I recently came across some interesting data on pacing of world records in endurance running events on the track. It indicates that nearly all of the record-breaking times in the last 40 years or so have been run with negative splits. That means the second half of the race was run faster than the first half. This, of course, has to do with the pacing strategy I write about so often—holding down perceived effort early in the race rather than starting out of control and then limping to the finish.
Here is the basic data I refer to...
Between 1967 and 1998 the men’s world record for the mile was broken 10 times. Of those 7 were negatively split, but just barely. The average first half time for all 10 was 50.3% of the finishing time (+/- 0.53%). In other words, on average, the first halves were run more slowly than the second halves of the race.
Same thing here. From 1966 to 2004 the men’s 5000-meter world record was bettered 13 times. Twelve of those were negative splits. The average first half was 50.3% of the finishing time (+/- 0.71%).
And finally, the men’s 10,000-meter world record was broken 14 times between 1977 and 2005. Of these 11 were negative splits with the first half being run in 50.2% on average of the finishing time (+/- 0.22%).
The bottom line here is, once again, that if you want to run a fast race it appears to be beneficial if you start conservatively and pace yourself so that the second half is run slightly faster than the first half. Of course, this assumes that the course is flat and wind is not an issue. That is seldom the case, So the better way to think about this, given that terrain and weather may well be issues in pacing, is to focus on perceived exertion. Run at a lower effort than what you feel like you could do in the first several minutes and you greatly improve your chances of a negatively split race.
I tell the people I coach that when a running race starts, if they aren’t being passed by nearly everyone who started around them then they, too, are going too fast. I tell them to be patient and have confidence that they can finish stronger—and race faster—if they merely hold back a bit at the gun. Nearly all of those who passed them will “come back” later in the race. And it is very stimulating when this happens. Passing others late in the race keeps you focused and racing aggressively.
The problem is that most runners can not control their emotions at the start. If the person next to them is going too fast at the start then it is assumed that is the proper pace. You’ll never realize your potential as a runner until you learn how to develop and follow a pacing strategy. This requires both mental control and physical practice.