Hansons Marathon Method
A renegade path to your fastest marathon?
This November marked my second time signing up for, but not doing the New York City Marathon. The first time was in 2012, when no one who signed up for the race did it because of Hurricane Sandy. I signed up for the race again this year for the sole reason that I had guaranteed entry as a result of the 2012 cancellation.
As it turns out, this reason alone is not motivation enough to follow through with actually training for and running a marathon. Unfortunately, I did not realize this, or perhaps I should say I did not come to terms with this until I had already spent quite a bit of money on entry fees and a lot of time, energy, and emotional health on training that I wasn't excited to be doing. Since this training that I was doing but not enjoying followed a popular and highly acclaimed training method, I thought my experience with it might make a compelling blog post.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy my personal tale of how the Hansons Marathon Method made me not want to run the New York City Marathon.
The Hansons Are Jerks
Ok, so that heading may be a tad over-dramatic. I have no doubt that Keith, Kevin and Luke Humphrey (the guy who is actually the author of the Hansons Marathon Method book) are lovely people in real life, and I feel obligated to mention that in the end, their program worked, but boy, did I ever dislike doing it. I admittedly settled on the Hansons method mostly out of desperation, rather than research (although I do have several trusted running friends who swear by it). I had reached point where I just couldn't postpone starting the new training cycle any longer, and the book was right there, readily available to be purchased with my deep employee discount at the running store where I work.
Furthermore, I was at a point in my running life where the thought of a 22 mile long run brought genuine tears of despair to my eyes, so the part where the Hansons promised no run would be longer than 16 miles was a major selling point. And with that I bought the book, turned directly to the advanced marathon training program without reading ANY other parts, and dove in headlong. Because that's what reasonable, intelligent runners do, right?
At first it seemed like it might be a good fit. Our boys Luke, Keith, and Kevin use a 6 day cycle with a peak volume of around 65 miles per week. Although the Hansons ration out these miles a little differently, this was all quite congruent with the schedule and volume of the "training plans" (I put that in quotation marks because it is a term I use very loosely) I followed for all the other marathons I have run in recent history.
Marathon Training with The Hansons at a Glance
If you aren't familiar with the Hansons program, the 6 day cycle runs from Thursday to Tuesday. I have provided here a hypothetical excerpt from my Hansons marathon training log to give you better understanding of its structure and my feelings regarding it.
The Workout - Long-ass tempo run at marathon goal pace. These started at 6 miles, and increased in duration every 3 weeks, eventually topping out at 10(!!!) miles.
A Sample of My Running Inner Monologue - Holy effing balls, y'all! I have been dreading this workout all week! The thought of having to run a butt-ton of miles at sustained pace that is just outside the parameters of my comfort zone really scares the shit out me! I don't how the hell I'm going to pull this off for an entire marathon, but somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to hang on for another heinous tempo workout today.
The Workout - 6 to 8 miles "easy".
A Sample of My Running Inner Monologue - Guys, I think the Hansons must define "easy" as "tired, shitty, and awful" because that is what every single one of my Friday runs feels like. Seriously, what gives?!?
The Workout - Another easy 8 to 10, depending on the week.
A Sample of My Running Inner Monologue: Thank goodness I have great friends to run with on Saturdays! Their awesome company really helps me keep mind off how terrible my every easy run feels. Did I mention that the Hansons are jerkfaces?
The Workout: Long run at a "steady aerobic pace". These progressed from 12 to 16 miles over the course the 15 weeks that I followed the 18 week training plan, and every other week it stepped back to a 10 mile run to match the run on Saturday.
A Sample of My Running Inner Monologue: I'm still not sure I trust or like you Hansons, but I'll admit that you do have a way of making long run day feel like a vacation from all the other hard shit you're making me do, instead of something that I dread. #Silverlinings
The Workout: 6 to 8 miles easy.
A Sample of My Running Inner Monologue: *Actually, I don't really recall having an especially strong or significant inner monologue on Mondays. Also, if I was going to cut concerns on mileage (which I often did) the sacrificial miles usual came from this run.
The Workout: Speed (weeks 1 -10), and the strength for the remaining weeks. Speed workouts were 3 miles of quality work with intervals that ranged from 400 m to 1 mile, and were to be done at ~5K pace. Strength workouts were 6 miles of quality work with intervals that progressed from 1 mile to 3 miles, and then tapered back down to 1 mile. These were to be done at ~1/2 marathon pace.
A Sample of My Running Inner Monologue: Well guys, I can't say that I enjoyed today's workout, but I sure do like these "shorter" intervals better than those dang Thursday tempo miles. I couldn't possibly fathom running any faster, and I had to work for it more than I wanted to do, but I did it and that's what matters.
The Workout: Rest Day FTW!!!
A Sample of My Inner Rest Day Monologue: I EFFING LOVE REST DAY!!!!
As you can see, the Hansons and their advanced training program created a pattern of fatigue and anxiety in my world that left me in a constant state of dread, exhaustion, and low-grade irritation and grumpiness. And then one day in the middle of a particularly unpleasant tempo run of 9 miles at marathon goal pace, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I don't want to be doing this training program and I don't want to run the New York City Marathon.
I don't know that we can blame this stark realization entirely on the Hansons. This alarming level of training dissatisfaction paralleled a host of other non-running related stressors in my life. I have no doubt that under different circumstances, I might have felt very differently about how this training cycle was going. But as things stood, I just didn't seem to have the mental energy to appreciate or enjoy all the effort I was putting in.
Furthermore, I cannot say that the Hansons method doesn't work. As much as I disliked doing the workouts, there is no denying that I did see fitness gains from doing them and I was executing my MGP tempo runs like a boss by the time I decided to pull the plug on the marathon. It is probably also worth mentioning that I ran a PR and cracked a milestone time barrier that had previously eluded me in the half marathon that I ended up running as a NYC Marathon replacement.
The Silver Linings
When it was all said and done, the Hansons method made me face my irrational fear of running sustained mileage at a consistent, mildly uncomfortable pace, and it left me precision dialed in to marathon goal pace, so much so that it was difficult for me to even imagine running a workout at any other pace, possibly ever again. And this plan certainly helped me develop a new level of mental toughness (at least up to the point where it broke me.) I totally get how all of these things would be valuable in running a marathon. In fact, if I am being perfectly honest, my greatest disappointment in not running New York may be that I will never know for sure what sort of marathon time I might have run as a result of this training program. Although its potential benefits are not lost on me, at this point I'm just not sure that I could bring myself to use the Hansons method again.
Other Things Worth Noting
As you draw conclusions and form opinions of your own about my personal Hansons experience, here are a few additional tidbits of information you might like to consider...
- I have completed 7 marathons, with a PR of 3:21. Over the course of the last 7-ish years, I have shaved about 30 minutes off my original marathon finish time, and I was hoping to drop another 2 to 5 minute with the help of the Hansons before things went south.
- I chose the advanced program based on my experience. I'm not entirely sure this was the right choice. Although I feel experience counts for something, I'm not sure that I have the running talent or a non-running life schedule that the advanced program was appropriate for. Perhaps I could have made a more informed decision about which variation of the program was right for me if I had read the book.
- I was using the paces prescribed for a ~3:10 marathon time for the speed and strength workouts and those prescribed for a ~3:15 marathon for the tempo work. This is a tiny confession that I might have been slightly over running things at times, which could have contributed to my ultimate undoing in some way. But I just didn't trust the slower paces, and I could hit the faster ones, and I secretly loved the idea of just maybe surprising myself and the world with a phatty 3:10 marathon time. All of this is dumb. You have to trust a training plan and follow it as prescribed in order for it work.
It is not lost on me that I was probably feeling exactly how the Hansons intended and expected for me to feel as I moved through the training cycle. Their program is based on the concept of "cumulative fatigue". As I mentioned earlier, I haven't read the book that goes with this training plan (insert judgmental "you're doing it wrong" comment here), but after a few hasty Google searches of that term, it is my understanding that the idea behind is a whole lot of moderate intensity miles with the goal of leaving you manageably over-fatigued and under-recovered.
Or something to that effect. I'm not saying this cumulative fatigue thing doesn't work. I'm just saying that I didn't really like it, probably because a lot of things other than running were contributing to the amount of cumulative fatigue in my life this fall.
In the end there is no denying that the Hansons Marathon method has its merits. It certainly elevated my aerobic-level fitness to new heights and made me tougher runner mentally, despite the fact that I bailed on the marathon. I know that I must assume 100% of the responsibility for poorly executing this training plan (i.e. not reading the book, not exploring modifications to make it better serve my current life place, not also following the prescribed paces, etc.)
So there you have it friends. I hope you have gained a little insight as to what the Hanson Training Method looks like and how not to do it as you research marathon training programs for your spring races.
Cheers to a new year filled with good choices, productive training, and abundant PRs!
UPDATE, November 2017:
At long last, Ellen successfully entered and raced in the 2017 New York City Marathon. She did not use the Hansons Method to prepare, but rather followed a custom training plan created by her coach. Despite the notoriously difficult Central Park hills, she came within 2 minutes of nailing her goal time of 3:20.
We asked if she felt she could potentially achieve or even beat her goal by using the Hansons Marathon Method instead, and she said she didn't think so. That style of training wasn't a good match for her personality, compared to focusing on advice from her trusted coach.