Excuse me while my ego puffs out my chest in pride at how good a triathlete I am for knowing the phrase ‘the negative split’.
I really hope you guys don’t know what it means. I had no idea what it meant either, until a few weeks ago.
I would have guessed it was something to do with doing box splits, because I used to attempt to do those when I was a little girl at gymnastics and not only did I feel very negative about the groin-tearing sensation they induce, but I always got very negative reviews from the gymnastics teacher (Colin) about my box split achievements. So negative split totally makes sense in that situation.
But no, ‘the negative split’ is not about box splits.
A negative split is an athletic achievement whereby you complete the second half of your event in a faster time than you completed the first half. So for instance, when running a 10km, a negative split means you ran the last 5km in less time than it took to do the first 5km.
Who cares? Absolutely nobody, unless they are infected with some sort of disease that makes them want to be some sort of athlete – particularly in my case, a triathlete.
Because running a negative split means you’ve paced yourself well; you have maintained control over your race and can finish strong to run down your competition. It means you can set yourself a goal for a finish time, then work out an actual plan to get there (first half by x time and second half in x time).
Apparently, being able to do a negative split is important for improving your endurance. Understandably, the control and goal-setting will also help improve your confidence as a runner.
It sounds pretty simple and the benefits seem obvious. Simple, because all you have to do is conserve your energy in the first half of the race, then unleash all hell and fury as you stomp down the second half to glory. Beneficial, because your body apparently responds better to this method than the usual ‘run as fast as you can then hold on to your placing for dear life’ method of running, because it gives your joints (in my case, old-lady joints) a chance to warm up at your steady pace… And when it comes time to go all-out, they’re hot and happy.
Also, doing a negative split on a course you haven’t run before means you might find that you have a little reserve of energy for hills and other challenges in the second half of your event, if any crop up.
NOTE: If none of this makes any sense to you, then probably Runner’s World is a better place to get information – see their page on negative splits here
I have been trying to harness my first negative split for a few weeks now, but have been entirely unsuccessful. Even though I’ve been conscious of it and would really like to know I can do it, it has eluded me.
Why? Well partly because I don’t have a GPS watch, so I don’t really know how fast I am going for each kilometre. I only know when I get to the halfway mark and look down at my watch, at which point I realise there is no way I can run the second half faster than I just ran the first half.
It seems I just can’t stop my fresh legs from whizzing around quickly. I get excited like a puppy and set an unsustainable pace.
The other part of the problem is that I have been focusing on increasing my distances, so practising getting faster hasn’t been on the agenda. Just going further has been enough to keep me occupied.
But I’ve missed a lot of parkruns since my first one back in February and I decided it was time to have another go, because I enjoyed the first one so much and I felt like I was missing out. Plus, it’s nice to support a local, free event.
My closest parkrun (Central Lakes in Caboolture for those who are interested) is nice and flat, with an equal 2.5km out and 2.5km back. At only 5km, I couldn’t pretend that this would be anything other than speed work for my running training. If I was going to do it, I decided, I had to get a PB and chase down the elusive Negative Split.
SIDENOTE: The night before this parkrun took place, I had a doughnut as a Friday night treat. It was the first doughnut I have eaten for possibly 9 years or more and yes it was scrumptious. Read on to evaluate for yourself the benefits of pre-parkrun doughnuts.
DISCLAIMER: Individual results may vary and I take no responsibility for doughnut-dosing effects you may or may not experience. And I am in no way sponsored by #doughnuttime but indeed it was one of their doughnuts.
Saturday morning arrived and I woke up with plenty of time to scoff some sesame snaps for (even more) energy and to sit around wondering if I should change my plans. I was doubtful about achieving the PB or the negative split to be honest, and I thought that if I went and did a 10km run by myself instead, then not only would I be much less scared and intimidated by my athletic desires, but I could also pretend I actually did something scarier and more intimidating (purely because it is longer)
This is how self-sabotage works. Luckily I recognised the disease for what it was and pushed forward with my original plan.
I struggled to get dressed whilst being harassed by Matilda the dog, who suspected that I was looking for an excuse to walk her. She looked confused when I explained the need for a PB, but when I mentioned the negative split she gave me the knowing look of a fellow athlete and went back to sleep.
Being 4 days away from winter I had to throw a jacket on over my running shorts and singlet. This made me happy because I run faster in cold weather. At 6.30am I set off for Caboolture and went over the plan in my head.
Step one: do an actual warm up upon arrival
Step two: don’t start at the back of the pack
Step three: aim for 15 minutes for the first 2.5km
Step four: push hard for something faster in the second 2.5km
Step five: puke at finish line
I felt supremely confident in conducting a warm-up away from the crowd. Unlike in my first attempt, where I tried to surreptitiously warm up by tying my shoelaces approximately 25 times, I felt much more confident this time around. I am deeply envious of all the running type people who don’t have to do any warm-ups before they break into an impressive pace, but as those who follow me on Instagram know, I recently became a grown up and I am not ashamed to say that I must always stretch and prance around like a maniac before embarking on a run.
With step one completed, I listened to the pre-race briefing from the Official Race Director and then took my place in the starting pack. Last time I’d started at the back, where I continued to try to pretend to not be warming up. This time, I took my place a few rows from the front.
An interesting thing I spotted whilst awaiting the starting buzzer was that two of the super-fast-looking runners at the front had no shoes on. They were presumably husband and wife as she was sporting a leopard print running dress made of lycra (an interesting creation in its own right) and he had on a matching running singlet, made of the same leopard print material. One of them must be handy with a sewing machine I guess, as I’ve never seen matching his’n’hers glamour running kits.
Anyway, they had no shoes on and I swear it was only about 16 degrees outside. And we were about to do a run on a concrete path. I spotted them a couple of times on the course and they managed to run the whole thing very quickly, so perhaps this is a new trick that we will see a lot more of in the coming weeks. Leave your comments of admiration or skepticism below, if you notice this happening in your local area.
When the buzzer finally went, I set off at my usual comfortable pace. But then I decided to just overtake this one lady in front of me, so I gave a little push to get past her. And then another lady looked a bit fit and I decided that if I just got past her she might not dare to overtake me. Then I noticed a man who seemed to be doing the exact same pace as me, which I decided was going to annoy me if I had to stare at the back of his shins the whole 5km. So I decided to sprint past him quickly, so that he could stare at me instead.
About a kilometre in, I overtook a tiny little boy who must only have been 8 or 9 years old. He needed a bit of encouragement so I told him to run with me, but he was a bit fast so I had to speed up a bit.
All in all, my ego (and being duped by a cocky little kid) meant that I reached the turnaround point at 14 minutes. This was not really in accordance with my plan, because completing the race in 28 minutes would have given me a PB (personal best time) but not a negative split.
I cursed myself but picked up the pace as much as I could, with a barely perceptible mixture of increased stride length and slightly quicker leg turnover. I’d read that this was the magic combination to ensure a faster pace without injuring myself.
The second half of the race seemed to have been lengthened somehow, and my quick pace soon got difficult. I reassured myself that if I didn’t vomit then I wasn’t doing it right, and tried to welcome the pain.
13 minutes of pain, though, is not easy for this pathetic drama queen to endure. This is where the magic of parkrun kicked in, because I couldn’t just break down in tears or pretend that I had already crossed the finish line and stop. There were too many people behind me, and just enough people ahead of me that my massive ego couldn’t help but believe we would catch up to them and beat them to the finish. I pumped my arms and pushed my legs as hard as I could.
The last 500 metres or so around the lake were the worst – I felt faint and dizzy and I couldn’t quite overtake the lady I’d had my sight on for the past kilometre. As we passed the flags and the volunteer photographer snapped my picture, though, my new arch enemy collapsed onto the grass and I had to force myself to stay upright and keep walking, in an attempt to pretend that I’d found our final sprint to be more of a leisurely walk in the park – and hadn’t really been trying at all. I lost my vision for a moment, as you do when all the blood rushes elsewhere, but I didn’t faint and managed to walk casually over to the barcode scanner like a pro.
So did I do it? Hells yeah I did. The second 2.5km was completed in 13.37 – not the ideal negative split but technically a success and I’m thrilled with it.
Receiving the results email from parkrun (along with all sorts of interesting information including the fact that I was second in my age group!) was the highlight of my day. Which, on reflection is not much of a wrap because I spent the rest of my Saturday at a Parkinson’s convention and an art show, where I lost my wallet for the first time in my life. But let’s imagine I’d spent the day at Disneyland – that email would still have been the highlight.
I’ll give it a couple of weeks before I return to parkrun, to hopefully chase another PB!