A couple months ago, I signed up to run the Clearwater Marathon, which will be my fourth marathon. I’ve been a bit frustrated with my marathon PR, mainly because when you stack up all of my other PRs and compare them, my marathon PR is a hell of a lot slower than what you’d expect. In defense of that marathon PR, though, I’ve only run the distance three times, and maybe even more importantly, I’ve only taken my marathon training seriously, uh, once, for the Marathon Bahamas. (This is really embarrassing to admit, by the way.) So really, it’s not surprising that my times in the marathon are a bit lackluster when compared to the rest of my race PRs.
The good news is that I’m pretty sure that my training for Marathon Bahamas was solid enough to get me to my sub-4:00 marathon – which is my next stop on the train to BQ-ville – and that I would have had my goal that day had the sun not decided to act like it was in the Caribbean (pfft, imagine that) and blast us all with bright 80-degree sunlight and gorgeous cloudless skies with six miles left in my race. It was the perfect day for lounging on a beach with a cold Bahamian beer in hand, but quite possibly the worst day possible for running a marathon.
So this time, I’ve not only decided that I am going to double down on my training but that I’m going to try a different training plan all together. Perhaps a renegade training plan?
I decided to try the Hanson Marathon Method after reading about it in Runners World or something, as the lack of a 20-mile training run piqued my interest. (Confession time: I have yet to actually complete a 20-miler during marathon training, for a variety of reasons.) I was also interested in the idea of using accumulated fatigue as a training tool, which I’ve implemented in the past sort of haphazardly. Plus I knew Desi Davila was a Hansons-Brooks runner so I figured, why not try it out.
I’m about halfway through week 7 of the plan – right in the thick of the speed phase – and I would like to state for the record that people should not be deceived into thinking that the lack of a 20-mile run means this plan is somehow easier. It is not. Not even close. My legs are pretty much always tired, thanks in large part to the fact that I am running 5-6 days a week. I have one session of speed work a week and one tempo run and then a bunch of easy miles, which I am actually doing instead of cross-training, as I have done in the past. (And by “cross-training” I mean “sometimes skipping my run in favor of sitting on my couch.”)
I am at the point now where I’ve developed a few opinions about the plan, both good and bad. I’m withholding my overall judgement until the actual race, which will be held on January 17, but I will share the observations I’ve made in the nearly two months I’ve been working this program.
1. I don’t have to think about anything.
The program is super-specific about everything, down to the time it should take you to run each interval during your speed session. All I have to do is look at the plan for the day and I immediately know what I’m going to run. I like not having to think about this, because it fits in well with my whole mantra of “don’t think, just go.” If I tell myself that part of my day includes a five-mile tempo run at my race pace of 8:55/mile with a mile each for warm-up and cool-down, I can switch over to auto-pilot and get my ass out the door with minimal fuss. Plus it makes me feel like I actually have a clue as to what I’m doing.
2. It forces me to be disciplined.
I have had an ongoing issue with my easy runs, where I wouldn’t actually run them at an easy pace. I’d be shuffling along at my easy pace – which for me should be between 9:30-11:00/mile – and my ego would be all, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU CAN RUN FASTER THAN THIS HOW DO YOU THINK YOU ARE EVER GOING TO BREAK FOUR HOURS RUN FASTER YOU LOSER.” So I’d do my so-called easy runs at a tempo pace, just to make the part of my brain that behaves like a drunk middle-aged Red Sox fan shut her piehole. And then I’d wonder why I couldn’t seem to run more than 35-40 mpw without my shit falling apart. So this time I’ve decided just to trust the experts and to run these paces at a truly easy pace, and so far it seems to be working. I’m about to hit my first 35-mile week and I have absolutely no problems at all, beyond the aforementioned fatigue (which is the point of the whole thing).
By the way, I’ve figured out that my inner heckler is really just a manifestation of the overall insecurity I feel about myself as a runner, like an athletic version of the Imposter Syndrome. I know I’m a decent runner but part of me feels like I have to prove it to people, even random people on the trail who are too busy enduring their own workouts to give a single flying fuck about me. It’s not only a stupid way to conduct myself, but it’s also basically begging for an injury from the running gods. I’d rather just work on knowing that I’ve got nuts so I don’t have flex them, as the Geto Boys so eloquently put it.
3. I’m learning how to pace myself.
Brian hates running with me because I have no internal sense of pace. I check my Garmin like once every twenty steps to make sure I’m on my target pace, and when I don’t, I either speed way up or slow way down. Not gonna lie, the 70s runner in me hates that I am so dependent on the tiny satellite receiver on my wrist. So I’ve been working on only checking my Garmin at the mile markers to make sure my overall pace for that mile is within my target, and also trying to identify what it feels like to run at 9:30, 8:55, 7:38, etc.
4. I’m getting so much more confident in my running abilities.
Yeah, my legs are tired a lot these days, but because I’m actually doing easy runs at an easy pace and following up every run with a good stretching-and-foam rolling session (plus regular epsom salt baths!), I mostly feel pretty good! I like that I can look at a schedule that calls for 8 x 600 with a 400 recovery and know I can go do it and feel strong all the way until the last interval. I like that a ten-mile run doesn’t intimidate me. I love that I’m about to reach new levels with my running volume and it feels tough but completely manageable. This is important not only because it will help prepare me psychologically for success on race day but also because see #2. Anything that gives me more confidence – and real confidence that is actually backed up by reality, not fake confidence that can’t withstand even the slightest pushback – is a good thing.
1. There is no room at all for cross-training.
The Hanson brothers do not like cross-training. They believe in the principle of specificity, that says you have to do the thing you want to actually get better at. This would be great if I was just a runner, but I am also a triathlete who loves to lift weights. And guess what? Five to six days of running per week leaves me with very little energy to do anything else. I can swim maybe once a week, and I have yet to get back on my bike. I had to cut way back on my weight training (which means the New Rules of Lifting for Women will be going by the wayside until running season is over). I’m trying to just go with it and to remember that this is a temporary state of affairs that will last less than three more months, but it is kind of frustrating when I think about how those three months are three months I could be using to get stronger on my new tri bike.
That said, this is a great plan for someone who just wants to run. However, I would not recommend it for a multi-sport athlete like myself.
2. The beginner plan doesn’t really seem like a beginner plan.
One thing that caused my eyebrows to spring so far up they nearly shot off my forehead was the transition from a 24-mile week to a 39-mile week. What’s more, that 39-mile week contained a six-mile speed workout. Say what?! That kind of sharp increase in mileage has always meant bad things (aka injury!!!) in the past, especially when accompanied by hard running. I swore that I would try to stick as closely to the plan as I possibly could but I had to make adjustments here based on my previous history. I mean, it was either 100% perfect adherence or injury. It’s kind of a no-brainer. I still got in the tough workouts, but I dropped one of the days of running. I plan to work that sixth day back in pretty soon.
Maybe other beginners are capable of handling a 50% increase in mileage from one week to the next, but this beginner – who is not really a beginner, but whatever – cannot.
Have any of you trained using this plan before? If so, what did you think?