In almost every racing scenario, negative splits are the ideal pacing strategy.
But first, let’s define our terms: a negative split is when the second half of a race is faster than the first half. For example, if you race a 10K with 5K splits of 25:30 and 24:30 for a 50:00 10K finish time, you’ve just ran a negative split.
It may seem more difficult to run negative splits on race day, but in fact it can be easier. It takes 1-2 miles to properly warm up during a race. Then, your joints are fully lubricated, adrenaline and other performance-boosting hormones are peaking, and muscles are primed to work at their most efficient capacity.
In short, you’re not ready to run at your best until the middle of the race—making a negative split easier to attain than most think.
When the opposite happens (running the first half faster than the second), the runner is not allowing the body to be properly warmed up nor is she taking advantage of the hormones that make racing fast a bit easier. I’m sure you’ve had experience of starting a race fast only to flounder and pull up short in the later miles.
Are there examples of this strategy benefiting runners at the highest levels? How can we put these lessons into practice on race day? Let’s find out.
Negative Splits and World Records
At the elite level, most world records above 800m have been set with negative splits. If you look at the recent history of marathon world records, you’ll see this strategy used effectively to consistently lower the world record performance.
When Dennis Kimetto set the marathon world record to 2:02:57 in 2014 at the Berlin Marthon, he ran the first half in 61:45 and the second half in 61:12.
Haile Gebrselassie ran a similar strategy in 2007 when he ran the WR of 2:04:26 with a spread of 62:29 and 61:57. The next year, when he broke 2:04, he had half marathon splits of 62:05 and 61:54.
This strategy extends beyond the marathon, however. When Kenenisa Bekele ran the 10,000m world record of 26:17:53, his 5K splits were 13:09:19 and 13:08:34.
Galen Rupp had a fantastic negative split performance when he set the American record in the indoor 5K of 13:01.26. His mile splits were 4:14, 4:12, and 4:04 with a final 200m split of 30.36.
Top coaches like Jay Johnson (coach to three national champions) also believe negative splits are ideal for both elite and recreational runners.