Positive Outcomes with Negative Splits

Rama Nimmagadda
5 min readDec 2, 2022
photo taken by Prateek Kumar Rohatgi in 2022 at Bighwan Lake, Maharashtra, India

Welcome to this week’s blog where I talk about value of pacing yourself to maximize long term value.

“To climb steep hills, requires slow pace at first.” — William Shakespeare

In my mind anyone who ran a full marathon is a hero (not to say that one must run to be a hero). Completing a full marathon is a triumph with universal appeal and access. There is nothing stopping most people to aim to run a marathon given that running is essentially an inexpensive sport. Need for expensive shoes is a marketing persuasion, surely.

As big an accomplishment as running a marathon is, what beats it is running it with negative splits — i.e., running the second half of the run faster than the first half.

Marathon is a long enough distance (42.2K or 26.2 miles) that one cannot get away with mistakes such as going too fast too soon. Any such transgression upfront will end up becoming very costly later in the race. Having committed this mistake multiple times, I can attest to this from vivid, painful personal experiences.

“Of the last 10 world records set in the marathon, seven of them were achieved with a negative split.” — Robert Johnson, letsrun.com, 18th September, 2018

Professionals tend to run with negative splits and I believe, this is for a good reason. Better and repeatable performances can be achieved when one trains for a negative split run.

Why talk about negative splits in a marathon run? Because this is applicable to all worthwhile pursuits in life.

Warren Buffet is another great example of a second half performer. He made his first Billion at age 55 and the remaining hundred odd billions later. In contrast, one of his early partners, Rick Guerin was not quite a second half runner. Notwithstanding his otherwise great life by most standards, Rick squandered his potential by taking on more risk than needed early in the game. Supported by margin funding, his highly levered positions unravelled in the stock market downturn of the early 1970s and he was forced to sell his Berkshire Hathaway (BH) shares at $40 a pop — BH stock is priced today at $4,80,000/-

Pacing yourself such that when you reach your goal or destination, you are nearly completely spent, means that you have given your best — you have used up nearly all your wherewithal in that pursuit. Given that you cannot beat your best, this is the best possible outcome. Moreover, given that you are only nearly completely spent, this journey becomes repeatable, as in, this will leave you with motivation, energy and confidence to take up further similar pursuits. Imagine a situation where you have given it all and yet, there is still some distance to cover — you get despondent as you somehow try to cover the remaining distance. You may end up either abandoning the effort altogether or even if you complete it, you will resolve never to take up such pursuits again — particularly after the euphoria of completion settles down. In contrast, one who paces well, will get excited that the end is near and will look to crush it.

“Sometimes its hard to tell how fast the current’s moving until you’re headed over a waterfall.” — Kimberly McCreight

Pacing is a difficult thing to achieve. It requires a good sense of the fuel left in your tank (so to speak), rate of fuel consumption, length of the road left, the terrain of the road, known hurdles along the way and allowance for unknown hurdles.

Few of us checkout well before we reach the goal. e.g., burnout at work, health issues from overwork forcing one to scale back on ambition; overextending investments in high-risk assets; losing too much money as a result and thence turning very risk averse. On the other hand, few of us reach our destination with plenty of fuel left in the tank by, being overly cautious and playing it very safe. Conscious pacing strategies can help one avoid both these fates.

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint; pace yourself accordingly.” — Amby Burfoot

What holds us back from pacing well and what we can do about it

  • Inability to hold ourselves from going slower than our natural ability: Many struggle with sacrificing pace in the beginning of a long arduous journey particularly when others around them are relentlessly overtaking them. This perhaps has to do with the competitive conditioning from expectations of our education system and society
  • Not confident in our ability to pick up pace later in the journey when fatigue starts to set in: This can be effectively addressed by appropriate training — by taking up intense work at appropriate regularity, for, engaging in only easy work all the time will surely undermine your confidence
  • Racing too often leads to burnout and/or injury in running. In general, in life, taking on too many intense, ambitious projects will most likely lead to disengagement and loss of ambition, in other words, burnout. Resorting to the Pareto’s principle, not more than 20% of your work should be intense — in fact, I would think, even 10% intense work is good enough
  • Treating every run as a race: Every run has to have a purpose — even within training, each training format has a different purpose — slow runs are either for active recovery from a previous intense workout or to improve running form, increase capacity for running (akin to increasing number of cylinders in an automobile engine), increase capacity for being on your feet long etc. Ignoring the purpose of the task at hand and going all guns blazing on every task will not bode well in the long run. It is important to realize that the purpose is to win the war, not every battle along the way

Bottomline

Many a people fail to reach anywhere close to their potential because they get spent along the way and then there are people who do not even attempt to test their potential. Pacing oneself is an ultimate skill. Once on a growth path, it is important to build ability and confidence to pick up pace as and when needed and then falling back to relatively, easy existence for long bouts. Afterall, the question — “how fast” — is applicable only after having a contextually meaningful answer to the question — “how far”.

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Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.

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