At the time of this post, I am exactly halfway through my ninth week of the Hansons Marathon Method program. This is actually the second time I have reached this point in this particular training plan. The first round of training, I was gearing up to run the St. George Marathon in Utah; unfortunately I made plans and God laughed.
My husband injured his back, and we decided that a two hour flight followed by a two hour drive wasn’t the best of ideas at the current time. So I did what every runner halfway through a training plan does. I threw a fit. And then I remembered my husband was in a good amount of pain, so I let it go. Gracefully. Sort of. Not entirely. But then I picked another race to focus my energy on. I was enjoying the training plan, so I essentially decided to just start back from week one. Having completed the first half of the plan two times now, here’s a little run down of my experience.
Why I Chose The Hansons Marathon Method Program
Throughout my running career, I have completed 6 marathon distance races. For the majority of these races, I have followed similar self-written programs. These programs consisted of 3-4 weekday runs varying 4-8 miles and one long run that slowly built up from 12 to 21ish miles. My total weekly mileage was usually between 32-40 miles.
Over the years, my times improved slowly, but the Hansons Marathon Method program came up in three or four different conversations, and I felt like it was something I needed to pay attention to. I’m Hispanic, so I’m naturally a little superstitious; when something shows up repeatedly, clearly it’s a sign. I did the research, and the thought of doing something different was appealing. The plan seemed HARD, and when something seems hard to me, it means I need to dive in. I wasn’t sure how I would make it all work, but I rarely am when I start things. So I started.
Something of Substance Runs
A quick Google search will show that there are a few main differences between the Hansons Marathon Method program, and other training plans. The programming is centered around higher weekly mileage volume than most traditional plans. Additionally, Hansons breaks all runs into two categories; something of substance (SOS) runs and easy runs.
The SOS runs consist of track workouts, tempo runs, and long runs. Unlike most plans, the truly long runs (over 12 miles) only happen every other week, and they max out at 16 miles. To be honest, my ego was not for this 16 miles business. I am a marathon runner, I run LONG long runs. I didn’t think these 16 milers were really gonna do it for me, but like I said, I’m superstitious, so I decided to just have some faith and give it a shot. Worst case scenario, I could always cheat and add a few extra miles to the last couple of 16’s. Please note, I am fully aware that only crazy runners would consider adding additional miles “cheating.”
The other part of the SOS runs are the speed portion; the track and tempo runs. While I internally scoffed at the “long” runs, I almost peed my pants in fear of the prescribed workouts. Both track and tempo paces are based on your marathon goal pace. The program includes a handy chart where you can look up your marathon goal pace, and arrive at what should be your track and tempo run goal paces.
The track runs start out with a reasonable 400m distance…..repeated 12 times at a fairly intimidating pace. I’ve spent some time on a track, but I have never done 12 repeats of any distance. The repeat volume decreases every week, while the distance increases, and the goal pace remains at your 5-10k pace. The sheer volume involved in the track workouts gave me some serious anxiety, but I knew I could run 800m at the goal pace. All I could do was hope that my strength would increase over the weeks, and I would somehow magically be able to finish the workouts.
The tempo runs start at 6 miles, not including the mile warm up and cool down, and build over the week to 10 miles. They are prescribed at marathon goal pace. How intimidating this pace will feel depends entirely on your individual marathon goal. If you have a reasonable marathon goal, your tempo runs will probably feel somewhat reasonable. If however you are like me, you don’t know what a reasonable goal is, and you decide that shaving 20 minutes off your current marathon PR sounds like a good time. I don’t recommend being like me, but you do you.
I know in my heart what I realllllly want is to run a Boston qualifying time, and I know that somewhere in me, I am capable. So instead of being a reasonable human being and slowly decreasing marathon times, I decided to just go for broke and be ok with the fact that I may have several BQ attempts before I actually hit my mark. What this means is that my tempo runs are at a pace that is not easy for me to sustain. While the track workouts feel hard but doable (because there’s a 400m recovery in between repeats), the tempo runs just feel hard.
After 10 weeks, the plan changes up the track workouts to strength workouts that are longer repeats at a pace closer to marathon goal pace. At this point in my programming, I have not completed the strength workouts, so I’ll save my thoughts on those for later. But like the other speedwork in the plan, they are intimidating. AF.
If you run marathons, you may wonder “what is the deal with those 16 milers?” I had the same question. The answer, it seems, is a concept known as cumulative fatigue. When I first read about cumulative fatigue, my thought was “I’m a working mom who runs marathons, I am the definition of cumulative fatigue.” Turns out I was somewhat correct. Cumulative fatigue is exactly what it sounds like.
The fundamental design of the Hansons Marathon Method program is that your overall weekly mileage is much higher than most training plans, but the miles are divided more evenly over 6 training days. Instead of running one long run at the end of the week, you run a ton of miles every day leading up to a slightly longer run at the end of the week.
Because you are running higher weekday mileage, you don’t give your body the chance to recover before your “long” run. Thus, you are cumulatively fatigued by the time you hit your long run, and it effectively mimics the end portion of a marathon rather than the beginning. So instead of your long run being a practice for running the first 16-20 miles of your race, your long run is now a practice for running on EXHAUSTED legs for the last 10-16 miles of your race.
Like I said before, I was skeptical of this rationale. I wanted to give it a fair chance, so I committed to running as prescribed for six weeks before making any adjustments. Promptly two weeks into the plan, I was cumulatively fatigued. I have never been more appreciative to see a long run distance of 10 miles in my life. I was so flipping tired that I genuinely felt like I could not have run further if I had wanted. The ego had been effectively checked.
Since those early weeks, I have rebounded and adjusted to the increased volume, but I would be absolutely lying if I said that I wasn’t more fatigued than during any other plan I have followed. However, this does make sense. I am logging more weekly miles now than when I was training for my 50k. It’s just split up more. But let me say it loud for the folks in the back, SPLITTING UP THE RUNS DOES NOT MAKE RUNNING 50+ MILES A WEEK ANY EASIER.
What I Like
If I’m being completely transparent, I honestly enjoy the higher mileage. I always joke that the reason I run marathons is because it takes me that long to burn off all the crazy (it’s mostly a joke). Running truly is therapeutic for me. Sometimes I actually like the cumulative fatigue, because I am just plopping into bed and falling asleep without any issue.
So far, the higher volume has been a usually welcomed addition to my week. It hasn’t always been easy to schedule, but it has been more enjoyable than burdensome. I will say that this is not the plan for someone who does not enjoy training runs. There’s a lot of training runs. There’s a lot of miles. For me, that’s a good thing.
With all of the miles, there’s a lot of food. Outside of track and tempo days, I don’t generally feel much hungrier than usual. However, when I first started the program, I know I wasn’t eating enough. I think my hunger just hadn’t adjusted to the additional energy output, and I quickly became aware that even if I didn’t feel hungry I probably needed to eat more.
As a girl who already loves snacks, and eats a comical amount of food, I am not hating the extra calories. I do try to keep my diet mostly whole foods based as much as possible, but I’m also not going to turn down Halloween candy anytime soon. I like to think that everything is fueling my runs, and bottom line, I am enjoying the fact that I NEED to eat extra snacks.
I also like the effects of the focused speedwork. Over the last several weeks, I have found the speedwork to kill me just a little less than it did the first few weeks. The workouts are still tough, but I can absolutely feel my strength improving. It’s definitely both mental and physical, and I am here for both.
Running a marathon involves so much mental strength, and I think that is something that many plans overlook. But running 10 miles, holding a challenging pace consistently, I imagine that is a huge confidence booster. I mean I feel like a damn superhero just getting 7 miles at goal pace achieved. I know I will call on that mental fortitude on race day, so I’m happy it’s in there.
What Makes Me Cuss
I like running 45+ mile weeks, I really do, but ya’ll I am TIRED. I am naturally somewhat granny-ish. I hate being in loud places late at night, I want to yoga pants all the time because I prioritize comfort over style, and I am not interested in putting any effort into getting ready. My sweet husband is usually supportive of propensity to avoid human interaction and go full hermit-mode. So staying in and early bed times are not unfamiliar territory for me.
These last 9 weeks, I have been prioritizing sleep above all., which I’m not upset about. But it can be hard with other commitments. I day dream about my Tuesday’s, because I get to “sleep in” until 6:30. I spend a good two hours of my Saturday immobile. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say that this plan does make balancing family time difficult; there’s a lot of time spent running and sleeping.
My husband has always been supportive of my dreams and interests, but I do have to be more mindful about mapping out time to spend with my boys. Hard work is hard work, and I am more inclined to lean into it than run from it, but this training plan is hands down the hardest physical work I have done in a long time.
Also, the tempo runs sometimes feel like hot death. And those hard tempos can definitely make you question yourself. Afterall, if you are STRUGGLING to run 6 miles at goal pace, how in the hell are you going to run that plus 20 more? You really have to commit to believing that the plan will get you strong enough to do the thing, and that amount of faith can be hard to come by some days.
The first two tempo runs had me laid up in bed for the rest of the day with what I affectionately refer to as “runners flu,” more commonly known as GI distress. Luckily, I work from home a lot, so I was able to stay supine for all of the time I wasn’t running to the bathroom. Since those first two weeks, I have come to learn that the effort level required for these tempo runs is just going to wax and wane.
Some weeks, they are going to feel hard, and other weeks they are going to make me feel like I was run over by a truck after fleeing from a serial killer for an hour or two. I just have to hold on to faith that they are making me stronger, and remember that I can probably outrun any murderer at this point, so that’s a plus.
So far, I am loving the training plan. I am a person who enjoys being pushed and challenged, and the Hansons method is definitely a challenge. It is a time commitment; not just the running but also the recovery, fatigue, and time spent organizing and planning your week. This may not be the best plan for someone with a robust social life who wants to run a marathon as a bucket list item.
But for someone who wants to see serious strength gains, and is willing to be a little more zombie-like, this may be a great option. I do feel blessed that I have a lifestyle that is somewhat conducive to taking on more miles and recovery. My husband is incredibly supportive, and I work from home fairly regularly. I still think I would enjoy this type of training if my life were structured a little differently, but I can also see how difficult this plan would be to stick to.
Overall, I think this program is great for my personality, and if you are also a type-A individual who truly wants to test some limits, I would absolutely recommend the plan
Related Post: Weekly Recap: 11.17.19 – Cumulative Fatigue