A common problem every runner works on improving when training for a race is learning the art of the negative split. After all, it’s only human nature to want to run as hard as you can for as long as you can. But if your goal is to finish strong, or at all, then it’s better to ease your way out of the gates, and then gradually pick up the pace so that you don’t crash before you reach that finish line. So here’s the answer to many runner’s questions of “what is a negative split and how to improve it.”
The number one way to improve your mental and physical ability to cross that finish line is to practice running negative splits – where the second half of your run is faster than the first – throughout your training. By training with that principle in mind and tuning your body to different paces, you’ll experience one of the best feelings in this sport. That sense of getting stronger in the second half of your race/run.
Here’s how to work negative splits into your routine, to help you become a stronger and faster runner.
Your recovery runs and long runs should be performed as progression runs, going from slowest to fastest miles and naturally producing a negative split.
How: These workouts should be conducted at a relaxed and comfortable pace that allows your body to recover from your more strenuous training sessions during the week. Your pace should go from slower than projected pace, average pace, than faster than projected pace.
For example, say you want to run 5 miles at a 8:00 pace, you’ll run your first mile at 8:20 and increase the pace by about 10 seconds every mile. So you’ll run 8:20-8:10-8:00-7:50-7:40. By the end of your run, your average speed will still be exactly what you set out to run, Plus you’ll have taught your body a good lesson: The longer it goes, the better it runs.
For your long run progression, try breaking the distance up into thirds. Run the first third 15 seconds/mile slower than goal pace, the second at goal pace, and your last third 15 seconds/mile faster than goal pace.
During a tempo run, the goal typically is trying to run even splits – where all miles are performed at the same pace – but increasing your speed at the end now and then is great prep for the last few miles of a race when you need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
How: Increase your speed for the last two miles of your next tempo run. So if your goal is to run 6 miles at a 7:30 pace, hold that pace for the first four miles. Then try to drop your pace down to 7:20, then 7:10 for miles 5 and 6.
Intervals should be a regular speed workout in your training. Typically consisting of running fast for multiple brief periods, allowing time for your body to recover after each quickly. Since they’re performed at varying paces, intervals are the perfect type of workout to practice negative splits.
How: Do progression mile repeats. Try 4 x 1 mile, with a 2-minute recovery interval between each. Mile 1 should be hard, yet comfortable, miles 2 and three at 10K pace and for mile 4, push it at 5K pace.
Try running a shorter race before your goal race and run it progressively as a way to simulate what you’ll need to do when your goal race day comes.
How: If you’re training for a half-marathon, run a 10K about six weeks beforehand. Perform the first 2.5 miles calm and relaxed, pacing yourself comfortably below your goal half-marathon pace. For the next 2.5 miles, gradually increase your pace until you reach goal half-marathon pace, and then hold it. In the final 1.2 miles, push yourself up to about 10K pace and finish strong.
Remember running negative splits in a race takes patience, discipline, and toughness. You need to have the patience to stick to your race plan even when you see people who you know you can beat darting ahead of you in the opening miles. Discipline is necessary for knowing to increase your pace steadily, even if your legs feel like they can handle a full-out sprint. Last, you need the toughness to continue increasing your speed at the end of the race when your body’s natural response to the lactic acid in your legs is to slow down.
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Ally Gonzales is the founder & editor-in-chief of RunningSoleGirl. Along with blogging she is also juggling attending college and majoring in Exercise and Sports Science with a Sports Management minor.