Tips for Racing Wisely - Page 2
Negative Split: A Positive Thing
The negative split—running the second half of the race faster than the first—or the evenly paced race is an elusive attainment for many runners. That’s a shame, as for most distances, running an evenly paced race or a slight negative split is the key to bringing your best performance on the day.
Racing a negative split begins in training. As you grow closer to the race, you should practice holding back in your early intervals and in the early part of your tempo runs, then speeding up slightly toward the end of workouts. Make your later intervals the fastest, rather than overdoing the first few and dropping off toward the end. Monitor your workout data after the fact, to be sure you are truly applying your best effort in the second half of the workout, not in the first. Practice this self-restraint until it becomes second nature.
Race pace efforts are also key, especially if you are trying to make a specific time, as for a Boston Marathon qualifier or a personal best. If all your workout pacing is done far slower or faster than your target time, the target pace won’t feel natural on race day. Include efforts at your intended race pace throughout your training, so it becomes a familiar sensation. (Along the training cycle, whether things are going better than planned or injury or illness set you back, you may need to adjust your intended pace and tweak your goals.)
There are many ways to squeeze race pace efforts into the training week. You can bring them in during a long workout, in small chunks, ideally toward the end. For example, slot in 10–30 minutes of half-iron-distance race pace riding toward the end of your long rides, or do the same in long runs.
One workout that’s worked especially well for me and my athletes is the morning-after pace run. If you run your long run on Saturday, for example, Sunday is your pace run. You’ll start at an easy warmup pace, and after a mile or so, find your goal-race pace and hold that. The training cycle can begin with a mile or so of pace and build to four or more. On occasions where you need to run the pace the day before the long run, see if you can hit the right pace straight off the bat. A GPS is obviously very useful here, but you can start your run on the track, then move to the road or trail. Alternatively, run to a track and do a few laps to check your internal pace gauge midrun. The same workout can be useful for time-trail pacing: can you hold your intended pace for a short period the day after a long effort?
Be sure to follow any big blocks of training, including these long/pace back-to-back days, with the appropriate attention to recovery. (See my Athlete’s Guide to Recovery for more.) The real secret to the negative split—besides self-control, naturally—is drawing on your natural tendencies toward laziness and stubbornness. Specifically, you need to be lazy in the first half of the race and stubborn in the second. If you can tune in to these qualities, which we usually consider less than glorious, you can wind up with a fantastic finish. In the first half of the race, if you are pacing yourself well, you will feel resentful of those springy folks shooting forward off the line and quickly receding into the distance ahead of you. You may feel like you don’t want to put out the effort—good! Be lazy. It’s too soon in the early stages of the race to be suffering. For any distance beyond the 5K, a painfully fast start is going to lead to even more misery later. A common mistake among not just new but seasoned racers is cleaving to the misguided idea that you can bank time in the beginning, saving a few seconds or minutes against the inevitable slowdown at the end. But this is a bad investment. Instead, start as you mean to go on. Your patience will be rewarded when you avoid what you thought was an unavoidable slowing toward the end, and the gratification of finishing feeling like a success, instead of slogging through a death march in the last parts of the race.
If you don’t believe me enough to start at your intended finishing pace per mile in a peak race, try it in a tune-up race, starting farther back than you normally would. Instead of frantically weaving around the other racers, just settle in for a little bit. Let yourself ease into it. Then, around the halfway mark, gradually pick up the pace. The boost you’ll receive from passing those who are slowing will make you feel extra speedy. When I do that, I think of myself as an energy vampire, drawing a little extra speed from each racer I pass. After an exaggerated trial of the negative split, try to start just a hair faster and to make the ramp up to full speed a little less steep—this is how you run an even race.
As you move into the second half, you’ll have to draw on your reserves of stubbornness. The longer you ask your body to maintain your goal pace, the harder it will feel. Fight the urge to slow with every ounce of willpower you can muster. If you find extra will, try speeding up, but do it very gradually. Let the yes of your will be louder than the no of your legs and lungs.