Marathon training, Hansons style

No, not these Hansons.

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?

These Hansons! (And now I’ve reached the point at which ‘Hanson’ no longer makes sense as a word and is instead just a collection of lines and squiggles.)

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.

THE GOOD

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.

THE BAD

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?

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25 responses to “Marathon training, Hansons style

  1. Great review, thanks for posting. I am actually just getting back into tri training myself and running is by far my biggest limiter. I appreciate your feedback about this plan not being multisport friendly, so I will know to look elsewhere.

    • Yeah, if you don’t mind spending a few months just running, then it’s okay, but if you want to keep up with all of the other disciplines, this is not a good plan for that.

      This guy did a comparison of a lot of the popular marathon programs: http://fellrnr.com/wiki/A_Comparison_of_Marathon_Training_Plans According to him, Jack Daniels’ plan is the best for multisport athletes, so maybe look at that one? I’ll probably try that one out next time, based on this recommendation.

      • Have you looked at the FIRST (Fuhrman Institute) plan? It doesn’t look bad for multisport athlete. Daniels recommends 6-7 days of running a week, I think it would be as tough to fit cross-training in as with Hansons.

  2. I just finished a marathon training cycle with FIRST/Run Less, Run Faster and took almost 15 minutes off of my marathon PR. It’s sounds similar to Hansons (specific workouts, paces, etc.) except the running mileage is much lower and they are STRONG believers in cross-training. I freaked out about only running 3 days a week, but apparently the swimming/cycling/etc. really did help build my aerobic capacity.

    • I’m glad to hear that one worked well for you! That’s another plan that intrigues me, and hearing that they LOVE cross-training makes me even more intrigued.

      I’m not surprised to hear that all the swimming and cycling helped with your overall fitness. Both my husband and I turned out some of our fastest running times after becoming triathletes. I suppose I understand the principle of specificity if you are trying to get down to a sub 3:00 marathon (or even faster) and you can do 80-100 mpw, but those are not my goals.

  3. Wow! That’s quite a plan. After reading your thoughts on the New Rules of Lifting, I picked it up and I am loving it! This one though, I think I’ll wait on. I really am a beginner! But I love reading about your journey and I can’t wait to hear what you think about it after your race in January!

  4. I’ve read the Hansons book but am a little scared to give up my 20-mile runs! That said the last marathon plan I did incorporated 6 days a week of running, and I think the cumulative fatigue ended up really making me stronger, even though I was tired all the time and my cross-training ended up being, I think, 3 half-hearted pushup sessions over the entirety of the plan. Thanks for the review, and I hope you hit your target in your goal race!

    • I am snort-laughing at “3 half-hearted pushup sessions.” That’s kind of how my cross-training is going too. I tried to do some light weights on Wednesday and I ended up giving up halfway through my planks. I NEVER do that but I was just sooooo tired. (It doesn’t help that I seem to be battling a sinus infection, boo.)

  5. Interesting approach! I’m at the tail end of training for my first (this Sunday!) and trained with a local running store. The plan they gave us consisted of running 5x’s a week with no cross-training. Many of my runner friends criticized that and swore I’d be injured but that hasn’t been the case. I definitely miss cross-training though so I’m looking forward to going back to running 3-4x’s a week and cross-train more as I go for either my first tri or a sub 2 hr half this Spring.

    • Good luck with your marathon tomorrow! I look forward to reading your race report on it.

      I have generally been a strong devotee of cross training and this is the first time I’ve mostly eschewed it. I do worry that I’ll get injured but like I’ve said elsewhere, I think I have enough experience to know how to manage things so I don’t wind up with an injury. It’ll certainly be nice to get back to having a variety of physical activities in my training diet, though.

  6. I trained for my last marathon with Hansons, and I think it was more psychologically comforting than anything else. I was undertrained for my first 3 marathons, and it was better for me psychologically to have consistently run 40-50 miles per week, than to have hit 20 miles on a long run in training. I was tired all the time, but otherwise almost completely fine. (Oh, and I PRed by 20 minutes.)

    I think an experienced marathoner who understands WHY the Hansons plan is structured the way it is should be able to adapt it to suit their needs and schedule – you could and should probably fit in some strength training and lots of stretching. Hansons is not a beginners’ plan, though!

    • Damn! Congrats on your PR! You give me hope for a PR of my own. I’m not looking for 20 minutes – nine minutes is all I’m asking for, and anything over that is gravy.

      I totally understand what you mean about finding the high mileage more psychologically meaningful for you than the 20-mile run. I think I might be the same way.

      The funny thing about the 20-mile run is that I am sure that it would not have prepared me for experience of hitting miles 18-22 of a marathon. (I have used the phrase “emotional desolation” to describe it.) Knowing you’ve done a 20-miler is helpful heading into the race but I don’t think anything short of having actually run 26.2 miles can truly prepare a person for what happens at that point the race.

  7. The only part of a marathon training plan I ever followed was the long run schedule. I make everything else up on my own hehehe. I am now at the point where the only part of the long run schedule I follow is the 18 miler and then the 20 miler three weeks out. There are SO many different ways to train for a marathon. It’s kind of cool!

  8. I’m training for my fifth marathon and I’ve never done a serious marathon training plan before now (how’s that for embarrassing?). I got a training plan for FIRST/Run Less, Run Faster and I told myself that I would follow it fairly closely. Each week only has three scheduled runs (a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run) and you’re supposed to cross-train 2-3 times a week.

    Within a couple months of starting the program, I got injured. Since then, I’ve cut down on the cross-training, increased my running to 5-6 days a week, and slowed my pace on workouts. I think for me, the problem was that FIRST didn’t have any easy running days built in–all the running days were hard days. For someone who gets injured easily (me!), that’s probably too much intensity each week.

    I also wonder if FIRST has enough running mileage to prepare you for a marathon. I’ve talked with people who have tried FIRST and a common story is people hit their goal times in workouts leading up to the race, but fall apart when they run the full distance. Since there are only three running days per week, the mileage tops out around 30 miles/week (but that mileage is split between three days!).

    Of course, FIRST also seems to work well for some people, so your mileage may vary. I’m sticking with the weekly long runs and tempo runs, but I nixed the speed workouts and increased the number of easy running days. I think the best thing to do is to recognize what your strengths/weaknesses are and adapt your training plan accordingly. My marathon is still a few months away so we’ll see how it goes 🙂

  9. I did a modified Hansons plan for my spring marathon, and while I was EXHAUSTED from it (I felt it was *incredibly* hard to get back out the door for my regular, 10-mi Sunday run after Saturday’s long run), I hate to admit that it kind of kicked my fitness into overdrive (when I um adhered to it. That was the biggest issue… discipline and/or commitment to the hurt.)

    More importantly, though, is that I had Hanson lyrics in my head for a good 4 hours after reading this. And not even MMMBop… as in I know more than one Hanson song. I can’t believe I just admitted that to the internet…

  10. I’ve done Higdon, FIRST and Pfitzinger and of them highly, highly recommend Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning. I followed it to the letter after 6 or 7 marathons and PRed by 20 minutes. A caveat is that I’ve never repeated that performance; however, my two attempts after that race were both HOT, like crazy HOT. 90s Hot. Then I switched to triathlon and that was that. But still, if Hanson’s doesn’t do it for you, go get Advanced Marathoning.

  11. If I were training for a marathon and able to run consecutive days I would totally try the Hansons method. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

  12. I’m training for my first marathon — the Miami in early February — so I definitely want to hear how this plan works out as you continue on it since I’m not sure that I love the plan that I’m using. My plan (which admittedly, my training partner just handed to me and I’ve never asked any questions about because I’m lazy and trusting his research) doesn’t include any speed work but has me running 5 days a week for 35-45 miles per week. So far I’ve felt great, but I worry that with all of my runs being around the same relaxed pace (10 minutes) that I’ll be really disappointed with my time, especially compared to my prior half marathon times. I KNOW I need to just get over it and be happy to finish, but I’m just not sure how to actually check my ego at the starting line.

    • Oh man, the ego, what a gnarly beast she can be. I have no advice to give you re: your current plan, although I am curious as to what your target pace is for the marathon. I’ve heard it said repeatedly that the running at an easy pace really does translate into a faster time on race day, but I have no first-hand experience of this because like I said, I have had a hard time keeping the easy runs easy.

      I do think that the volume of running you’ve been doing as well as the fact that you are still feeling good bodes well for your marathon! Is it the ING marathon? I ran that half-marathon a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I particularly liked when we ran down Ocean Drive and were cheered on by drag queens in various stages of undress. Plus, best medal ever. Seriously.

  13. I used the Hanson’s beginner method for my second marathon. I’m not a fast runner (yet! there’s always hope) but I liked that the plan was super specific. I perform better in life having everything planned out, why not my running plan? I had never done speed training or a tempo run either, so I was also excited about learning new things and pushing myself further into my uncomfortable zone. And you know what? I loved every minute of it. I didn’t PR at the marathon, but that’s only because I ran with two friends who needed the support to get to the finish line. So it wasn’t my race. I did run the whole marathon (except when I had to stop at medical or the port a potty) and at mile 23 I broke away from them and was able to run the final miles at 9:30-10:00 minutes per mile. That may not seem fast to you, but that’s 1:30 minutes faster than my marathon pace and after 5:30 hours of running. I crossed that finish line feeling like I had won the whole thing. So I’m a believer and I can’t wait to do it all over again! I look forward to hearing about your experience when it’s all over with

  14. Hey Caitlin,
    Perusing reviews of Hanson’s method and found your blog. I’ve mostly done 35-50 miles weeks on my peaked buildups and have only been running 5 days per week. I’m thinking shooting for more miles is the right idea. However I will probably do a few 18-20 miles runs near the final weeks 😉

    It’s so amusing to see the camps of RLRF (Run less run faster) and Hansons out there..they are pretty opposite. I guess everybody is different!

    Good luck with your buildup!
    -paul

    • Thanks, Paul! I actually ended up modifying my training somewhat because I couldn’t run more than five days a week without having weird pains showing up in my left knee, so I hit the elliptical for my sixth day instead of running. The plan worked out for me, though, as I met both of my goals – breaking four hours AND running strong the whole race with no walk breaks.

      It was a good experience for me as in the past I’ve done the Higdon plans with a lot of cross-training, and so it was interesting to see how my body responded with more mileage. I do have to say, I miss the cross-training, and as I prepare for my fifty-miler in May I am making an effort to work more cross-training into my training plan. I think it’s better for both my body and my mind, you know?

      Good luck with your training plan. When’s the big race?

  15. A 39 mile week for a beginner is a lot. I would consider somebody a beginner if they can run 30 minutes without stopping, 39 miles per week is a long way from there.

    • I totally agree. I was running for a few years before I got to the point that I could run 39 miles a week without injury. This program is definitely not for beginners.

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