This isn’t an announcement of a new flame post war between Vanilla, Viper, and I. You all know that the good ship F.M.S. is always the innocent victim of these unprovoked attacks anyway. I remain vigilant for these assaults from the pro-llama caucus.
Instead, ‘War of Posts’ refers to my normal marathon race strategy. There’s been some talk in recent days about how to run a marathon: Start slow and fade, start fast and crash, run even splits, run negative splits, start out sprinting and quit after mile 14 when shitting self. I’ve read race reports recounting every strategy imaginable. One jackhole even thinks he’s going to fly away on a horse to the nearest Applebee’s for industrial grade beer after his marathon. Idiot.
Viper will be testing out the negative split technique this weekend. The benefits are argued pretty well in this article here and passed to him by Vanilla in his comments. The two are yammering away about this like a couple of old bitties fighting over a new pattern in a knitting circle. Here are some other good negative split resources.
Of course, a negative split would mean that you run the first half of a marathon slower than you run the second half. When others are fading in the last few miles, you are actually picking up the pace compared to your first 13 miles. It’s been done before. Nic did it just recently in back-to-back marathons. It sounds pretty great. Who wouldn’t want to run their fastest at the peak of exhaustion 3,4, maybe 5 hours into a marathon?
In fact, it sounds pretty close to ideal. And that’s why I don’t, nay can’t, follow that strategy.
I would suggest that running a negative split requires an incredible amount of discipline and a deep understanding of your own abilities. You have to know your pace for a full marathon. You have to control your pace despite the energy and excitement generated by the event. You have to know that, when you reach back to turn up the pace potentially a couple of hours and a baker’s dozen miles into the race, you have that energy in store. It will be there. You won’t reach into the cookie bin and come up with...crumbs. Otherwise, you’ve simply started out slow…and have nowhere to go but hope to maintain a bit longer before the fade.
The negative split is not a myth. A lot of professional runner’s, top tier nonprofessional runner’s, and other very experienced marathoners approach a race with this strategy. They’ve practiced it. They know the cookie bin is full when they need an extra bite. They’ve trained by increasing pace as their body fatigues. In short, these athletes know full well what their bodies are capable of and at what pace they can maintain 5, 10, 20 miles down the road.
I don’t feel I’ve trained in the manner necessary to perform a negative split. I don’t feel I understand my pacing as well as I would like either.
For kicks, I attempted a negative split for my 21 miler recently. I started slower…got a bit faster for a short period of time…then crashed and burned turning in one of my worst 20+ mile training times ever. I felt sluggish at the beginning and it rippled through the rest of the miles. I hadn’t practiced it before. I felt off from the very beginning.
Instead, I tend to employ the War of Posts concept. This is the old Revolutionary War strategy George Washington used to battle the overwhelming British army. It’s a defensive technique to battle from station to station, never risking the entire over matched Continental army in one single battle to prolong the war and slowly wear out and discourage the British.
I run for the 20 mile marker. I’m comfortable at that distance. I don’t go all out in the early miles but try to maintain a nice comfortable pace slightly ahead of my goal finish pace. At 20 miles, I switch to General Washington mode and employ my War of Posts. I run to each mile marker. If I fade a bit in pace, I fade a bit. I’ll outlast the markers. The finish will come before I’m finished. I’ll wear a powdered wig and consider lying about timbered cherry trees. I may fade but I’m still running when the marathon gives up.
I don’t normally like to compare myself to the father of our country. I leave that up for all of you. The similarities are pretty obvious I think outside of dental hygiene and a desire to have my portrait painted while looking sideways. However, until I obtain the conditioning and discipline I need to negative split, my marathons will most likely continue to be a War of Posts.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that a War of Posts is better than negative splitting. Just the opposite, in fact. I am suggesting that a negative split is the sign of a seasoned, well trained, and developed runner. Either that or someone who started out woefully slower than their ability so had an abundance of energy late. Like the modern American military, a War of Posts is no longer the preferred strategy. They have evolved from the humble beginnings of farmers (new runners) with their pitchforks (wearing high top basketball shoes for the first run). For the beginner, though, it might be the only available option to keep you in the race and within sight of your goals for as long as possible.
Have you attempted a negative marathon split in your marathon? How did it turn out? Feel free to disagree in the comments but understand that we’ve already established my parallelism to George Washington which would make your contrary opinion pretty traitorous and mine fairly historic, patriotic and monumental.
But you can play Benedict Arnold if you like.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I did in fact run a negative split in my very first marathon running a 1:49/1:47 split. However, this was completely unintentional. I was trapped behind roughly 35,000 runners and was boxed in for the first 9 miles before finding daylight. Lesson: Don't stand in the back of a race with 35,000 participants unless you want to run THEIR pace.