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The art of running negative splits

How to run negative splitsThere’s no better feeling than finishing a race strong, but if you’ve been running races long enough, you’ve probably completed some races feeling the complete opposite way. Maybe you bonked in the final miles or fell off your pace because you ran too fast at the start. No matter what the reason, running a less than ideal race doesn’t feel good.

That’s where negative splits come in.

Negative splits: 101
To run negative splits basically means to run the second half of a race (or training run) faster than the first half.

In a perfect negative split, each mile gets progressively faster than the last. An example of a negative split 5-miler would be mile times of 9:30, 9:15, 9:05, 8:55, and 8:50. Each mile was faster than the last and the runner likely finished the run feeling strong (albeit tired). It doesn’t matter how much faster each mile is than the last – it can be one second or 60 seconds – just that it’s faster.

Many runners believe negative splits are key for setting a PRs. If you start the race out slow, you’ll have more gas left in the tank at the end so you can push it when you’re really feeling fatigued.

The idea of running negative splits may seem intimidating and even impossible. But anyone can learn to run this way. If you want to negative split a race, you need to run negative splits in training runs. Practicing negative splits gets your legs used to running faster when they’re fatigued at the end of a run.

The three keys to running negative splits

  1. Start slow: The secret to running negative splits is to start out your run slow – much slower than your typical comfortable pace. If the pace of your first mile is too fast, it will be impossible to hit faster paces for the rest of the run. To keep the beginning of your runs slow, run the first mile uphill (so your pace will naturally slow down), run on the treadmill and set your pace to a slow speed, or even take walk breaks to remind yourself to slow down.
  2. Build gradually: Next, increase your pace slightly for the second mile. When you’re first learning to negative split, run by feel and ignore your pace so you don’t get caught up in the numbers. Then, continue to pick up the pace gradually each mile. During a race, you’d ideally run the first third of the race slower than goal pace, the second third at goal pace, and the final third faster than goal pace.
  3. Be consistent. Begin all of your runs out at this easy speed so you get used to the feeling of starting out slow. If you practice negative splitting regularly, soon you’ll start running this way without putting much thought into it.

Once you get used to running negative splits, you can pay attention to your pace and start challenging yourself on training runs – maybe make it your goal to run each mile 10 seconds faster than the last. On race day, it will be easier to hold back your pace, when it’s tempting to get caught up in the excitement and want to sprint out of the gate. And hopefully you’ll end the race with a new PR.

Written by Jen Matz.