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Cross Training For Runners

The Beginners Runner Guide To Negative Splits

7 Mins read

Whether you’re training for your first 5K or for a new personal record, your pacing strategy can make the difference between failure or success

One simple yet very reliable strategy is the negative split. Performing them is one of the best ways to build your aerobic base and endurance, which is more critical at events like the half marathon and marathon.

Would you like to learn more about how to practice this strategy in your training? Then keep on reading.

In today’s article, I’m going to share with you the full guide to negative splits without any technical jargon or complicated non-sense.

In short, I’ll look at:

  • What are negative splits?
  • The benefits of negative splits
  • The downsides of negative splits
  • How to incorporate them
  • How to practice negative splits
  • How to follow a negative split on race day
  • And so much more.

Sounds great?

Let’s get started.

What Is Negative Split?

Keeping a steady pace during a race is tricky. Competition, terrain variability, elevation changes, and weather conditions can all impact your running speed.

That said, and most experts would agree, negative splits are an unfailing pacing strategy in virtually every racing scenario—or whenever trying to improve your running times.

In fact, by design, negative splits are an advanced tactic that can guarantee a fast finish time.

So what are negative splits? And why should you care?

First things first, let’s start with the basics.

A split in the running world refers to the time it takes to complete a certain distance.

Are you still confused? Then simply break down your run into two or three more equal-distance portions. A split refers to the time needed to complete one of those segments.

So what does make a split negative?

In essence, a negative split refers to running the back half of a run or race faster than you ran the first half. You run slower in the first part, then speed up in the second half.

This can mean 10 seconds faster or five minutes faster, but most runners would stick to an even pace through most of the race then gradually speed it up as they get close to that finish line.

For example, if you run a half marathon with 10K splits of 55:15 and 54:45 for 01:53:40 (including the additional sprint to the finish line), you have just run a negative split as the second portion of the race is faster than the first.

By doing this, you save a lot of power, endurance and feel like you have more energy during the race.

Additional Resource – Here’s how many miles should a beginner run

What Are Positive Splits?

As the name implies, a positive split is the opposite of a negative split. When you do a positive split, you actually run the second half of the run/race slower than the first half.

This strategy is helpful if you’re want to stay consistent while running, especially if you’re tackling a really hilly course with lots of elevation changes and/or terrain variability. But again, it may not work for everyone.

What Are Even Splits?

Again, this is simple. An even split involves keeping a consistent pace throughout the entire run/race. This means running the two halves of a race—or a run—in the same amount of time.

For example, if you want to run one mile on a standard track in 4:48, you’d have to run four 72-second laps, with each lap counting as a split to achieve this goal.

This is a common goal among beginner racers in virtually all distances.

Unfortunately, all it takes is a bit of distraction, fatigue, or a tiny problem, and your even splits are ruined. Unless you can keep that even pace throughout, this strategy may prove futile.

The Benefits of Negative Splits

As you can already tell, negative splits have a lot to offer.

Let’s discuss a few of the perks.

Warm Up Properly

Kicking up your runs at a slow pace allows for your muscles and joints to gradually warm up, which may help avoid injury and ensure optimal performance.

Find True Pace

One of the most common mistakes runners make is rushing out of the gate during a race.

For this reason, determining your true pace helps set a realistic time goal for your next run/race.

Figuring out your “true pace” is key, especially when running for an extended period. By doing a negative split, you’ll start your session at a conservative pace then speed it up in line with your current fitness level.

Ensure Good Speed

Negative splits, by definition, involve running the latter portion of a race faster than the first half—as long as you stick to a realistic pace.

That’s why if you plan them right, you’ll, consequently, conserve your energy and be able to run your fastest race.

It also reduces the risk of slowing down as the race drags on.

Additional resource – How many miles is a half marathon

The Downside

As in everything else in life, negative splits are not the answer to all of your running race prayers.

One downside is the fact that negative splits do not work on all race distances/courses.

For example,  a racecourse that kicks off downhill and finishes with a drastic elevation gain may require a positive split, in which you run at the end even effort.

How To Execute A Negative Split

While it’s easy to say, “run the second half faster than the first,” it’s actually much more challenging to put it into practice.

In fact, Practicing negative splits is tricky, especially in the midst of a race when your adrenaline is soaring and other runners begin to outpace you.

To get the hang of it, you’ll need to follow a proper training plan and practice negative splits as often as possible.

Practice makes perfect, after all. And it’s what you need to ensure that you get used to the experience of performing a negative split so you can easily follow the strategy on race day.

negative splits guide

Athlete running on an all-weather running track alone. Runner sprinting on a blue rubberized running track starting off using a starting block.

The Step By Step Guide

First, begin by figuring out your goal pace goal, for example, 10K race pace, or simply a pace you can keep up.

During the first few miles, focus on saving up your energy by running 20-30 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. Don’t focus too much on speed.

During the first third, focus on saving energy by running 10 to 30 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace.

As you near the middle third of the race, kick it up a notch to a realistic pace that you can keep up for the remainder of the race.

Once you reach the final stretch of the race, use any remaining energy and run as fast as possible. Shoot for 20 to 30 seconds faster than your goal pace.

For instance, if you’d like to negative split a half-marathon, and you feel confident you can finish it in precisely two hours, aim to run the first half in roughly 61-63 minutes. Then, on the second half, aim to finish it within 57-59 minutes.

Now let’s look at some ways by which you can start adding negative splits into your training.

Steady Runs

Steady runs, anything from two to six miles at a steady effort, should be negative splits all the time, even if you don’t have any specific racing goals.

Here’s how.

Break your session into three thirds.

For example, if you’re running for 45 minutes,(1) jog the first 10 minutes at an easy pace, (2) run the middle 20 minutes at a medium-fast pace, then (3) the last 15 minutes as fast as possible for the remaining duration.

This will definitely guarantee a negative split run which helps your body practice what it’s like to finish faster than the start.

Progression Run

Another way to practice negative splits is to do a progression run, which is gradually increasing your pace throughout the session.

Here’s how.

Start slower than you have to, then increase the pace in increments (every mile or so) until you’re running as fast as you can in the final mile. This is an ideal strategy to help teach your body and mind how to speed up on tired legs, which inherently translates to a faster finish time.

Here’s a simple six-mile workout.

  • One mile at an easy pace
  • One mile at marathon pace
  • One mile at half marathon pace
  • One mile at 10K pace
  • One mile at 5K pace
  • Five minutes jog/walk as cool down.

Interval Training

The best way to practice negative splits by doing interval workouts.

For example, if you’re training for a 5K, perform 10 X 400m at your desired speed, along with a one-minute break after each interval. Your goal is to get run each interval a little bit faster than the previous one until you’re running the last one as fast as you can.

Here’s is a sample session:

  • Start with a 10-15 dynamic warm-up. Here’s how.
  • Perform 8 to 10 400-meter with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between each interval.
  • Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.

Here’s another variation

Example one–  10 X 400-meter reps with a one-minute rest break.

  • Run intervals 1 to 4 five seconds slower than your goal pace.
  • Run intervals 5 to 8 at your goal pace
  • Run the last two intervals 5-10 second faster than you goal pace.

Example Two – 8 X 800-meter with 90 seconds break.

  • Run intervals 1 and 2 five seconds slower than your goal pace.
  • Run intervals 3 to 5 at your goal pace
  • Run the last three intervals at 5-10 seconds faster than your goal pace.

The Long Run Negative Split

Long runs are another suitable workout for negative splits, especially when training for a long-distance race, such as a marathon.

And it’s really simple.

Start slow and steady, then settle into a comfortable pace. Complete the first 60-70 percent of the session at an easy, conversational pace. You should be able to recite the pledge of allegiance without panting for air.

Then, gradually pick up the pace for the last quarter until you’re running at your 10K pace or a little bit faster.

For example, if you’re running for two hours, run the first 80 to 90 minutes at the easy pace, then pick up the pace over the last 40 to 30 minutes of the run.

Beginners Runner Guide To Negative Splits – The Conclusion

Most running coaches and experts emphasize the importance of protecting a good pacing strategy for the optimal racing experience.

As you can tell by now, I’m a big fan of the negative splits, and I believe it’s the ideal way to pace on race day.

You just need to practice it more during your training so you can set realistic expectations and learn how your body reacts to the pace.

The rest is just details, really.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

David D.

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