Learning The Art of Negative Splits


Have you ever stood at the start line of a race and when the gun goes off you feel pretty strong so you lean into the gas pedal a bit?  Your muscles feel good and being surrounded by all these other runners has your heart pumping and without realizing it you are running faster than normal?  Maybe this works for a good part of the race but at some point it hits you, this pace you have been running at is starting to feel uncomfortable, you are feeling tired and your resources are draining.  Suddenly you begin to realize that your goal time is out the window and you might even need to walk.  We have all been there!

The key to becoming a successful distance runner (which could mean finding a new PR or even being able to finish a given distance) is to learn the art of negative splits.  You can put away the yoga mat and stop grimacing, this has nothing to do with flexibility or uncomfortable body contortions.

Negative splits simply means running the second half of your race faster than your first half.  For some runners it might mean starting out at a slower pace and running every mile faster than the last, but a great goal for most runners is to just plan on running a faster second half of the race.  This type of tactic will allow your body to conserve those valuable resources you need to help you cross the finish line instead of depleting them early on in the race and leave you struggling.

It is hard to run the first half slower, especially as you get going and a lot of runners begin to fly past you.  You need to be your own coach and remind yourself that a lot of these runners are likely going to make the same mistake and take off fast, only to fade at some point during the race.  Remember that by slowing your pace down just a bit at the start you will have the energy you need to run a strong second half and that is when you will see yourself passing many of the runners who have lost their kick.

I once ran with another runner for their first road race, a very hilly 15k.  We mapped out the course the day before and knew it was going to be tough.  At the start of the race we hung back a bit and I reminded them to just take it easy in the beginning.  At mile 2 there was a brutal hill and we needed to avoid getting over zealous and feel winded before we hit that hill.  As we hit the halfway point and I knew that they were feeling good and a bit more confident in their ability to make it through the tough course, we began to push the speed a bit more and with that we started passing a lot of racers.  By the end of the race we were near the front of the pack.  Patience and diligence got us through and with a fantastic finish.

The other thing to keep in mind is that a lot of races have the same start for two different distances.  I have done 10ks that start out with the 5k runners.  Those guys are going to sprint out of the start gate a lot faster than the 10k racers.  Imagine your shock when they turn for the 5k route as you are about to keel over and realize you are running the longer race!  Uh oh.

To make this work you really have to check your ego at the start line.  Stop looking around at the other runners and trying to figure out who your competition is (I am so guilty of this and I am never right!).  Don’t worry about getting your toes right up at the start.  If the organizers put you in time corrals don’t go stand in the 7:00 minute/mile group, knowing you are going to run 9:00 a minute/mile.  Your goal should be to finish in a realistic time.  Starting out really fast isn’t the realistic way to get you to your goal.

So how do you figure out how to do this?  First of all you need to figure out what pace you are currently running and what your goal pace is for the race.  If you currently run a 9:00 minute per mile, it is very unlikely you will be running an 8:00 minute per mile average during your race.  Perhaps you have a goal of running an 8:50 minute/mile average for your 10k.  If that is your goal, you will want to plan on running your first 2-3 miles at a pace closer to your daily running pace and then pick it up for the second half of your race.

Remember that practice makes perfect.  Take your weekly fartlek or interval training and use this plan to practice negative splits.  Begin your workout doing slower paces and work up to your goal pace for the second half.  If you don’t have these training runs built into your weekly plan you can take any distance run and work on starting with slower paces and building up.  Teaching your mind and body how to handle these workouts will help you get a feel for how you should run your races.  It only takes a few seconds to make a difference.  Slowing down by even 5 seconds will help change your game plan in a positive direction.

Slow and steady may not always win the race, but a good steady first half will ensure that you get to the end and with a strong finish.  Very rarely does a runner ever wish they had started out faster.  More often than not you will hear the regrets of, “If I hadn’t gone out so fast at the start….”

I wanted to share some cool photos from yesterday.  My husband was invited to play in a hockey game at a really cool new outdoor rink.


And then we ended back up at the curling rink.  Somehow I don’t think our lives will ever not be spent at one rink or another.  Fortunately for me I got to watch some figure skating with a cocktail and a fire.  That’s the way to hang at the rink.


29 thoughts on “Learning The Art of Negative Splits

      • True… with new runners you can give them advice, about “the wall”, plateaus, burnout and negative splits. But some just don’t want to listen and they end up getting stuck in the weeds. For me I don’t consider a race a complete success unless I run a negative split (it shows proper race planning). I’ve even taken the splits so far as going to “quadrants” where each one hopefully gets successively faster.

  1. Negative splits are kind of hard mentally because I feel like I’ll end up running the whole thing slow if I start slow. However, when I do pull them off I almost always end my run feeling fast and strong.

  2. Great post, thank you. I am marathon training for the first time. How can I implement this into 26.2 miles??? Being on my feet for what will be close 4 hrs will slow me down considerably. Any advice please?

    • This is a great question. If your goal is to run a sub 4 hour marathon I believe you will want a pace just under 9:07 per mile. You do not need to slow down considerably at all. Even running your first 10 miles about 5 seconds slower than the rest will give your body enough energy/resources to have a good strong finish. How about practicing this during your long training runs? If you have a 16 mile run planned, try doing the first 6-8 miles just a little slower than what you plan on finishing. I think you will find that you are able to complete the run a bit easier this way. Looking at some of the other comments here it seems most runners find success with this technique. The key is practicing both patience and trust in this system.

      • Wow! 5 seconds per mile doesn’t give me room for error and I’m not that expert that I can gauge a 5 second margin. I will definitely give it a go on my shorter races though, thanks!

  3. Great post! Yes, I’ve made the mistake of starting a race way too fast, only to slow down to a crawl on the 2nd half of the race.
    I agree negative splits are the way to go, and I do this for regular runs as well. Like you said, we have to be realistic with the paces we are going to run.. A race is not going to be that much faster of a regular run (same distance).

  4. Yes, it is hard to reign it in at the start of a race, but it is so important to! I set several PR’s a year ago by doing negative splits! It’s so much nicer to finish strong than to struggle across.

  5. I hit a major wall on a half marathon a few months ago because I was feeling so good that I started pushing my pace waaaay too early. I was completely dead by mile 11. I remembered this and made sure not to repeat my mistake during my half last weekend, and felt a million times better! Great post.

  6. Great advice. Now that I feel I was finally able to run a half at what I know I’m capable of per training, I want to work on making it better and training more effectively. Thanks!

  7. Great Post Sarah! This is such great and practical advice for all runners!

    In my last race I fell into the trap of going out to fast and finished about 11 minutes slower than my goal time! As a result, I have committed myself to going out slower, and have applied this principal to my training as well.

    I have run a lot of “Progressive Pace” runs during my training; starting off as much as a minute slower than goal pace and progressively pick it up throughout the run, then I really try to push it in the final couple of miles to run faster.

    This way the concept of going out slow in the first few miles in not foreign to me, and I’m training my body to pick up the pace at the end of a long run so I should be able to pick up the pace when the time is right!

  8. Pingback: Weekend Roundup | Life Sans God

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