It’s a common mistake with a heartbreaking result. The starting gun sounds and you take off–fast. Inevitably, the swift start takes its toll, and you slow down and miss your goal. Oops. A more effective way to nail a time is to run a negative split–that is, starting conservatively so that you run the second half of the race faster than the first. You’ll clock a better time and feel stronger, says Mike McKeeman, assistant coach for the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, California. “It’s the most efficient way to run,” he says. “Instead of burning all your fuel early, you save energy for the end and gain confidence as you stride past everyone in those last few miles.”
The rewards of a fast finish are not restricted to races. Learning how to pace yourself in workouts to finish strong reduces your risk of injury, boosts your fitness, and keeps your enthusiasm high, all of which supports a lifelong running routine, says coach Trent Sanderson, owner of Team Prep USA running program in Crested Butte, Colorado. Here’s how to practice reining it in–before letting it out.
Choose Your Workout
Generally, you can use any easy run for a strong-finish session, especially if you’re a recreational runner, by starting slowly and concluding slightly faster. “It puts an exclamation point at the end of a run so you feel good about what you accomplished,” says Blake Boldon, director of coaching for RunnersConnect in Indianapolis. On longer runs, gradually increasing speed builds confidence in your ability to pick up the pace when you’re tired, he says. In interval sessions, starting conservatively is prudent: Go out too fast and you may not be able to complete the workout, says Boulder-based coach Brad Hudson, coauthor of Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon.
Set the Pace
Fitness runners should start at an easy pace, no matter the workout. “You should be able to talk easily,” says McKeeman. Experienced runners should base speed on a recent 5-K pace, says Boldon. As a rough guideline, for a 20-minute fast-finish run, start 30 to 40 seconds per mile slower than 5-K pace; for a 40-minute run, start one minute to 90 seconds per mile slower; and for hour-plus runs, start up to two minutes per mile slower. For intervals, begin 10 to 30 seconds per mile slower than goal race pace.
Turn It Up
Running a negative split involves gradually gaining speed–not hitting the halfway point of a workout or race and then gunning it. Break the distance of your session into segments, and aim to run each one slightly faster. Divide a three-miler in half, a six- to nine-miler into three equal portions, and runs over 10 miles into roughly four parts. By the final segment, you should be running slightly faster than goal pace or at a pace where you can speak just a couple words at a time. If doing intervals, start picking up the pace after the first half of repeats until you’re running the final effort 10 to 15 seconds faster per mile than goal pace.
Turn It Up More
If you’re targeting a race, practice making the first half of your negative-split runs faster. “Your goal is to decrease the difference between your first and second half by increasing your starting speed until you’re running close to an even pace throughout the race–this will maximize your performance,” says Boldon. “You need to conserve just enough energy up front–not too little, but not too much either–so that you can finish fast and still PR.” Indeed, most competitive runners hit fairly even splits and then kick it into high gear at the very end. Aim for starting five to 10 seconds slower than your goal pace, no matter what distance you’re racing, says McKeeman. “Sure, if you’re 25 seconds off on the first mile of a marathon, it’s not a huge deal,” he says. “You only need to make up one second every mile. However, it’s going to be a lot tougher to find that time in a 10-K.”
Pace yourself with the “talk test” on a fast-finish run with friends. You should be able to chat easily at the start and not much at all by the end.
Add these workouts to your routine and finish races faster
Fast-finish workout: Out-and-back
The details: Head out to a designated point, turn around, and run the return slightly faster. Start with about 20 minutes (10 minutes out, less than 10 minutes back), and gradually work up to 60 minutes, depending on your goal distance.
Fast-finish workout: 400s
The details: Do 4 to 8 x 400 meters with a 100-meter recovery jog between each. Run the first 2 to 4 repeats at a comfortable pace (10 to 30 seconds per mile slower than goal pace). Speed up successive repeats so the final 1 to 2 laps are 10 to 15 seconds per mile faster than race pace.
Fast-finish workout: 2000s
The details: Do 2 to 4 2000-meter intervals (5 times around a track) at race pace with a 400-meter recovery jog between each. End with 1000 meters (2.5 times around) at slightly faster than goal pace.
Fast-finish workout: Progressive long run
The details: Run the first quarter of your total distance easy (goal pace plus 45 to 60 seconds). For each successive quarter, run your goal pace plus 30 seconds, plus 20 seconds, plus 10 seconds. If possible, run the last mile or so at goal pace.
87% of runners admit a too-fast start dashed their race goals at least once, reports a runnersworld.com poll.
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