Monday, February 22, 2010

Going Negative

My results this weekend in the Mid-Michigan Track Club’s Tombstone 10 and the Grand Haven Masters swim meet won’t set the world on fire in an absolute sense, but they were significant in that they both featured negative splits.

A negative split means simply that you performed the second half of your race or training session at a faster pace than your first. You hardly ever hear cyclists talk about negative splits; runners see it as one of many weapons in their training arsenal; swimmers obsess over them. You half suspect that at any given swim club’s year-end banquet, the Most Improved Swimmer award is more prestigious than Best Swimmer.

I met Brian and Ron at the Tombstone 10 start line Saturday morning. Brian had stated that his goal was to do the first five laps/miles at 8 minutes per, and then see about negative-splitting from there. That seemed about right to me, and Ron just wanted to make sure the three of us didn’t lose track and go to separate pastry shops for coffee afterward, so we ran together for most of the race. (I’ll note that 8:00 per mile on that course isn’t quite as leisurely as it sounds; it’s hilly, and each lap kicks off with a tenth-mile climb at about a 14% gradient.) We ran our first five miles at an 8:06/mi pace, so, mission less than accomplished. But we came home at a 7:54 pace, which gave us our negative split and a satisfying enough overall pace of 8:00 on the nose. (Actually, the more telling split was after the three of us broke apart toward the end, giving me an 8:06 pace over the first eight miles, then a 7:46 capped off by a 7;21. And what it tells us is that I probably spent too much of the run talking to Ron and Brian.

Twenty-four hours later, I was in the pool at Grand Haven High School, finishing the 1,000-yard freestyle in 15:58.77. That was good for third place in my age group, which gives you a pretty good idea how many males 45-49 showed up to swim that one. But I went out in 8:00.09 and back in 7:57.69. Ta da.

That’s the nice thing about these sports. You can define success by your own terms. I was recently talking with my friend Mike, an elite runner, cyclist and duathlete, about how being elite means you still get beat all the time; you just travel farther and farther for the privilege. Define your success in matters of things like negative splits, and you can feel triumphant right there close to home.

But still get beat. One of the friends I carpooled to Grand Haven with, Jim, seemed to be swimming pretty well, and the next thing I knew he was showered and dressed with half the meet to go. When I asked him about that on the way home, he pulled his swimsuit out of his bag and showed me where the most crucial of seams had completely and immodestly given way.

Now, that’s a negative split.


Jim Smith II said...

Congrats on the results Jef.

Elaine said...

Awesome 1,000 time, Jef! That sub-7:30 500 looks more and more likely with each new result. Way to be! (Is it too dorky to say I'm proud of you and this accomplishment? Cause I am!)

And yes, you're absolutely right- the Most Improved Swimmer is usually WAY cooler than the MVP. Just a sign that swimmers know how hard it is to get good at this sport- we like to celebrate those who put in the effort to get it right!

Ashley B said...

Defining your own terms and beating YOURSELF is def. my favorite part of this sport. Congrats on the swim and negative-splitting!

Lidofido said...

Really? Cyclists don't concern themselves with neg splits? I find that it's not something people concentrate on during races (there are too many other variables) but during training (especially intervals), it's a prime motivator...