Most runners have had those moments that seem to happen magically during a seemingly routine run. The pace quickens, and the focus narrows a little bit, and before you know it, you are cruising the last mile of your run faster than the average pace you were holding. It feels like magic when it happens.
What is a Negative Run?
A Negative Run is where you quicken the pace during the last mile of your run. This should not be confused with runs that are bad or with the racing strategy of Negative Splits. Negative Runs are a whole different category of runs, and if you use them well can provide a big boost to both your mental and physical running fitness.
Negative Runs are runs that happen when the runner makes a conscious effort to make the last mile or two purposely the fastest of the run. This is different than the run that starts out slow as a warm-up and then as a natural product of warming-up, the runner gets faster. Negative Runs end with a focused effort, the goal being to go faster on purpose. For example, if the runner is a 19:00 min 5k runner it is reasonable for them to be cruising at 7:30-8:00 per mile pace for an easy training run. For a Negative Run, they may start out in that 8:00 min/mile range as they loosen up. As the run goes on, they bounce around the 7:30 range. For the last mile, they make a commitment to drop the pace down to the 7:00 range. It is not too hard and hopefully not even that much of a stress on them.
Negative Runs can create some physiological benefits for the runner. If you know that your run is going to end with a negative, it is less likely you are going to go out too hard, thus reducing the chance of injury from doing too much too soon on the run, having a prolonged warm-up before the Negative Run can reduce the chance of sustaining an injury during the negative effort. Your muscles and joints are warmed up and ready for work. There is also a fitness boost to stressing the systems after they have been working for a while. Asking the body to work and up its effort while already pumping blood and moving oxygen can help stimulate more efficient systems. Your body gets better at all the parts of the run. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems learn to move blood and oxygen better. Muscles learn to perform when they have been worked a bit and are not fresh and froggy. When done well Negative Runs can be a great training aid for the body but let us not forget the mental side.
Negative Runs require a focus and commitment to complete correctly. Making the commitment to drop the pace to a slightly uncomfortable speed at the end of the run can tax a runner's mental focus. However, this stress can be a good thing for runners. The runner that can bring their focus to that final mile and make an effort to drop the pace is building and developing mental toughness. They are learning to manage the discomfort beyond race and quality training days. Research supports the theory that focus and mental fortitude can be learned for athletes. The Negative Run is a manageable way for runners to practice using the focus needed to finish races with consistent effort. When the performance matters, you may need this practiced skill to drop a competitor that is holding on to your pace or must use the focus learned to cross the distance between your pack and the lead pack on race day.
When To Use A Negative Run
Negative Runs are not supposed to be big efforts. They are not to be used as an extra quality day or sneak in a workout. They are simply finishing the run with an honest effort and going a bit faster than the average pace you held during the run. Sprinkling in a Negative run or two during the week can be a way to sharpen your fitness without a significant increase in injury chance. If you are running with dead legs and do not have it in the tank to do a negative run, then listen to your body and skip it. The most benefit from Negative Runs may be found in the offseason. When you are not embarking on set quality days during the week and are focused more on-base milage, negatives can be a nice break from the norm of off-season running. Who knows, as you get better, it might just become one of those habits that take your running fitness to the next level.