Why You Should Negative Split a Race Sometime

On October 8th, I ran The Runner’s Flat 50k in Cedar Falls, IA. The race came only three weeks after my 41.5 mile DNF at The North Face Wisconsin 50 miler, in which I started out way too hard. After TNF, Scott Gall (winner of TNF and race director of TRF) suggested I learn how to run a 50k before moving to 50 milers. Thus, TRF 50k gave me a great opportunity to practice running a race.

Strava data for the race can be found here.

The race had some high end competition. Devin Allbaugh is a stud road runner who began racing trails this summer and was competing in his first ultra, while Chase Nowak has been racking up ultra wins in Wisconsin and Minnesota – most notably the Ice Age 50 miler.

Due to flooding, the race course had to be moved to four loops of twisty and mostly flat mountain bike trail. The course was very runnable, but the tight curves would force you to slow down. However, it was still a fast course, despite being slower than the previous course.

TRF Race Course
Just a couple turns…

I was running this race with a purpose, and I only had one goal. I didn’t care how slow I ran, and I didn’t care what place I finished in. My singular goal was to negative split the four laps.

Negative splitting is hard, especially on trail runs. To me, choosing your pace in a road marathon is easy. If you have properly trained, you should know the exact pace you can sustain for your road marathon. However, on trails, you don’t know the exact pace you can run (unless you train on the trails or have previously ran the race). In order to race well, you must really be able to listen to your body.

I admittedly tend to be a “go big or go home” type of runner. As I usually say, “I want to give myself a chance”. I still believe that is okay, but it is important to find that sweet spot where you give yourself a chance to run your best race, but you don’t kill yourself in the first half. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that sweet spot in my two previous ultras. In both races, I unnecessarily spent time walking. Thus, the purpose of this training race was to run a race with a different point of view.

In the end, I was able to successfully negative split the four laps. I even had a huge negative split between the first and second half of the run. It felt awesome!

You should negative split a race sometime. Here is why:

It keeps you focused

During the race, I was solely focused on myself. I wasn’t racing Devin and Chase. I was only racing my previous lap. They were way ahead of me after the first mile of the race, and I never once bothered to ask anyone how far ahead the leaders were. I only focused on slowly picking up the pace throughout. It was great to not have outside distractions.

It feels great.

Usually, the last quarter an ultra feels like death. This was not the case for me. I felt stronger as the race went on, and I was smiling the entire time. Instead of walking during the final lap, I was running my fastest miles. I felt like I was flying – such a glorious feeling. I don’t care that I didn’t win. I’ve never had so much fun in a race before.

You can still go all out.

Typically, runners get slower during an ultra. This gave me an opportunity to gain good ground on the leaders during the last lap. I finished the race in third place, and the winner, Devin, put the majority of his ground on me during the first lap of the race. I was able to close very hard and almost caught second place. I really enjoy looking at the time gaps in the Strava Flyby. You can see a nice concave shape where I am running faster than the leaders during the latter stages of the race. Even though I started out slow, I still finished the last lap of the race as hard as I could.

Time Gaps: Devin in blue, Chase in Red

Race Results:

  1. Devin Allbaugh – 3:22:36
  2. Chase Nowak – 3:31:20
  3. Lance Cundy – 3:33:58

I was very happy with my finishing time. My average pace was 6:53, which I felt was pretty fast for those curves. I had also already put in 66 miles during the first 5 days of that week, so I was not running on fresh legs. In the end, I learned that negative splitting works. You should try it sometime!

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