Training with the Hansons

This post is a review and recap of my experience with the Hansons Marathon Method training program. Later this week, I’ll have my comparison of a traditional training program and the Hansons program.

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You always hear people say “never again” the moment they cross the finish line of their first marathon. But then in the hours and days to follow they often go back on that sentiment. For me, I knew I wanted to run another one as I was crossing the finish line of my first.

2013 Thunder Road Marathon

My first full marathon, the Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte, was a small race. For marathon #2 I decided I wanted to experience the opposite – a big race. What better place to do that than at the Marine Corps Marathon, which was right in my Dad’s backyard? There were a few hoops to jump through, but once I was in it was time to decide how I was going to train.

For marathon #1 I followed a training plan similar to what I’ve done for all of the half marathons I have run: three shorter runs per week, one long run on the weekend, and one to two days of cross training. But for marathon #2 I wanted something different. Enter: Hansons Marathon Method.

Hansons Marathon Method

This training method is a self-described “renegade path to your fastest marathon.” It wasn’t a training plan meant for those who are training just to finish (although that is always one of my goals with a marathon). This training plan revolves around a time goal, and all of the paces are based on this.

After reading the book cover to cover, I was sold on the training program. I guess you could say I drank the Kool Aid, so to speak, and am a firm believer in their methods and the reasons behind them. The first part of the book spent a lot of time on the physiology behind training. It was more science than I needed, but definitely good supporting information for the skeptic. Then I got to part 2: The Training Plans. I chose to follow the Beginner Plan, as it was the best fit for me.

The plan involved six days of running per week, and little to no focus on cross training. The Hansons justify this by saying that if you want to run a race, you have to train by running a lot. Although they did provide types of strength exercises that would help supplement training, it wasn’t the focus of training. It was more running than I’ve ever done in my life, and at times I wasn’t sure I could complete what they were asking of me (hello very first track workout). But they seemed to know me better than I knew myself. What it really boils down to is that you should set a realistic goal for yourself, and therefore you should be able to handle the work to get there.

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Overall, I really liked the training program. It was tougher than anything I’ve ever done and it took a great time commitment. But I really thrived on the challenge. Unfortunately, the second half of training was riddled with injury and illness. This was not good, as this is when they introduce all of the marathon-specific training and your weekly mileage peaks. I wish I had gotten through training healthy so that I could have had a better feel for the results from training. All in all, I was able to complete 83% of the training plan as scheduled. But I missed some really key workouts, including one of the famed 16 mile long runs, during those 3 missed weeks.

The Hansons program basically included two types of runs: easy and something of substance (SOS). The SOS runs included track/speed workouts, tempo/marathon pace runs, strength/interval runs, and long runs. The easy runs were much slower than I was accustomed to, and they made up the bulk of training. This allowed me to safely add mileage to increase my overall weekly mileage, as well as actively recover from hard workouts, without risking injury. Actually, the only time I got injured during training was when I went and ran too fast at a relay. Hanson karma, right there.

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I’ve often heard people refer to easy running as ‘junk mileage’ but I don’t agree with that. I think easy days are as important to a training plan as the tough workouts. I also think if you make every run a ‘something of substance’ run you will end up injured or burned out.

In addition to the types of runs incorporated during training, the 18 weeks of training also had three main phases. The first phase (weeks 1 – 5) were a base building phase, made up solely of easy running and gradually increasing mileage. Phase two (weeks 6 – 10) incorporated track workouts, tempo runs, and long runs. The mileage and length of those SOS workouts continued to steadily increase during this time. The final phase (weeks 11 – 17) is where the marathon-specific training kicked in. Interval workouts, which were longer repeats done on a flat stretch of road or bike path, replaced shorter track workouts. The tempo runs increased in length, maxing out at 12 miles. Finally, the long run peaked at 16 miles.

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My favorite workouts during training were the longer track workouts (5 x 1K and 4 x 1200m) and the interval workouts (even though I called the Hanson brothers crazy when they told me to do 6 x 1 mile). I seem to thrive on repeat-type workouts and for some reason I always felt my strongest during these. Which is kind of strange, since they fell on a Tuesday, which was my sixth day in a row of running. Throughout training one thing held true: the longer the interval, the more I enjoyed the workout.

Myrtle Beach High School Track

My least favorite workout during training was the tempo runs. For the Hansons, a tempo run is synonymous with a marathon pace run. These workouts involved a 1 mile warm up, 1 mile cool down, and some middle miles at marathon pace. They started out at 5 miles and increased to 10 miles over the course of training. These runs were the perfect time to practice marathon pace and teach your brain what pace to run on race day. I just never could nail these runs. Maybe it was an indication that I had chosen the wrong goal, but I don’t really believe that. I just found these long, midweek runs daunting. They were always on Thursdays, which was the day after my one treasured rest day. But I usually felt creaky and stiff instead of fresh during these runs.

All in all, I am definitely a believer in the Hanson Method. When I do train for another marathon, I will use this plan again. One major change I’ll probably make: no racing during training. This will help me stick to the prescribed schedule and specific training paces. It’s not the kind of running schedule I would keep outside of training for a marathon. But it was a great fit for me for marathon-specific training.

What type of structure do you follow for training?
What type of workout is your favorite?

9 Comments

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  1. I followed this training plan for my first marathon and actually didn’t enjoy it at all. I got so burnt out from all the running AND ended up injured. I used Run Less Run Faster this time around and added 2-3 days of crosstraining in and it helped significantly. Interesting that we have completely polar opposite opinions on this one.
    Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes recently posted…Mizuno Wave Rider 18 ReviewMy Profile

    1. I have to say, I kind of agree with Sue. Admittedly, I did not follow Hanson’s to a T (I only ran 5 days/week and hiked the 6th day) but I was burnt out. I do agree in theory with all that Hanson’s says but I think it does not always work for individuals. I know for me the Run Less, Run Faster would not work either. I need the majority of my runs to be easy pace with only one day/week of speed or tempo runs. But that is what I have figured out over time and training for 7 of these darn things.
      Amy recently posted…Denver Urban Half Marathon and 7 MilerMy Profile

    2. This is a great example of how different things work for different people. There’s certainly not just one way of doing things, and that also applies to training for long distance races. I am sorry to hear y’all didn’t like the Hansons, but am glad you have figured out what does work for you. That’s what its about.

  2. I use the schlub training plan, it’s new to the running world.

    Honestly I have no training plan, my long run is on Saturday, two elevation climbs during the week, and a light run someplace where I can fit it in. Has worked so far 🙂
    running schlub recently posted…We Honor Their ServiceMy Profile

    1. Better trademark and copyright that plan before someone swipes it out from under you! 🙂 Sounds like your plan has worked well so far. Can’t wait for your first marathon!

  3. I usually make up my own plan and pull ideas from my books and online. You worked so hard with those tough workouts. You can be proud of sticking to the workouts!
    Tina@GottaRunNow recently posted…22 Mile Run: Side Aches & HRMMy Profile

    1. I bet making your own based on ideas from several sources produces a training plan that’s the perfect fit for you.

  4. I have to agree with you. I cannot say enough good things about this training plan. After 15 years of running, I ran my 2nd best time last week. I know I would have PR’d if I wasn’t injured (going to PT for an IT band issue). It was definitely hard, but worth the time and effort. This is the first race I never stopped running and over the last 8 miles, I passed over100+ runners and was only passed by a few. I WILL use this for my next marathon. I’m glad you feel the same about the plan.

    1. Glad to hear you liked it, too! I would love to give it another go sometime, and hopefully make it through training without injury or illness, so I can see what it can really do for me. Sorry to hear about the IT Band! I hope it gets to feeling better, soon.

      P.S. Passing struggling runners towards the end of a race can give you such a boost and keep you going strong. I’m glad you had such a great final 8 miles! 🙂

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