Monday, August 23, 2010

Negative split *every* run

Having the good fortune of training in Houston through the excellent Kenyan Way program over the past several years I've repeatedly heard Coach Sean Wade's introductory comments to new runners. In each case he says with his greatest vehemence: "If you remember just one thing tonight, it should be this: You should negative split every training run and every race. This does not mean pushing the pace but rather starting out super easy and increasing the pace naturally as you warm up."

Sean Wade's opinion matters. Currently 44 years of age, and a native of New Zealand, he was named the fastest master's runner in the world in 2006 by the RRCA, and was selected the 2006 Masters 40-44 Runner of the Year by Running Times Magazine. Wade is one of only two men over 40 years old to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Trials by running 2:20:00 at the 2007 Houston Marathon. Other achievements include competing in the 1996 Olympic Marathon for New Zealand, qualifying with his personal best marathon time of 2:10:59.

Additional elements of Sean's training philosophy are that: "The key to improved running is consistent steady training with a slow increase in weekly mileage. You need to know your different training paces (recovery, long run, threshold and 5K paces) and be sure to run easy on your easy days. Too many runners don't run slow enough or fast enough. Everything just blends together. Tempo runs, hill, intervals at goal race pace, and long runs are all important pieces of the puzzle. You have to listen to your body and take an extra recovery day or skip a hard workout if you are not feeling up to it."

To help the Kenyan Way runner, Sean converts his successful training philosophies into reality by providing access to powerful web-based tools which automate the creation of a custom training plan. The runner merely inputs their recent 5K race result, their next race, goal finishing time, the number of days per week that they are willing to train, and the extent to which heat affects them (clearly, a huge factor in Houston!) Upon doing so the custom calendar is built, which provides detail surrounding every day's run, distance and goal pace.

Consistently achieving a negative split in all races and training runs requires a fundamental shift from a typical runner's approach. Particularly in races, with the athlete well rested and eager to begin their race, the jolt of adrenaline at the gun often overwhelms reason - with the predictable disappointing end result. Often erroneously described as "just a Rookie mistake", it actually afflicts nearly all runners - including unfortunately myself on countless occasions. Sean's antidote is for the runner to fully utilize their Garmin Forerunner in the early miles, then keeping their pace within their pre-established initial plan. When I have departed from this sound advice I have regretted it (as I have also when I ran ahead of my marathon pacing group in the first 20-miles).

Ultimately, Sean's emphasis of building a strong base of endurance, then negative splitting every run makes perfect sense by requiring the runner to begin their run at an appropriate pace, then to naturally speed-up as their muscles warm-up. Running faster while fatigued builds the required mental discipline for success, accelerates beneficial physiological training adaptations, and is very motivational.

When planning your next race or training run keep Sean Wade's 'Negative Split' strategy first and foremost in mind!


  1. Excellent post! This sounds so scientific and guaranteed! [But if I believe it, will a salesman call? :D ]

    When are you warmed up - at what point 1k? after 2 minutes? How much of a warm-up do you do before running?

    Is this kind of training given in Canada anywhere or only in Texas?

  2. Andrew - Thanks! Coaching great Arthur Lydiard (another New Zealand native) years ago similarly emphasized the importance for his runners to build a strong base then to execute consistent negative splits. While Kenyan Way is limited to Houston, I'm sure you'll find competent marathon training groups near you too.

    How long to warm-up before pressing the pace? Depends on the race distance, the extent of your pre-run warm-up, etc., but for me it's a minimum of a half a mile. We feel different from day-to-day, though, so let your body, your respiration and your overall feeling guide you (by the way, the latest Matt Fitzgerald book which I'm looking forward to reading doubtless answers your question best: "The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel".)

  3. Thanks Mark. This is all excellent knowledge that I'll experiment with and apply to my own situation.

    I try to stay aware when I run. Although I do get sorta bored near the end of my long runs, I play a lot of games like trying to guess the number of strides to the next intersection, or counting, or breathing. I try to be aware of my body the whole time.

    But I've never ran more than 90 minutes at a time so I might start listening to music and zone out a bit.

  4. I only start feeling comfortable after about 6 to 7km into a run. I wonder if I take this long to warm up. Anyway, it helps me to start slow enough for negative splits often. The profile of the route obviously plays a role as well, but I must say saving energy the first half of any distance is always good.

  5. Finally! A new post from Mr. U :-) This sounds like good advice. I am a slave to my Garmin which isn't a bad thing. I am able to delineate the differnt types of runs by knowing my 5 HR zones and trainign accordingly. It also helps to have an awesome Coach like I do.

  6. Johann - You must be a fellow marathoner, as to warm-up in 6 to 7 km for that distance is fine! Of late I try to get 15-minutes of warm-up before the marathon race begins, since my preference is to run with a pacing group (who always maintain the same pace beginning from the start line).

    Chris - I know, I'm falling behind on my blog production quota! Too bad we can't just wire our Garmin directly into our nervous system; imagine the possibility - we'd just pre-program our pacing strategy, then just let our legs do our Garmin's bidding ;-)