Do you struggle to PB in your key endurance events? It is well known that negative splitting in swim, bike, run and triathlon events produces the best results. Why then, is it so hard to do? As triathlon training coach at PB3, I see so many fail at this, even at elite levels? A recent scan of the top 10 men and women over the line of the SMH Half marathon showed that of the men, the first 5 over the line ALL negative split, whereas 6 – 10 all positive split. In the women, NONE of the top 10 managed to negative split, with some losing upwards of 2 minutes in the back half of the event. If it is this common in the elite ranks, then just imagine how many amateurs get it so wrong. Whilst elite runners have other factors to consider when racing for podiums and money, like surging or pace changes for example, for the average runner, working on a negative split should be a straightforward task. Read on to see the type of running strategies I implement in our squad sessions and the online programs I give people around the World.

So, how do we get around it? How do we train for it? Coaching wise, I have heard every excuse there is for a positive split. You must remove the excuses and recognise that everything is trainable. A course being hillier in the back half is not an excuse. The temperature being 10 degrees warmer than you normally train in, is not a viable excuse. Poor nutrition? Again, easily trainable. These things are all fixable with a focus on specificity and developing mental awareness, more than toughness. Understand that poor pacing is mostly a strategy problem. In other words, people have not trained towards the specifics of the event. Running a hilly course, do your long runs over hilly courses. Running in 35 degrees, run in the middle of the day or with a jumper on. 

Practical tips:

Even if your A race is on a flat course, build strength and endurance first and foremost by running hills in your long runs…… have to be strong, regardless of pace, so as not to fade. If you do a long run once a week, add hills all through it, particularly the back half.

Focus on cadence – once fatigue hits, cadence slows. Keep the leg turnover high. A great way to do this is to throw 1 minute surges into the back half of your run. An example might be:

60 minutes undulating in your all day pace

20 minutes of 1 min at 10k road pace, 1 min easy all day pace

All of the top of the line watches these days come with built in metronomes. This is singularly one of the best ways to improve your running.

The undulating out and back – head out for 30 – 45 minutes at an easy conversational pace. From the turnaround slowly pick up the pace to a higher pace that is still within your aerobic range, where you can still carry on conversation. You should aim to finish the return leg about 2 – 3 minutes faster than the outwards leg. As you get better and better at negative splitting you can start to bring these runs once a fortnight closer to race pace.

Progression run over terrain similar to the race – this is great for confidence. Steadily build pace starting at long run pace and slowly building to aerobic threshold or about 10km race pace over the final 10 minutes of the run. This is very effective at helping you developing your sense of how fatigue slowly wears you down over longer runs.

Cover your watch and practice for a couple of “practice races” – being reliant on technology is fraught with danger so it is always good to develop your feel. In your B events leading up to the A event, cover your watch over so that you can’t get pacing feedback. Then look back later and see how well you did. You will be surprised at what fatigue does!

In the race establish rhythm early and be attentive to pace from the start – understand that tapering brings freshness meaning the first few kilometres are meant to feel easier. A solid grasp of RPE, because it has been repeatedly practiced is crucial. Know you can do it, because you have done it – it takes A LOT of confidence at the start of your key event to stick to YOUR pace. Everyone passes you, they all look so good, and it can be easy to second guess yourself, second guess your training, and head off with others. This is where you need to think back to sessions that you have practiced negative splitting.

The power of others – understand that you can almost always give more or dig deeper when you need to. There have been many studies that demonstrate that in competitive scenarios, people are able to find the extra little bit. This is where a great squad comes into play. Pushing each other in key sessions not only develops great camaraderie but helps to develop the mental tenacity necessary to finish events strongly.

So, there you have it. Your key to faster PB’s is always going to be tied to developing a great pacing strategy and not fading.  It is trainable, should be practiced regularly knowing that finishing stronger than you start is not only great for confidence but can be easily added to your arsenal.

Chris Hanrahan is a Level 2 Performance Coach with Triathlon Australia, an Exercise Science student, and a passionate Coach of athletes worldwide.

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