I’ve shared that I had great results training with the Hansons Marathon Method. I think the program played a huge role in my recent 14 minute PR at the Dallas Marathon. In fact, I loved the process and results of the Hansons Marathon Method so much that I have decided to follow the program again for my upcoming Boston Qualifying attempt. When I was doing my initial research on the training plan, I found only one limited Hansons Marathon Method review, which left me a little nervous. Now that I have completed the program, I want to share my honest thoughts on the training plan, what I adjusted, and how I made it work in real life.
Hansons Marathon Method Review
Overview of the Hansons Method
The most basic explanation of the Hansons Marathon Method is that it is a very structured, high mileage training plan. It breaks training up into 2 distinct types of runs: something of substance (SOS) runs and easy runs. Within the umbrella of SOS runs, there are track workouts, strength workouts, tempo runs, and long runs. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed reading that last sentence, join the club.
The track workout, strength workout, and tempo paces are calculated based on your marathon goal pace. So if you select a reasonable marathon goal, you might not feel like Satan ran you right over. I did not make that choice, though. I picked a wild and far-reaching goal. And as exhausting as the work was, I’m so glad I did.
The track workouts are fast repeats with slow recoveries. Over the weeks, the distance of the repeats builds, up to a mile at 5k pace. Ouch. You then work back down in distance for a few weeks until you transition into strength runs about 3/5 of the way through the plan.
The strength workouts are longer repeats at marathon pace, minus 10 seconds. Similar to the track workouts, the strength runs build in distance to a maximum of 2 sets of 3 mile repeats. Once you hit the 2×3 week, you work back down until you reach the 10 day taper.
Tempo runs are longer, consistent efforts at race pace. These were honestly the most intimidating and difficult workouts for me. I know I can move fast(ish) for short periods of time, but holding a faster pace consistently for a long period of time for me was not easy. And again, I chose a marathon goal pace that a was major challenge for me. So if you are not stubborn, hardheaded, and a little insane, and you pick a reasonable goal time, you might not feel quite so beat up.
The tempo runs start at 6 miles at race pace and work up to 10 miles. In theory, running 10 miles at the same pace you want to run 26 shouldn’t be all that difficult. But marathon training isn’t simple math. There’s magic in the race that allows you to run faster easier, and the taper and carb-loading at the end can create miracles.
Aside from the runs themselves, there are two distinct features of the training. While the overall mileage is higher than typical marathon programs, the long runs at the end of the week are quite a bit shorter. They range from 8-16 miles. Yes, that is correct. The longest long run on the program is 16 miles.
Luke Humphrey, one of the creators of the training program, wrote a great blog post explaining the rational for the long run distance and pacing recommendations. If you’re interested, check out Marathon Long Runs: Part 1.
Was I nervous about this? 100 freaking percent. I have run multiple 20+ milers for every single marathon I have trained for, before this. I wrote in my Halfway Through Hansons review that I originally told myself I would give the program a few weeks. If I wanted to increase the long run distance, I could always do that later in the program. What did I choose in the end? To not increase the long runs.
I was honestly surprised by this decision. But in hindsight, I was drop dead exhausted towards the end of the program. Which brings me to second feature of the Hansons Marathon Method: cumulative fatigue. Cumulative fatigue is exactly what it sounds like. It is exhaustion that builds, increases and accumulates over time.
I felt more rested in the 3rd month of my sons life than I did in the final 6 weeks of the training program. So, yea, that’s something to consider before you embark on this program. The method behind the madness (and it is absolute madness) is that you run so frequently and consistently, you don’t give your body time to fully recover.
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This allows you to learn to run on tired and fatigued legs…..and arms, and abs, and everything else. Every part of me was tired by the end. All of that running did exactly what it was intended to do. It made me exhausted. And I learned to run exhausted.
So, the book explains that the desired result of the cumulative fatigue is that when you finally run your long run at the end of the week, it simulates the end of a marathon, rather than the beginning. I’ve always felt like I’ve been hit by a truck in the last 10k, and I’d say I felt similarly in the last few weeks of Hansons training. So, mission accomplished. Thanks guys.
If you are thinking about using this training program, I highly recommend purchasing the book. The workouts and fatigue will become really hard at some point, and knowing the intentionality and purpose behind the programming goes a long way to help you stick to it.
What I liked About Hansons
So now that you know everything there is to know about the Hansons Marathon Method, I’m going to share my personal experience utilizing the program. What did I like about it so much that I’m repeating? Well, a lot.
I Felt Strong As Hell
Prior to running the BMW Dallas Marathon, I had run 7 marathons and 1 ultra-marathon distances. My training for each of these marathons varied from programs designed to get me just to the finish line (barely) and programs that included some speed work. Most of these programs yielded the intended results.
I finished my marathons, and my times weren’t terrible for most of them. By the end of training, I felt like I was in shape and mentally prepared to finish a marathon. But even when I had what I considered to be great training blocks, I never felt nearly as strong as I did within the first few weeks of the Hansons program.
Even when I was dying on the track, or running like Jeff Epstein (too soon?) was chasing me at the end of a tempo run, I felt strong. Sure, I felt beat up and drained and I questioned by ability to run the prescribed paces and distances. But I felt strong.
In the long runs, I always felt like I could run further. My legs felt like they could push through that heavy feeling that would previously stop me dead in my tracks. I felt like I had the ability to push in a way I had not experienced in my 10 year running career. And it was amazing.
Having more time on Saturdays
In traditional training plans, your long runs generally start between 10 and 13 miles, and increase up to 20-22 miles. Know what happens when you run 20 miles on a Saturday morning? You don’t finish while it’s still morning.
Ok, so you might finish the run itself before noon. But in my personal experience, I was pretty much out of commission for the entire day after runs over 15 mines. Between running for 2-3 hours, hobbling home, taking an ice bath, taking an actual shower, hobbling around the house to eat, taking a nap, and lying around complaining about how everything hurt, Saturday was pretty much spoken for.
Not true with the Hansons program. On the Hansons plan, every other week is a short long run week. You only run between 8-10 miles. Which seems almost silly to a marathoner. But it is amazing.
For me, it meant that every other week, my long run was over by 10am at the latest. And after a shower and second breakfast, I was pretty good to go and do other things. I’m not a hugely social creature, but it was really nice being able to take my kid to the park or have a beer on a restaurant patio with my husband without wanting to dig myself a grave just to lie down.
Now, the other weeks, where the long runs were between 14-16 miles, I was pretty pooped. I might be good for a movie (after a nap) or a late lunch date, but I wasn’t good for too much else. But when you consider that a typical marathon program covers 16-20 weeks, having half of those Saturday’s back was really amazing.
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So this is a big part of the training program that might not be appealing for the masses. I, however, am type-A. Structure is comforting for me. I like knowing what is coming, and I like it even more if I’ve done it before and know how it will feel.
Even on the challenging days, I liked knowing just how bad I might feel. I liked knowing how to structure my week so that my hard days didn’t coincide with other important things. I liked knowing than I could plan my Sunday runs with my kid. I liked the routine and consistency, waking up at the same time, and putting the same amount of effort into my training week after week.
The program is highly structured. The tempo, track, and strength runs are always scheduled on the same days. The long runs cut back every other week. Recovery runs after long runs are always 6-8 miles. After a few weeks, you know what you are in for and you get into a rhythm.
This might not be enjoyable for others who like to train by feel or want to have freedom in the programming. But for me, I liked having a mapped out plan of torture.
What Was Hard
As much as I loved the program, there were plenty of challenges for me. What was hard about the training? Again, I’ll say a lot.
The Hansons Marathon Method is known for being a high mileage training program. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when you have to run more miles, it’s going to take up more of your time.
In previous training programs, most of my weekday runs were around 4-5 miles. This meant I needed to wake up about an hour earlier than I would need if I weren’t running. Not too bad.
With the Hansons training program, the weekday runs vary from 6 miles on the low end all the way up to 12 miles. So yea, just a little under a half-marathon. On a Friday. Before work. Not exactly an easy feat.
My wake up times were much earlier. And honestly, I utilized some personal time at work to come in an hour or two later on the harder days. Luckily, my schedule allows me to come in later and flex my time to stay later if needed. If my job situation didn’t allow this, I honestly don’t know how I would have managed to get all of the runs in.
On days where there was a thunderstorm, or a sick kiddo, or some random family calamity, I had to play a very tricky game of tetris to try to squeeze my run in somewhere else in the day. Not too tricky in winter in Texas, but when I was training in September and the heat index hit 90 from 1-9pm it was not easy.
Staying true to the mileage plan required a lot of planning and optimizing. If you’re not absolutely committed to this plan, I don’t see how you could stick to it. It takes a lot of time and results in a lot of planning.
Have I mentioned yet how tired I was? Because I was. Some days it was just slightly higher than base level working mom fatigue. But other days. Other days it was trying to stay awake after three beers and a massage level tired.
At times, I felt like I had things fairly well managed. And for the most part, it didn’t interfere with my regular life anymore than any other crazy endeavor I’ve thrown myself into. But every few weeks, it caught up to me.
About every 20 days, I had some sort of mini-melt down or lost my temper in a spectacular fashion. Almost immediately after these incidents, I realized I was just really freaking tired. And I’d put myself to bed super early, I’d take an extra nap, or I’d spend a Sunday firmly planted under the covers in a Netflix-induced hibernation.
If I didn’t have a husband with the patience and endurance of a saint, my life probably would have crumbled around me. If you are already fairly maxed out on all of the things you have to do, marathon training can be challenging but doable. If you’re 80% booked in day to day life, be very aware that the Hansons program might be extremely difficult to work in.
(But if you can, it is SOOOOO amazing).
What would a training program review be without the concrete results to show proof of concept? Nothing. And as a blogger whose trying really hard to not suck at blogging, I would dream of not sharing how everything turned out for me.
I already talked about how I felt stronger than ever. Before I started the program, I thought I’d be nervous about running a marathon with only 16 mile long runs. But I stood in the starting coral with the confidence of a white man in politics.
I felt amazing and I knew I was going to have a great race. And honestly I did. I cut 14 minutes off my marathon PR, and went from 3:54 down to 3:40. I had some stomach issues, and missed my goal time by 10 minutes.
Which wasn’t ideal. But I spent YEARS trying to break 4 hours in the marathon. And to go from a 3:54 to a 3:40 in just a few months between two races felt amazing. And it was the first marathon I’d run in years where I felt like I was strong and I was able to really push for the full race.
I will say that the one area where I felt lacking was my mental preparation for the boredom that happens when you run 26.2 miles alone. I love running. Almost as much as I love my husband. The previously mentioned saint.
But I am human. And after a few hours of being alone, in my own thoughts, listening to true crime on repeat, even I get a little bored. The miles from 17-22 are tough. You’re pretty exhausted, but not quite dead. You have to push, but not incredibly hard. It’s just repetitive. Left foot, right foot, same intensity, steady pace.
Having not run for more than 16 miles at a time didn’t prepare me as much for the mental boredom as I would have preferred. And it’s something that’s hard to prepare for without practice. This was the one and only deficit with the training program that I experienced.
Outside of the mental struggle, my marathon was amazing, and I would highly recommend the Hansons Marathon Method program. Especially for anyone who wants a marathon PR, has a few extra hours in their day (lol), and is a fan of napping.
What I Adjusted
So after a few weeks, I drank all of the Hansons punch there was to drink. I was a full convert. I wanted to follow the plan to an absolute T. But I am a mom, with a full time job, and like 2 friends I need to see semi-regularly. And that saintly husband wants a date night every fortnight or so.
So, in order to not fully sacrifice my life to the Hansons plan, here’s what I did.
I shifted the entire week’s workouts up one day. The written plan schedules long runs on Sunday’s. But Sunday’s are a day of semi-rest for me. My family goes to church, and while I can definitely squeeze a run in, throwing down 15 miles on a Sunday was not ideal.
I know the book mentions that the ordering of the workouts is intentional. To give some amount of rest in between hard workouts. So I didn’t want to just flip flop the weekend days. In order to preserve my Sunday, and still keep the weekly schedule somewhat in line with the written plan, I moved the whole week back one calendar day. So my long run’s shifted to Saturday’s, along with the rest of the week.
After a few weeks, though, I found that only having one day between my track workout and tempo run was just not working with my body. I CrossFit on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So Monday, I have a track workout, and then a CrossFit WOD.
Most Tuesday’s, my body is on the verge of falling apart. By Wednesday, I am still usually pretty sore. So throwing down the toughest run of the week (for me) on Wednesdays meant that I wasn’t honestly getting the quality workout that is intended.
So, I decided to swap my Wednesday and Thursday runs to see how things shook out. After just two weeks, I found that I was able to run my tempo runs on Thursday much more consistently than I could on Wednesday. So I generally kept my week structured that way.
Occassionally, if work demanded, I shifted workouts further. But this was very rare. Additionally, there were a few times that the only way I was going to get in the easy runs was to split them up. This only happened when thunderstorms meant that my easy run had to start late, or had to begin during lunch.
Again, this only happened on a few occassions. And while I know it wasn’t the ideal scenario, I thought the bigger priority was making sure I found a way to get in all of the miles, and to keep the easy runs easy.
So, if you’ve made it this far, it’s clear you are interested in the Hansons Marathon Method training plan. And you clearly have endurance. My recommendation would be to sit down, see what you can map out, and try like hell to make the training program fit into your life. Because it is amazing.