Marathon Positive Split Workouts

By Rick Morris

Running negative splits has been widely accepted as the most efficient pacing strategy for most race distances. The theory is that you should ration your energy usage so that you still have some gas in the tank for a strong finish. Generally speaking, running negative splits is a very good race strategy, but is it always the best way to go? Should you try marathon positive split workouts?

The marathon can sometimes be the exception to that practice. The unique causes of fatigue in the last miles of the marathon makes it very difficult for many runners to perform negative splits. I know that common marathon wisdom says you should always take it easy in the first half of your marathon so that you can conserve those valuable carbohydrate stores for those final brutal miles but the fact remains that the vast majority of runners are not able to hold their pace in the last half of a marathon due to that big old fatigue bear that jumps on your back. Why not go against conventional wisdom and plan on running positive splits in your marathon. Put some “time and miles in the bank” while your body is operating at full capacity. Of course you still must run a smart race, but pushing just a bit in the early miles may give you a time cushion that will come in handy as you slow later in the race.

Below are some examples of positive split workouts that will train you to push slightly faster than your planned pace early and still maintain a relatively even pace in the later miles.

Positive Split Long Run

  • Description: Run between 12 and 23 miles. Run the first half of your long run at goal marathon pace. Slow to an easy endurance pace for the last half of your run.
  • Pace: Goal marathon pace for the first half and easy pace or about 30 to 45 seconds per mile slower than our goal marathon pace.
  • Recovery: None

Reverse Progression Tempo Run

  • Description: A long tempo run of between 45 and 90 minutes performed at a progressively slower pace.
  • Pace: Begin your tempo run at about 10K race pace. Gradually and progressively slow down to goal marathon pace throughout your run.
  • Recovery: None

4 x800/1600/3200 Meter Compound Sets

  • Description: Four decreasing pace compound sets
  • Pace: Run the 800 meters at 5K pace, the 1600 meters at 10K pace and the 3200 meters at goal marathon pace. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 4 compound sets.
  • Recovery: No recovery within each compound set. Recovery between each compound set with 5 minutes of rest.

Marathon Simulator

  • Description: A two part long run that simulates marathon conditions. Run 12 miles at goal marathon pace in the morning. Consume a carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement sports drink both during and after your run. Rest 30 minutes but do not consume any food. Rehydrate and recover with your sports drink and water. Then run 12 more miles at an easy endurance pace.
  • Pace: Goal marathon pace for the first 12 mile run and easy endurance pace for the final 12 mile run.
  • Recovery: Rest for 30 minutes between the two 12 mile runs.