Self-discipline and negative splits

Fredericton Walking Bridge

Fredericton Walking Bridge

Yesterday was yet another unseasonably cold and windy day for the second part of April, even in eastern Canada, but the sun was sparkling on the blue water of the swollen river and the grass was greening pretty well under the circumstances.  And it’s spring, no matter what.  Everyone was out, although bundled up.  I was out for my Sunday long slow run, along with scores of other runners.  There was plenty for us to be contemplating as we ran.  The horrors of the Boston Marathon earlier that week was top of mind, and I’m quite sure that this tragedy has simply strengthened the resolve of most runners – those who have a hope, that is – to qualify for Boston.  And yesterday was also the day of the London Marathon, the one item on my bucket list that I’m afraid is out of reach, simply because it is so darn popular that it’s nearly impossible to get in.  So far, I’ve had no luck, but I think I’ll try at least one more time.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

London Marathon

London Marathon

Meanwhile, as I was flagging badly yesterday in the second half of my 10 mile (16 km) training run for a half marathon in 5 short weeks, I thought, “OMG, how could I possibly have been running in the London Marathon today?!”  Obviously, I would have needed a longer, better attended training program, fewer injuries, and more self-discipline!  Self-discipline … hmm.  Lack of self-discipline undoubtedly has something to do with why I continue to start out at what I decide is a comfortable pace only to find that in the second half of my run I’ve run out of steam.  Classic problem.  This is where training for negative splits is supposed to help.  I’d vaguely heard the term ‘negative split’ when watching swimming races in Olympic years, but that was about swimming and pool lengths, and that viewing experience is over quickly.  But a few years ago, when my interest in long distance running graduated to reading books and magazines on the subject, I learned that runners should be training for negative splits.  In other words, the second half of your run should be faster than the first half.  Or … each mile could be faster than the previous one; take your pick.  There is actual theory to support this concept.  By going slower early on you let your body warm up slowly and you save the energy that you need to take it home in style.  A few bloggers I follow who are runners do speak about this, including the fact that they actually run with negative splits, even frequently.  I stand in awe.

During my last few miles yesterday, when I was walking more than running, I thought about how I could train for negative splits.  I’m thinking maybe if I walked the first half that might do it.  Nothing else seems to work.  I try to start out slow (not that I’m ever that fast), but it doesn’t seem fast until I realize how much slower I am on the way back.  I have to admit that I worked a lot harder on starting out slow when I was training for a marathon, because I knew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a hope of finishing, slow or otherwise.  Clearly, it’s time to take the half marathon distance just as seriously.

There are several tips for starting slower than feels natural:

  1. Breathe in through your nose instead of your mouth.  You can’t do this and run too fast; that’s the theory, at least.
  2. Run with friends at a conversational pace.  My problem with this approach is that I can’t keep up with friends who are going at their conversational pace, even if I’m gasping instead of conversing!
  3. Sing (out loud) along with your playlist, which is the same idea as going at a conversational pace.  If you’re breathing too hard to sing, you’re going too fast.
  4. Start your run by going up a hill; you just can’t start too fast this way.  You can, however, still wear yourself out early on, which is what you’re trying to avoid.
  5. Be honest with yourself.  If – deep down inside – you know that the pace you’re going according to your Garmin is too fast to sustain, even if you’re pumped that you’re going at that speed and convinced that this time will be different, then slow it down.  Remind yourself that you tried this last week – and the week before – and after 7-8 miles you no longer felt so spry.  Tell yourself to “just give starting slow a chance, just this once.”

I have had some success with #1 and #4 in past years, when training for the full 26.2.  This time I’m going to go with #5.  Be honest with myself.  Slow down.  I wonder how well that will work!  There’s some comfort in knowing that, even though the concept of training for a negative split is well-known to most endurance athletes, including runners, swimmers, and cyclists, very few actually achieve this goal when push comes to shove.  Even the very best struggle with it.  It takes super-human self-discipline to hold back.  When you’re at the starting line, you’re raring to go, regardless of how you’ve told yourself you are going to run “your own race”.

When I’m at the starting line in London next year, I want to be ready to run my own race.  A girl can dream, right?!

Photo sources: Fredericton Trails Coalition (Facebook),

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9 Responses to Self-discipline and negative splits

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    For me negative splits are rare indeed, but great if you can manage them, cruising past others in the last part of the race. My latest 10k had me starting slow with each subsequent mile even slower 😦 Good job I don’t worry too much about time/placing these days 🙂

  2. jennypellett says:

    Good luck with your dream of coming to London…I’l come and cheer you on.
    I have to say that we are basking today in 23 degrees. Spring has arrived!

  3. alesiablogs says:

    Yes. A girl can dream! I began my training 3 weeks ago with a gal who just ran the Boston Marathon, but since returning from vacation, I got pneumonia so I am back to ground zero. But I’m not giving up.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh no, Alesia. That’s not fair. A special family holiday in a special place and you come home with pneumonia?! Take care of yourself – and then get back with your trainer. I know you won’t give up.

  4. Good luck, Jane. I like your numbered list and see how I can apply this theory to a long-term business project I’m working on. 🙂

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