Barrier Busting Workouts

Sometimes, you take the physical science, combine it with the mental game and design workouts which not only enhance conditioning, but get you race ready and mentally tough.

No doubt, great races do not happen by accident. PRs are not accidents. Boston Qualifying is not luck. The best race times from age group PRs to the elite world records have been well documented. The optimal way to reach these milestones is even pacing with a faster last half of the race. (NOTE: This is different than racing individuals which may involve specific tactics in pacing contrary to “PR” pacing.) If you look closely at elite level records, the “negative split” (faster second half of race than first half) is actually an extremely evenly paced race with a fast finish (laps/kilometers/miles) which skews the second half time to the faster side. So in reality, it is not a surge at the half way mark to make the second half faster, it is great pacing with a furious last 20% (approximately) of the race to top it off.

Often training programs involve running many miles (or laps in the case of shorter races) at your goal pace. The objective is to become comfortable mentally and physically at your goal pace. You become physiologically more efficient and mentally disciplined so you “know” your pace and you are not drawn out to fast. So, goal pacing – even pacing – is indeed critical to training and your best racing.

However, there are times that something else is needed. This concept of negative splits applied to training can take a number of forms. Here are some of my favorite approaches.

The Negative Split Goal Run. Most often I use the workout for marathoners and half-marathoners. This is a long run designed to be both endurance (increase time running under your belt) as well as stamina (ability to hold pace of a specified distance.) The specific distance will vary over the course of a training program. It might start with a 10 mile run; 5 miles easy then the last 5 miles at goal pace. Late in a training program it may be a 20-22 miler with the last 10 at goal pace. The purpose is to get used to comfortable running goal paced miles while fatigued. This is a great opportunity to rehearse how to mentally handle late race fatigue.

The Bust it Out Last 20% Run. I use forms of this for runners training at almost every distance. The purpose is to get runners to run hard while fatigued. The object is to run either easy or at goal pace (This depends on the time of season as well as aspect you are trying to develop.) then push the last approximately 20% of the run. Often this is a 6-10 mile run with the first 4.5-8 miles run at a modest pace. The objective is to blast the rest of the run to the end. It does not need to be “all out” though sometimes that is exactly what is called for. I recommend timing those last miles and comparing that segment (not the rest of the run) over time to gauge improvement.

The Nobody Beats me in the Last Mile Run. This is an ideal workout for 10k and longer racers. The workout can be of varying distances but similar to the 20% bust out run, the objective is to “race” for time the last mile. Of course, since it is a shorter distance it will be faster yet.

The last version is the Downhill Blast. This is ideal with an out and back course that is predominantly uphill the first half and then of course downhill the second half. Run comfortably up that first half. And then, you guessed it I’m sure, take advantage of gravity and fly downhill. See how much of a negative split you can run. Track your progress. I had an ideal 10 mile course I used in Tucson for this workout. You will amaze yourself with the development of leg speed. With the gravity advantage it is one version of what can be called “over-speed” training. You will be able to maintain a pace with a given effort that you otherwise could not maintain. The neuro-muscular effect is demonstrable.

These workouts may yield some soreness, especially the last three workouts. Treat these as quality workouts and be sure to have easy days to follow. I would recommend only doing these once a week or 10 days, even every other week.

I probably shouldn’t tell all my secrets but, during my competitive years, it is in fact from these last three workouts listed I developed a formidable kick. It is also where my mantra was developed (that many of you know about) – “nobody, but NOBODY, beats me in the last mile.” This is what I repeated to myself as I did these workouts. While racing, regardless of the level of fatigue I experienced, whether it was a good day or bad day, I never saved anything for a kick; but it was always there as was my confidence in it. And it rarely let me down.

So, for mental and physical race-ready training – do the negative split workouts and tell yourself how powerful you are… and that nobody… but NOBODY… will beat you in the last mile!


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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5 Responses to Barrier Busting Workouts

  1. Justine says:

    if you’re in a reading mood, I’d like your thoughts on this article, on marathon pacing, by Matt Fitzgerald:

    It’s a long article, but i found it interesting.

    He states;: It’s plausible to me that the more modest a runner’s fitness level is, the more likely it is that he will achieve his fastest time by running somewhat aggressively in the first half and then “hanging on” in the second half.

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    Thank you for your comment. This article actually sums up what I’m saying in the first three paragraphs of his failures… he went out fast… did NOT bank time and lost HUGE gobs of time in the last half… why? Poor pacing going out too fast.

    His data on top runners is skewed. In age group runners the vast majority of them will be slower in the second half due to poor pacing and lack of conditioning. The data he should be looking at is how the best do it. At elite levels the top finishers in most all major marathons have faster second halves. In fact it you look closely (as I have over the years) the top 3-4-5 perhaps have negative splits. And as you go down the list, that trend reverses where four out of five runners have slower second halves. And it gets progressively worse from there. So, once you are conditioned the issue is going out modestly… period. Are there exceptions? Of course. But, unless you know you are one of those VERY few exceptions I can only advise groups of people to follow the simple rule of pacing.

    Furthermore he states his very limitation in anything he is claiming: “It is pure speculation on my part to suggest that modestly fit runners will typically run their best marathon time with a slightly positive split, where the second half marathon is run between, say, one second and two minutes slower than the first half.”

    And finally, his reference to Ross Tucker PhD is almost meaningless. Tucker posits that it is only the best that function in a negative split way – a Darwinian issue. That however is as lopsided in reasoning as Fitzgerald’s – “if everyone is doing it then it must be right”. He looks at data and states that is the way it’s supposed to be for non-elite runners because that is the way it is. Huh? You have to look at WHY those splits are like that; they type of training people do or don’t do, etc.

    The reason good runners run negative splits is because they know themselves better; they know their limitations; they are far better trained; they have an achievable race plan and stick to it. In most cases, the average age group marathoner doesn’t measure up on any of those issues. And that is why they pace poorly and will NOT run faster with positive splits.

  3. Seoirse says:

    Again… nice post. So I have a question for you, im not sure EVERYONE has heard it before but the POSE method of running! I seen the film about it and from what I gather is that humans should (in essence among other theory) run like an animal and never let the heel hit the ground… and alothugh I find that this might be useful to sprinters I cant see it working for long distance runners. I had one session where I tryed it out and I couldnt do it for more that 1k because I though my claves where going to explode. It says that it can keep you injury free but im not sure. There where some other tips in the video which I did like sure as the strenght training etc but I wasnt convinced about this method. What do you think about this method Dean??
    Thanks in advanced.

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    I am familiar with it and wrote briefly on it last year in a post. It’s nonsense… but it sure is making this character money with one more fad on how to run.

  5. tgorourke says:

    Thanks very much for these workouts! While I’m not the fastest by far, when I race, I try to always be sure to have the last mile or last two miles be my fastest. I try to count people I pass, and not let them pass me back again. (Would take too much math!) Usually it works as a great motivating factor!

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