Splitting a negative

As a writer, I know one of the basic rules of grammar is to never split an infinitive. Like I just did.
As a runner, I know that a basic rule of training is to run negative splits as often as possible. Like I just did — at lunchtime, on the trails.
A negative split, of course, just means running the second half of a race or training run slightly faster than the first half.
For me, running a negative split is as natural as rolling out of bed. In all my years of running, I’ve always liked to start out a bit conservatively, letting my body warm up gradually. I’ve never been one to bust a gut right from the get-go.
Then, after a few miles, I’m ready to shift into third or fourth gear, and finish strong.
Doing splits correctly is mighty important, whatever the sport!

Doing splits correctly takes lots of practice.

Not everyone agrees with me on this. For several years, I trained with a very fast runner who liked to start  almsot every run aggressively. He would blast out of the start, leaving me in his dust. “Where the hell is the fire?” I often shouted at the back of his head.

My body just wasn’t ready for high speed. I needed a few miles to warm up. But by the halfway point, I would usually catch up and we would finish close together.

Another running friend is more typical. One day last month, we  ran 12 miles together. During the second half, I could feel him pushing the speed. I pointed out that we were really picking up the pace. But for him, it was so natural, he didn’t even notice.

“That’s my plan,” he said. “Even when it’s not my plan, it’s my plan.”

Almost every training book, magazine or web site has spilled thousands of words on the topic. Most of the advice I’ve read says that running a negative split is a good rule of thumb. It helps you dole out your body’s energy evenly over a long distance, thus avoiding the dreaded bonk. It’s one of few rules of training I religiously follow. Every time I’ve started a race or a training run too fast (including several marathons), I’ve regretted it during the second half, as I ran out of gas.

So in that spirit today, I went out at lunchtime and ran five miles on the canal towpath. This really wasn’t a speed workout, just a daily maintenance run.

Unfortunately, I had eaten some trail mix about an hour before heading out, and as I started my run, it was stuck in my stomach like a rock. It was an effort to move for the first few miles. So I had to no choice but to start out nice and easy. I ran the first half in 22:14.

Then, feeling a bit better, I turned around and pushed the speed a bit, wondering how much time I could shave off in the second half. (The trail is flat, so the direction is irrelevant.) I ran the second half in 20:33.

That’s a difference of nearly 8 percent — probably too much of a negative split. The experts say a negative split should amount to a difference of only 2 to 3 percent.

Next time, I’ll lay off the trail mix. But I’ll never lay off negative splits.


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