Friday, June 24, 2011

Negative Attitude

"One thing I can learn from you is that a warm-up is just that. Get out a little slower and build up the speed and negative split it so that you are passing people who will be huffing and puffing all along the road."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         - Jason at

Well believe me Jason, THAT'S probably the only thing I would have to offer a great athlete like yourself.  But the only reason I know this is because I have FAILED so many times by not practicing this method.

Y'all know the feeling ... It's race day!  You're really amped-up, impatiently prancing at the starting line like a Thoroughbred in the gate of the Kentucky Derby!  Music's blaring! Folks are cheering!  You're looking around sizing up all of the other insane marathoners who have made the similar commitment to punish their bodies over the next 3-6 hours.  And then the gun sounds!

Like many races you've ran before, you start out fast!  I mean 5K fast!  You're passing people right & left weaving through the crowd thinking, "Please, you sucka's didn't train like I did!"  You feel light as a feather!  Like you're hardly running at all!  Sure, you didn't train for this pace ... but man, you feel sooooo good ... so why not push it a little more!  Fast forward to mile 18, 19, 23, 24 ... your legs hate you!  Your stomach is turned inside out!  You get splotchy tunnel vision, it's hard to focus, and all you wanna do is sit down for a while!  You walk/run the next few miles and at the finish line everyone's congratulating you ... but you know you had A LOT MORE IN YOU than this race will show.  This ever happen to you?

For me it's all too familiar.  It's a melody that's played over & over in many marathons like a skipping record on a bad Ke$ha song!  (Not that this talentless bimbo has any good tunes ... "her music really blowwwws-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ows!")  For some reason during a marathon I often confuse myself with Ryan Hall or someone who grew up in Kenya, and go out way to fast, only to crash later in the race for a disappointing finish.

I put together this chart to show exactly what I'm talking about ...

I targeted seven previous marathons that make the point of starting slow.  As the races in blue indicate, when my first 3 miles were slower than an 8:20 pace, I finished the race with a negative split (which means I ran the first half of the marathon slower than the second).  Plus in these races I felt strong to the finish and even PR'd & BQ'd in two of them and missed a BQ in another by only 2 minutes.  

But as the races in red show, when my first 3 miles were ran faster under an 8:00 pace, I hit the wall, had to walk, and finished with very disappointing times. "Disappointing time" I understand is a relative term.  Let's just say that I finished at a lot slower pace than I had planned & trained for.

The first 3 miles are relative to your targeted finishing pace.  For me a good rule of thumb has been to run the first mile about a minute slower (or more) than the expected overall race pace.  Then, over then next 5 or 6 miles, I try to take about 10 seconds off of that pace each mile until I reach my desired marathon pace.  So, if you are trying to average a 9:00/mile pace for the marathon, the first 6 miles would look like this:

10:00, 9:50, 9:40, 9:30, 9:20, 9:10 ... then settle into the 9:00 marathon pace

If you use this plan ... YOU'LL FEEL INCREDIBLY SLOW over the first few miles.  People will be passing you.  And you'll fight the urge to speed up.  But hang in there!  YOU WILL PASS THESE SAME FOLKS LATER IN THE RACE!!!    If you are concerned with a finishing at a specific pace, you might need to speed up on a few miles to get the time back from the slow start, and also adjust your pace a little for hills.  But, the slow start allows your heart rate to elevate slower which aids in retaining your glycogen stores longer (more on that later), and thus more energy later in the run when you really need it.  

At the Boston Marathon earlier this year, there were three different starting "waves" to avoid congestion.  My wave had about 10,000 runners in it.  At the beginning of the race, I ran very slow and glanced back at about mile 3 or 4.  I literally could only see about 50 runners behind me.  I was WAAAAY in the back of the pack!  But as I gradually increased my pace, I began passing A LOT OF FOLKS!  I finished 5,159th out of 23,879 finishers, and PR'd & BQ'd again.  Best of all, 2 out of the last 3 miles were my fastest of the race!    

Now, as with everything I recommend ... all I can tell you is THIS WORKS FOR ME!!!  I know many runners only run one or two "warm-up"  miles and then settle into their marathon pace.  The bottom line is, it just depends on how you trained.  Your long runs should obviously be your "dress rehearsals" for the marathon.  And if you can get into your marathon pace earlier and hold it the entire race ... more power to you my friend!  But I can tell you from experience, starting slow has given me much stronger, faster, and enjoyable races. And a "negative attitude" about the splits has been the difference! great today!


  1. You will be my next Obi Wan voice, Jim! This is a fantastic post. I will read it again ahead of my half-marathon on July 17 and Top of Utah on Sept. 17. It worked for me in the Bolder Boulder and it can work in a marathon.....I'm still having trouble with going slow enough in my training runs where I'm supposed to be going slow. I'll work more on that.

  2. This is fantastic advice. Have you just trained long enough that you know your body well enough to know your pace or do you constantly check your Garmin? That's one of the things that scares me, having to check my Garmin all the time and losing the excitement of the run.

  3. Jim - this is a great post. I wish you had wrote this post two weeks before my marathon. I think I would have had a much better outcome. You are correct, everyone congratulates you because - duh - you just finished a marathon but disappointed that you went out way too fast. It's funny because I said to myself in the beginning, "I'm running way too fast" but you get caught up in it. My goal is 9 minute mile so I love your example!!! Assuming I do the marathon in October, I am going to use this exact method so I don't hit the wall. I'm not worried about negative split, just finishing without walking so much at the end and being under 4 hours. Thanks for the great advise!

  4. Thanks for this tidbit. I'm training for my first marathon so I'll definitely keep 'slow start' in mind. Although, I'm planning slow going for all 26.2 and it works great for me!

  5. This is a wonderful piece of advice. Im always out too fast, my best races have been where I've run even splits throughout...wonder what would happen if i went out slow?? Definitely food for thought. Thanks!

  6. I've heard people talking about negative splits but when at the starting line of a marathon it suddenly feels so scary to run slower than projected pace. The fear of not being able to speed up or to eventually not to finish in a negative split would mean a slower finish time than trained for. Always want to keep a steady pace from the beginning out of fear for slow last miles.
    But reading your post I'll have to try negative splitting the next race I run.

    Marathon training

    My Marathon Blog

    Runners Forum

  7. Well said young man.

    I am anal retentive about pace. I set my Garmin to auto-lap every mile. I know what pace I need to average to get my goal time and just keep doing that pace for 26 laps.

    I hope you 100% agreed with this comment :-)

  8. This article is awesome - seriously you should be the one writing article in running magazines!

    Your blog posts always crack me up, its like I'm laughing right along with you as I read -
    "Please, you sucka's didn't train like I did!"
    "her music really blowwwws-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ows!"

    But yea, your post seems right on. From all the books and articles that I've read, you can save the most amount of glycogen by easing into your projected marathon pace over time. Not sure what the optimum distance to ease into it is, but your plan sounds pretty good. And like you say, doing this plan should result in a negative split marathon, and blowing by people at the finish line. You probably also won't hit the wall this way.

    I will for sure give you the report from beach volleyball at the Olympics next year, haha

  9. Your wise words are exactly in line with my goal for my next marathon. Gonna go out slow and speed it up gradually. My screwy legs second this idea.

  10. this is something I REALLY struggle with. I ran 17 races, I had neg splits twice only. I struggle on all distances. I start too fast most of the time if I start slower, I have a hard time picking up the pace. I work on this during training. I am like Chris. I auto lap each mile to see how I am doing. My next race is on the 4th and it is a 5k and I already know the last mile is the toughest, all uphill, I ran the course 2x this week. The last miles is my slowest both time.

    oh my name is Caroline
    I understood 100% of this post!

  11. Dude, I bought that Jacket at Nordstom's last month. Hugo Boss baby. Not Huey Lewis. But, I did love the comment. You rock.

  12. Great post, Jim! Almost makes me feel like running a marathon is do-able (ha!) when you put it into such concrete terms and numbers. I'm a person who likes a framework to work within, but I'm still so new to the sport--I've got a lot to learn. Thanks for the great info!

  13. Great read! I will be sure to take this into mind when I start running races starting next week. I know I will have trouble controlling myself in the marathon because of all the excitement but I sure hope I will be disciplined enough to gradually start. Thanks for the inspiration!
    - Brett
    My Running Blog

  14. I am really going to try this. I think it makes sense and sounds like smart racing. And you will get all the credit!

    I agree with Daniel that it is scary to start a race at a slower pace, but it's worth a try. I need to do something to make my next marathon a success!

  15. This is an EXCELLENT post! There is nothing better than cruising past people at the end.

    After 10 marathons I have NEVER had a negative split! This year a negative split is one of my goals (because I think that will bring a PR too.)

    Thanks for the advice!

  16. Hey brother, thanks for the link and now for your homework. I need to run 3:14 in December to qualify for Boston.

    My pace will need to be 7:26....what are my first miles to be at?

  17. Fantastic post! Also I don't think I've ever been so analytical ;) My problem is I often get locked into a pace and don't speed up or slow down I just stay at an easy pace. I need to learn how to kick it in later!

  18. Alright, your post made me curious, so I looked up my marathon splits. I've only done 1 - and I was 2:19 slower on the 2nd half compared to the first half. This is almost entirely due to the last 2 miles, where the wheels completely fell off. I was pretty much on even pace until mile 24 I think.

    I've only done 2 half marathons - and both times got negative splits of 3:12 and 2:04. I was inexperienced my first one, and the 2nd one I was trying to take it easy until I realized that I wanted to push it. The first half marathon with the negative split of 3:12 I just remember blowing by tons of people at the end, that was a good feeling!

  19. I love this, and I so love your blog for all the great info you offer. I am going to practice this tomorrow on my long run. I do TRY to do this, but then feel myself speeding up too soon. I have a Garmin to check my pace even. Thanks!

  20. They're really interesting stat from your marathons. And they're stats that can't be ignored. But you're right - it's hard to put your ego in your pocket and run so slowly to start with. I guess it's a great exercise in self-discipline.

  21. I like it! I always start slow, but typically I do 2-3 miles slow and then on pace. I think I like this better, and I love trying to hit the splits (keeps my mind entertained). Will give it a they this fall. EXCELLENT!

  22. Just found your blog -- looking forward to learning more from ya!


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