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Monday, October 17, 2016

Hanson's marathon method: my thoughts

After a long, hot summer of Hanson's, here are my thoughts.

How I did:
  • My goal was 3:10 - 3:15 and I ran 3:12.
What I didn't do:
  • I didn't complete the entire plan, as I started several weeks in due to illness - I cut it to 14 weeks. I also used shorter warm-ups and cool-downs for most of the plan - one mile rather than several - for the sake of time. 
  • I took in slightly fewer calories on race day than recommended.
  • I didn't keep up with strength nearly as well as I should have throughout the program. There is a chapter on strength, but once MBA classes got tough? All that fell by the wayside.
What the plan entails: 
  • The plan is based on cumulative fatigue, so you never fully let your legs recover. 
  • Each week includes speed work, a tempo run, and a long run. The long runs, famously, never exceed 16 miles (and you only get three 16-milers). 
  • Halfway through the plan you switch from "speed" (5k pace) to "strength" (more like 10k to half marathon pace) on the speed work days, and the intervals get longer. 
  • The tempos are marathon pace runs. The longest is ten miles. 
Miles I ran: 
  • 726 total miles over 14 weeks, excluding the race itself
  • Average 51.9 miles per week
  • Highest mileage was 61 miles
  • I ran three weeks at or over 60 miles
  • I ran eleven weeks at or over 50 miles (which is insane to me. I normally break 50 maybe three times during marathon training).
  • Most of my runs were at "easy A" or "easy B" pace, which gave me a range of 8:03 to 8:49, depending on fatigue. I'll be honest, though - some post-tempo days were in the 9's! 
  • Speed work is pretty slow - 5k to a bit slower than 10k pace. I gave myself a range of paces and hit within range on almost everything except some of the early 5k-pace assignments. I was a tad slow on those. 
  • Tempos are marathon pace and - eh. I sucked at this. These were incredibly challenging for me in the heat. I HAD to allow myself to drink water, and even then, I would be dehydrated and cramping all day after I ran. Many of these were completed in downright dangerous conditions - usually in the 90's with sky-high humidity. So to allow water stops, I'd run my miles too fast, and then "catch up" the pace at the water fountains. I think this was a kind of terrible plan, since the whole point is to run more marathon-pace miles! I should have figured out a hand-held situation. Nonetheless, I was usually in my pace range even for the miles I ran. I always determine pace based on a 26.3 mile race, because I know I'll pick up some extra mileage due to turns or just Garmin error - so while that makes my training paces "fast", it allows me to rely on my Garmin average pace during the race and not be surprised and disappointed at the end (didn't help this time, since my Garmin was way off, but oh well). 
  • Long runs were around 7:40's to 7:50's - again, I gave myself a range based on my goal range. They were surprisingly tough to complete: that's that cumulative fatigue, I suppose! 
Botched runs:
  • I tried to stick to the training plan like GLUE, but I messed up two runs: both tempos. On one, I hit the wall. It was just like the end of a marathon. I wrapped it up and went straight home, then took another day off. It was terrible! The other one was supposed to be a 10-mile tempo, but I cut it short at eight because I ran out of time. I'd slept in. So I had two messed up runs and one unplanned day off the whole cycle. 
  • Hanson's discourages races during training, so I didn't do many.
  • I ran a 4-mile race week one, which was dreadful. 
  • I ran a 2-mile race a week before the marathon, which was great. 
  • I also did the all-comers track meet and the Summer Series 2-miler, both in July. The all-comers track meet REALLY showed me how tired my legs were, and is probably why racing during this plan is a bad idea! 
  • ZERO. I didn't even lose a toenail. This is astonishing to me. I thought that I would get hurt increasing mileage rather drastically (I'm usually low to mid forties, but including weeks and days off I probably average more like mid-30's over time), but I didn't. Perhaps this is because most runs are at moderate to slow paces. 
  • I did develop some annoying tendonitis under both knees. It is noticeable when I extend my foot behind me, but it goes away when I warm up. I actually think this is from wearing the NB Zantes: it's only there the day after I run in them. 
What I liked:
  • I kind of hate long runs, so I was glad the furthest I went was 16 miles. I didn't miss the twenty-milers at all on race day, so I am totally on board with that aspect of the plan! I know some people modify Hanson's to work in 18 or 20 miles, but I loved only having to go 16 miles. For some reason, I find 20-mile runs incredibly daunting. 
  • I didn't get injured. 
  • I got comfortable with longer weeks. I'm no 50 mpw runner usually, but I did it!
  • I was never truly exhausted post-run. Tired, yes. Beat up and miserable? No, not really. Not like after a 22-miler. 
  • You get out what you put in. I trained for a 3:10 to a 3:15. I got a 3:12:02. I think this is a plan with a good built-in predictor. If you hit all your miles and paces, you can hit your goal.
  • I didn't hit the wall. I slowed down 2 minutes in the second half, but I do believe that that is my smallest positive split ever. And while I tired, it wasn't the wall: it was really sore legs trying to run up and down hills and hurting a lot.
  • I survived the long hill in the second half. I loosely followed a pace chart put together by the race directors, and it calls for a slowish start, a faster middle, and an allowance for slowing down on the long hills section at miles 20-23. I planned to run 8:15s over these miles, but I actually never exceeded 8 minutes, with my slowest mile a 7:50 on the last mile of the hill. 
  • I finished pretty strong. Look at those passing numbers! In the final five miles, I passed 107 people, and just 15 passed me. And that was including at least two miles of uphill, and I am a terrible hill runner, because I live in the flattest place on the planet. So that impresses me. I'm not bragging - I don't mean that impress me, I mean that Hanson's impresses me: if it can get a non-hill runner to pass people going uphill at the end of a marathon, it's a plan that means business! 

Felt like I had nails hammered into my quads. Still passed net 92 people in the last 5 miles.

What I disliked: 
  • This is a time-consuming plan. Not only was I running more, I was running more before work (since weekends aren't such heavy mileage like most plans), and I was running at a slower pace. 
  • I kind of feel like, for the effort I put in, I should have gotten more out. I know that sounds silly, since I trained for the pace I ran, but I guess I wanted an end-of-marathon miracle. I ran 29 mpw this winter and ran a 3:18, so to run 3:12 (in better weather, although a harder course) on 48 mpw seems like a lot of work for an unspectacular result. 
  • I got bored using this plan. Now, I've never actually used a marathon training plan before (I've tried. I've written my own, which I've used as loose guides, but ended up not really following, and I tried The Run Faster plan and got epically injured, which cured me of training plans for awhile. In fact, it cured me of running for awhile). So maybe I'd get bored doing any plan. But the repetitive, cookie-cutter weeks got dull, and the speed work is really boring. 
  • Hanson's barely tapers. After a final tempo (12 miles) on Thursday, you still have 49 miles to run over the next ten days before your race. A ten-day taper is pretty short, and that's a lot of miles in the week and a half before a marathon! 
  • I think that the very sore muscles I experienced (during and post-race) might be partly due to not running over 16 miles. 
Would I do it again?
  • Yes. Despite the many long miles in heavy, humid air; the sweat-soaked shoes; the boring weeks; the mediocre finish time; and the mornings I had to skip breakfast with my honey just to make it to work on time, I'd do Hanson's again.
  • Why? Well, mostly for two things: I finished strong, and I didn't get injured. 
  • Not getting hurt is a big priority for me now, and I am very happy with my injury-free summer. In the past, mileage creeping over 50 almost always lead to injury, and more than one hard day per week ALWAYS lead to injury. But this cycle, I combined speed work, tempo runs, and over 50 miles almost every week, and I didn't get hurt. Now, I wonder if I should phase the tempo run out at all, or shorten and intensify it. I think it strengthened me and actually might have prevented harm.
  • And finishing strong? Well, who doesn't want to feel good finishing a race? It's not like I wasn't in pain. My legs were on fire. But I kept cranking out the miles, only slowing a little. I like how that feels. Sure, I didn't run a perfect race. But I ran a good race, and I think I could do even better next time. 
Have you run Hanson's? What are your thoughts? Any questions about this training cycle?


  1. I haven't used Hansons or any other plan for years...mostly because night shift + a normal running plan never really worked out, and then I got injured for a couple years...ahh. But I've had my eye on it and have seen a few people be really successful with it - mostly in that they felt good at the end of the marathon, which is really hard to do! I'd like to try it eventually.

  2. I used Hanson on one training cycle and had one of my worst races ever ... but honestly, I wasn't fully committed to it. I might try it again in the future ... you obviously did great with it!

  3. I'm a believer. I've PRed both times I used Hansons, and felt really good at the end of the second marathon (cardiovascularly - my limiting factor both times was crazy cramping).

    I agree it is a time-consuming, boring plan - but exciting isn't everything. If I had to alter a couple of things for myself, I'd throw in some longer long runs, and run some of the tempos at 10K or HM goal pace (yes, on tired legs) rather than marathon goal pace to boost my confidence that I *can* run MGP on tired legs. In your case I think making it through a high-mileage training cycle uninjured is a HUGE plus. If the speedwork is boring, you can always go to Jack Daniels and devise your own :)

  4. I was curious to see what you'd think of the plan when it's all said and done. I think it's impressive that you increased your mileage so much and didn't deal with any injuries! And I think you should adjust your time for the fact that it's a tough course. So maybe if you had ran a flatter/less challenging course, your time would have been even better? I just think that hill at mile 21 and the slight upgrade in the final 3-5 miles is just CRUEL on tired legs!

  5. I like the idea of figuring your time on 26.3, smart....I hadn't thought of doing that, but needed. I bet if you did this plan starting in the fall/winter and racing in the winter/early spring on a fast course you would have a big PR. Not a bad day at all when you run your goal. I'm always expecting a miracle too. I think it's because I work hard and I want to be rewarded extra big. The extra big reward never happens, but I'm happy that I typically do reach my realistic goal, or close. Happy Recovery !

  6. Very interesting.

    I wonder if Hanson's was a good choice for you because of the conditions you trained in. When your longest run peaks at 16, there's less chance you'll destroy yourself in the awful heat and humidity.

  7. Super interesting stuff. I did the Hanson's plan once, but it was my first marathon & I was too chicken not to do at least one 18 and one 20. Amazing to know it can still work out fairly well!

  8. Great review! I just finished my 7th marathon, first time using Hansons. For me, the total mileage was similar to what I'd done before, but with more mid week running. I did find the cumulative fatigue mentally challenging - for a while in the beginning I felt on the verge of injury, but came through it fine and the second half was smooth sailing. I modified the taper slightly to be a bit more rested. I didn't run a PB, but I did BQ (3:35) on a very humid day which was the goal. Personally, I actually like the routine of doing the same thing every week for tempo / speed so I might try it again!