Recently I’ve decided to try and work on negative splitting my runs. What is negative splitting, you ask? Mile Posts has a great explanation here of why they’re important. But essentially, it’s finishing the last half of your race with a faster pace than your first half, meaning you don’t go out too fast, have more left in the tank in the last half of the race, and finish strong. I am not yet training for a marathon, but I’ve heard plenty about hitting the wall, and I know from my adrenaline and excitement on race days in the past that I am very likely, when one day I run the marathon, to go out way too fast and crash and hate every second of the last however many miles.
I used to not worry so much about this. I thought it was more of a tool to get faster times and in my first year of running I’ve been more concerned with just getting to the finish line. Sometimes my going out too fast banks me a lot of time for an overall average pace, so when I start to slog toward the end, I can PR anyway, but it’s not a pleasant experience. For all of my longest races, I’ve struggled through the last mile or two; even if my attitude is happy and excited (like for my first half marathon at Richmond), my body is dragging.
However, after I PR’ed at the Run Your Heart Out 5K without intending to until after the first mile and a half, I took a look back at my splits. My first mile had been just over 10 minutes, then the second just under 10, then my last mile was a speedy (for me) 9:39 or something, and that included a rough incline in the final stretch, too. I thought hey, maybe there’s something to this “not going out too fast” thing.
When I first ran the Reston 10 Miler course, in September when Potomac River Running recycles the course for its Perfect 10 race, it was pretty much the most awful race experience I ever had other than feeling triumphant afterward I’d just done 10 miles. But good Lord, everything went wrong and I hated every second of it. So I wanted to come back and conquer it. Plus it was pretty perfect timing as one of my last long runs before Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half in two weeks.
I was excited about this race not only to test myself out on hills again, and test out aiming to negative split – whatever it meant my net time would be – but also because I knew a couple of people that would be there that day. For one, my friend Jill that ran Run Your Heart Out 5K with me early last month had signed up as well, and it would be her first 10 miler. I was super excited for her. (I am also still hoping it convinces her she should sign up for Rock ‘n’ Roll.) And Courtney from Eat Pray Run would be there as well! It turns out a few people I’ve seen around the online running community as DC area runners were there that day, so shout out to Allison at Life’s A Bowl and Julie at Diving Into the Gene Pool, who I got to meet right as I was rushing up to the start line all late and a mess, like I do.
I ran alongside Courtney, Julie and Allison for the first mile, mainly trying to get myself situated because chatting with them while waiting for the race to start meant I had forgotten to start my watch, start my Runkeeper, and take my 15-minute-before GU. I’m not a very chatty runner, but these girls are all smarter runners than I (case in point: I’m pretty sure they all finished ahead of me and in the first mile I felt like we were slow-going) so I figured working on being able to chat while we ran would be a good way to keep myself in check from going out too fast.
I knew from previous experience this course would be hilly and I knew I’d been having a pretty flat winter, on treadmills and by racing in South Carolina and Florida. But being mentally prepared with the memory of its hilliness also kept me in check from going out too fast – I knew there was NASTY hill between miles 7 and 8 that last year had me wanting to quit. So when Jill tapped me on the shoulder as she was coming up behind me, I fell into step with her and we chatted for a while. Keeping my breath at a place where I could actually hold a conversation was new, and also was a cool way to pass the distance without really thinking about it.
Around mile 2 I took my first scheduled interval walk break and that was about the last I saw of Jill as she motored on ahead. I was feeling great and my Runkeeper informed me my pace was pretty on track, though maybe a little fast – I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself on this course 5 months after running it the first time. On the one hand I had conquered longer distances several times over, since – on the other hand, I had just run a half marathon the week before. So keeping a pace between 10:45 and 11:00 per mile was 30-45 seconds faster a pace than it had been the first time around, but also slower than I knew I could be going. So I decided to go with it. Everything is a learning experience right? I’d find out soon enough if it had been a smart pace.
Turns out it was, for the most part! By mile 5 I was feeling great and even starting to seep into a faster pace without meaning to. But now that I was halfway through the race I focused on staying strong. I mustered up my strength for the uphills and took blessed advantage of the downhills – I’m not sure if this is the smartest thing, but the downhills felt so good that I just let myself fly down them. (There was a lot of ‘scusemepardonmescusemepardonme going on from my end – sorry to anyone I may have accidentally bumped while passing on my downhill flights.)
At around the 10K mark I asked a couple of volunteers to top off my water bottle and mentally prepared for the mile 7 to mile 8 marker stretch. It didn’t disappoint my memory. It was the only mile of the last six miles of my race that wasn’t faster than the first four. That mile is killer. It takes several turns and each turn manages to go more uphill. According to Runkeeper it nets an 81 foot climb, but there are some rolling dips that deceive you into thinking it might even out and then no, uphill again. In the last maybe tenth or two of the mile finally begins the downhill, and when I got there I knew I was home free.
The last two miles of the race I was definitely tired, but not in a way that I normally was. I do think there is some psychological trick to the end of the race, no matter the distance – whether it’s a 5K or a half marathon, in the last mile, I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line. But by keeping myself in check for the beginning of the race, I was able to actually push for the last two miles instead of just willing myself to move forward. (Fun fact: I studied acting in college and working on negative-splitting is a lot like what we learned about in Movement and Voice classes, particularly movement with the Alexander Technique, and not end-gaining. But that could be a whole separate blog entry topic.)
Since I had started my watch and Runkeeper a little late I wasn’t sure my exact time but I knew, coming into the last .4 miles, as long as I didn’t stop, I could PR. Really, I’d known it since I massed that 8 mile marker and didn’t feel like dying like I had the last time I’d run the course. I had gone into the race thinking I shouldn’t aim to PR, not wanting to run my legs into the ground a week after a half marathon and two weeks before another, but really, I felt fine. So I pushed, and I finished with a PR.
My official chip time was 1:46:59. A full 7 minutes faster than the first time I’d run the course, and a 2:23 PR for the 10 mile distance! Looks like I can start gunning for that sub-1:45!
After the race I had to take a few minutes to stretch out and down some water. While I felt no joint or foot pain, my hamstrings definitely felt tight and before looking for Jill or Courtney I took some time to work them out. I had gotten really warm over the course of the race, in my two layers and gloves, so I stripped the gloves off and turned my finisher medal over and over in my hands. It is most definitely one of the prettiest I’ve ever earned!
I finally began looking for Courtney or Jill, and almost immediately spotted Courtney and Julie walking across the South Lakes football field. Jill triumphantly joined us soon as well, fresh off her first 10-miler and we all chatted about how it’d gone for a bit before dispersing. I’ll be seeing Courtney at Cherry Blossom in April, but first, she’s off to rock her second full marathon at Shamrock! Go Courtney!
I’m pretty happy with how this race went, and definitely want to work again on negative-splitting at Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’ll be harder at that, I think, because the adrenaline of a huge event like that is going to be harder to keep myself in check for than for PR Races’ smaller community events, but running is a great teacher and I’m looking forward to the challenge!
In keeping with Run This Year’s Run Lucky theme, tell me about a time you “accidentally” PR’d!
Do you like to go back to courses you’ve run before to conquer them, or do you prefer variety when you race?