Everything you needed to know about the negative split

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Thursday, 05 November 2015 1366 Views 0 Comments
Everything you needed to know about the negative split

A racing strategy characterised by a gradual or sudden increase in speed and output towards the end of the event.

Though revered as a conservative strategy, this technique has helped athletes accomplish several world records during distance events. Some of elite runners who swear by this approach are Steve Prefontaine, Wilson Kipsang, Julia Lucas, and Galen Rupp. In 1998, the renowned runner Ronaldo da Costa also made use of the negative split for breaking the marathon world record. He completed the latter part of the race faster than the initial part, by three minutes.

Studies suggest that this approach not only poses health benefits, but also renders positive psychological effects on the runner.


  1. Starting the race at a slow pace enables the runner’s body to compensate for the lactic acid which is produced as a result of exertion. Those who start out fast, land up generating more lactic acid, thereby making the muscles sore. This eventually slows you down.
  2. While running, the human body requires several miles for warming up. Starting out slow aids in getting the muscles and joints thoroughly charged up and lubricated, thus encouraging the athlete to run at a faster speed during the latter phase of the event. Further, it also helps to avoid injuries, particularly to the muscles.
  3. After crossing the starting line, a runner may feel tempted to surpass others. However, one should bear in mind, that towards the end, body fatigue will slow you down unless you adopt this technique.

Running faster towards the end of the event also triggers a psychological impact on the runner. As you move ahead of multiple runners in the second phase of the race, it evokes a feeling of confidence and achievement. As the race progresses, mood-boosting endorphins, which are nothing but feel-good brain chemicals, start flooding the system, thus inspiring the runner to run faster than before.


  1. During extreme weather conditions, this approach may not deliver the desired results. For instance, when the weather is too hot or windy, it is difficult for the human body to maintain a faster pace during the latter part of the race.
  2. In competitive racing, it is advisable that the runner keeps tab on the pace of the other competitors. In order to stay in the game, one cannot allow for a large gap. Thus, if the competitor starts out fast, one also needs to run faster during the early stage of the race
  3. For those whose bodies aren’t adapted to negative splits, it will be difficult for them to maintain patience and intentionally keep their pace slow during the first 13 to 15 miles of a run. This is particularly applicable for races which are well within the comfort zone of the runner.

In spite of its disadvantages, this technique has been widely accepted by coaches and athletes all over the world. However, for perfecting a negative split, it is imperative that the athlete practices the technique during training runs and workout sessions. The trick is to start out at a speed of 15 to 20 seconds slower than the goal pace, followed by a gradual increase in speed, and then finally run at a pace faster than the goal pace. In an actual marathon, one may consider speeding up after covering 8 to 10 miles.

No matter how intimidating or impossible it may sound, with regular training, one can surely train himself/herself to run a faster second half.

International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2006;1:233-245 © 2006 Human Kinetics, Inc.  – An Analysis of Pacing Strategies During Men’s World-Record Performances in Track Athletics – http://www.humankinetics.com/acucustom/sitename/Documents/DocumentItem/6067.pdf

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