pace, and then build up momentum gradually as you swallow up the miles.
Read: How to run a faster 5k!
- An accurate prediction of pace is one of the most integral parts of running negative splits. For this, a handy tool is the Mcmillan Running Calculator which can provide you with optimal training paces and predict your race times based on the information fed into it. There are other conditions such as heat, wind, terrain that isn't necessarily factored in, hence to keep it safe you should always add five percent to the negative splits calculator’s predicted time. Note that if you’re feeling good at the end you can always increase your speed anyways.
- A slow start means beginning out about ten to twenty seconds per mile slower than your predicted race pace, and don’t allow yourself to be tempted to run faster by the runners overtaking you.
- The middle of the marathon is when you hit your race pace, and the ending miles of your race will see your still energized legs move swiftly by the runners who’re already fatigued. Even the tips for running half marathon clearly state that increasing your race pace for the last few miles by around twenty to thirty seconds is a great way of maintaining endurance.
- Finally, always believe in the method. It’s not a very easy concept to accept since it’s hard to believe that the body would be capable of running at a faster pace during the end of a race, especially to execute negative splits in a marathon, but that’s where all the training and hard work come handy. You’ve conserved your fuel and saved your muscle energy during the beginning, it will help you get through at the end.
The Final Split
There are pros and cons to every strategy. While negative splits have proven to be successful, there are a few racing conditions that could turn the strategy on its own head. Despite being armed with one’s half marathon pace, the juxtaposition of a racecourse that begins downhill and finishes uphill would automatically lead a runner to a positive split simply because of the dynamics of physics. Also, learning to judge your effort and run accordingly will eliminate any fixation of running splits that are even, positive or negative.
In the end, it’s always wise to enter a race with a strategy in place but with the knowledge and presence of mind to adapt to any condition the race throws at you. And enjoy your running, no matter what your split.