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What Is the Point of Running Negative Splits?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
What Is the Point of Running Negative Splits?
Ronaldo de Costa broke the marathon record in 1998 using negative splits. Photo Credit Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

A negative split means you run the second half of your race faster than your first. Although seasoned and elite racers swear by this running strategy, anyone can use the technique to finish any race strongly. Most runners take off at a near sprint, do their best to sustain a decent pace in the middle of the race and wind down to a slow shuffle by the end. A negative split calls for you to be patient with your speed when you cross the start line and gradually pick up your pace as the race progresses. Running a negative split requires planning and training and will benefit you mentally and physically in races from the 5K to the marathon.

Warm-Up

A negative split strategy gives your body time to warm up. After several miles at a challenging but doable pace, your muscles are more pliable and your joints more lubricated. Feel-good brain chemicals, known as endorphins, also kick in during the first few miles so when you do pick up the pace, the extra effort feels less taxing. Even if you are running a 5K, you can use the first mile to mile and a half of the race to build the necessary foundation for a strong finish.

Confidence

During the first half of your race, you may notice runners passing you. Although you may be tempted to sprint to catch up, know when you pick up your pace later you will likely catch them as their body fatigues. A negative split means you will pass multiple runners later in the race, which can be a huge boost in your confidence as you enter the last few miles. This confidence can empower you to cross the finish line in a mentally strong, rather than defeated, state.

Lactate Threshold Management

Your lactate threshold is the point at which you are working so hard, your body cannot keep up with the necessary removal of waste produced by working muscles. Simply put -- waste is being produced faster than it can be metabolized, and your body has no choice but to slow down or stop. If you go all out in the first few miles of a race, you reach this point early on and your only choice is to slog through the end. When you perform a negative split, you hold back on your speed in the beginning so you have the ability to push your threshold at the end with a final surge in the last miles.

Considerations

A negative split can be very hard to execute on race day. The energy of the crowd can drive you to run faster than you intend, especially in the first few miles. You may also find yourself doubting the strategy, wondering if your body will truly speed up as the race progresses. Most beginners lack the sense of pacing that permits the successful execution of a negative split. To run a negative split, you have to train to run one. During training runs, start out at a pace 15 to 20 seconds slower than your planned average pace. Gradually pick up your speed over the course of the run until you are going faster than planned for the last few miles.

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