Positive Split Training

By Rick Morris

Positive splits, or running the first half of a race faster than the last, are getting a bad rap lately. Everyone from coaches and athletes to researchers and writers are trumpeting the virtues of running negative splits. Negative splits are the best way to race in most situations. Running negative splits conserves energy for the all important final miles of a race. There is no doubt that running negative splits gives you positive results, but that does not mean that running positive splits is always a disastrous situation but you do need positive split training.

Every competitive runner knows that it is not always easy to run negative splits. I always struggle to hold back on my pace early in a race. Yep, I know that I should hold back, but I feel so strong at the beginning of the race it is a mental battle to keep my pace down. That is especially true when I see my main competitors start to pull away. I just have to stay with them. Way back in my college days my coaches would always be yelling at me to stay within my planned pace and run negative splits, but I usually ignored them – I always wanted to stay close to the lead pack.

Today, as a coach, I tell my athletes the same thing. You need to stay conservative early and pick up the pace in the middle and late miles. I know that is the proper strategy and my athletes know it is the proper strategy. But guess what? Most of them don’t pay any more attention to me than I did to my coach. When your competitive juices get flowing, common sense goes out the window.

Early race excitement and the desire to stay with the lead pack are not the only reasons running negative splits can be difficult. There are many times during the race where you need to surge. You may be surging to shake off some opponents or you might need to surge to keep up with a competitor that is trying to shake you off. These periodic surges are similar to running positive splits. You are running at faster than planned race pace. As a result you begin to build up lactate and potassium levels and you must be able to recover at race pace.

There are even times when running positive splits is good strategy. A good example is a hot weather marathon. Your body will slow down when it becomes overheated due to hot weather. Most marathons start early in the morning when the weather is cooler. It would be very difficult to run negative splits or even pacing in a hot weather marathon because the hot conditions in the last half of the race will not allow it. A better strategy would be to break the normal marathon pacing rules and run slightly faster than planned pace in the first half of the race. When the heat forces you to slow in the last half, those miles you put in the bank in the first half will come in handy.

Training for Positive Splits

Training is essentially practicing your goal pace. In the case of positive split training you would simply run the first part of your training runs at a faster pace and learn to hold on in the last half. Here are just a few samples of good positive split training runs.

3 x 400/800/1600/400 Compound sets

After a warm up run 400 meters at nearly all out pace. Then slow down to 5K pace for 800 meters before slowing again to 10K pace for 1600 meters. Then speed up to nearly all out pace for 400 meters. Take no recover between the runs. Repeat this three times with 5 minutes of passive recovery between each set.

3 x 800/3200/800 Compound sets

After a warm up run 800 meters at 5K pace before slowing to marathon pace for 1600 meters. Then speed up to 5K pace for a final 800 meters. Take no recovery between the runs. Repeat 3 times with 5 minutes of passive recovery between each set.

3 x 200/1600/200 Compound sets

After a warm up run 200 meters at sprint pace before slowing to 5K pace for 1600 meters. Then speed up to sprint pace for 200 meters. Take no recovery between the runs. Repeat 3 times with 5 minutes of passive recovery between the sets.

24 Minute Surging

Run for about 24 minutes alternating between 5 minutes at 10K pace and 1 minute at about 20 seconds per mile faster than 5K pace.