The Long and the Short of the Hansons’ Marathon Method

It’s that time of year: we’re signing up for goal races and looking for our next training plan. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running and re-running posts about some of the most popular plans out there. This review of Hansons Marathon Method was originally posted by Pumpkin in May 2016.

Hansons Marathon MethodA few weeks ago during a conversation with a running pal we got on the topic of marathon training. We talked about our plans, and I shared that I was following a new plan that was pretty intense, but seems to agree with me. Intrigued, my friend asked for more details. When I got to the topic of long runs, I told him that the longest run in the plan I’m following is 16 miles.

What happened next was a pretty common reaction. “Huh? Really? So you don’t run 20 miles for your longest run?”

Yes. Really!

If you are an avid reader of Salty Running or just someone who has run a marathon or ten, you know as well as I do that there are myriad marathon training plans out there. Yesterday, Cilantro discussed her recent foray into the CrossFit Endurance plan. I ran my first two marathons using a Hal Higdon plan that I found on the internet. The plan got me to the finish line, as promised, but my past marathon performances were slow, painful, and full of injury. In fact, the last two times I’ve attempted to train for a marathon, I got injured and had to stop training by the time I got up to 14 miles for my long run. I was ready to write off marathons completely because I didn’t trust my body anymore. I didn’t have faith that it could withstand the stress of marathon training without major injury.

Then all that changed.

In December, I came across something online that talked about Hansons Marathon Method and was intrigued enough to buy the book. Fifteen weeks into marathon training, with less than a month to go before race day, I am happy to report that I am still injury-free, in the best running shape I’ve ever been, and feeling confident I’ll get a big PR this time around.

But what makes the Hansons’ Marathon Method different?

Cumulative Fatigue: CF is at the core of the Hansons’ method. The goal of CF is to provide a slow buildup of fatigue over the weeks of consistent training, but not to the point of overtraining. According to the book (which has seriously become my marathon bible over the past few months), the elements of CF are based on: mileage, intensity, balance, consistency, and recovery. The book covers in-depth the scientific basis behind why each of these elements is important in training, and how they allow for the necessary physiological adaptations to occur as you go through your training.

Mileage: This plan is different from plans I’ve used in the past. Never a “high mileage” runner before, this plan piles on the miles. While I’ve trained for marathons where the peak week is 40 miles, this plan has had me well over 40 miles and closer to 60 miles for a great deal of the plan. Many who run successful marathons already know the benefits of running higher mileage, and this is key to cumulative fatigue in this plan. The plan starts with three to four days per week of running at the beginning, and by the time you get to marathon specific workouts, you run six days a week.

Intensity: The focus of this plan is run easy runs EASY so you can run your hard runs well. In my past marathon training, I ran at mostly the same pace for every.single.run. I never ran a truly easy pace, but I also didn’t have enough energy in the tank to run a truly hard pace. The book provides a solid case for the benefits of easy runs, and the physiological adaptations that occur even during what some might call “junk” mileage. A big percentage of my runs are at easy pace, but it allows me to build mileage without taxing myself to the point of injury, and saves energy for the tempo runs and speed work.

Balance: This plan has a variety of types of runs: speed work, strength workouts (longer intervals slightly faster than tempo pace), long tempo runs, easy runs, and long runs. No “hard” run is placed back to back with another hard run in the plan. Easy runs are purposely placed in between key runs, which allows for active recovery without a true rest day.

Consistency: To maintain the fitness gains achieved during training, it is important to stick with the schedule. This plan is six days a week of running, which is a lot to plan for if you have a busy schedule outside of running. When I started this plan, I made a promise to myself to stick to the plan and only skip a run if absolutely necessary. I usually plan my running schedule a week in advance and make sure I’m able to fit the miles in somewhere. It is NOT always easy, but somehow I’ve only missed one run over 14 weeks.

Recovery: To achieve cumulative fatigue, this plan focuses on active recovery rather than rest days. The Hansons’ rationale is that this trains you to run through fatigue, and recovery runs allow a person to continue to gain aerobic fitness while giving the body enough recuperation to withstand the next difficult run. CF helps a person train to withstand discomfort and adapt to the feeling of running on fatigued legs, which will simulate the final miles of the marathon. Many who use Hanson’s plan say that their legs continued to feel strong even at the end of their race.

Thank goodness for the short long runs because the tempos really are no joke.
Thank goodness for the short long runs because the tempos really are no joke.

Short Long Runs: So what’s the deal with a 16 mile long run? Simply put, the rationale has to do with time spent on your feet, the percentage of miles your long run constitutes in your weekly mileage total, and the muscle breakdown that occurs if too much time is spent on the long run. Additionally, the book says to look at your long runs differently. Instead of thinking about how close in mileage your long run is to the marathon, view your long run as closer to the last 16 miles of a marathon. Remember cumulative fatigue? You’re going to go into these long runs tired, which is the point.

Also, 16 is the suggested distance for most runners. Long runs should be between two and three hours to encourage the proper physiological adaptations your body needs, but anything beyond three hours will do more harm than good. Even the godfather of modern American distance running, Jack Daniels, has long espoused this principle. Importantly, what this means is that means if you’re on the faster end of the spectrum, you can run longer long runs following Hansons, but if you run 9:00/mile or slower, the plan encourages you to cap your long run at 16.

***

This plan has been challenging, but by far the best, most balanced training plan I’ve done. This is the first time I’ve been injury-free this far into a training cycle, and my body feels better than it ever has during training. I am running miles I never thought I was capable of and, while it’s challenging, it doesn’t feel impossible.

The book, Hansons Marathon Method, is really informative and provides a lot of helpful scientific background for the method as well as helpful information about nutrition. The book provides a beginner’s plan and an advanced plan, along with very specific guidelines on how to figure out what pace to run each run. I’m glad I took a chance and tried this plan and can’t wait to see how this all comes together on race day!

Have you tried the Hanson’s method? How did it go?

Sal is a 4 year old 77 hour trail marathoner looking to whittle a few minutes off next time. Being a gastropod, Sal is neither male nor female but will accept either set of pronouns. Sal's spirit animal is the cheetah and Sal's mantra is, "What's slow to some is fast for others." Sal writes about Salty Running news.

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7 comments

  1. Pumpkin’s original post inspired me to try Hansons’ for my goal race in 2017, and I PR’d by 5 minutes in the half marathon! I used only the plan then, but I just bought the book to actually read this time. I’d be interested in trying it for the full in the future. :)

  2. I was/am intrigued by the Hanson’s approach but the cycle I did on it (followed very closely…. very little deviation) left me mentally and physically drained to the point where I was actually relieved when my marathon literally got cancelled while I was in the starting corral (freak weather). It was just too intense for me, despite the relief of the “short” long runs.

    1. Same, and I only tried the half marathon plan. I didn’t make it to my goal race – I was just burnt out. Maybe I was too aggressive with my paces for the workouts, is all I can think of – or I am just not cut out to run that much.

  3. I’ve never used Hanson’s but I’ve been very curious about it. One question I have for people who have tried it is about that cumulative fatigue and also – don’t you do back-to-back long runs on the weekend? So the question is this. My friends who have full time jobs and families found Hanson’s unmanageable. The fatigue factor meant the rest of their lives fell apart a bit and the back-to-back long runs took time away from family activities both weekend days. These things have made me hesitant to try it and I’d be interested to hear how it went for others.

    1. I work FT and have 2 kids, and I’ve used (and LOVED) Hanson’s twice. The “back to back long runs” mean 10 miles on consecutive days OR 8 mi and 16 mi. I can knock out 10 miles before 8am. I could never do that with 20. SO actually this fits better with my family life bc it’s a little bit each day (most of which is doable before the kids wake up) vs getting knocked out with 17-20 miles and being tired the rest of the weekend. What drew me to it is how much the long runs made me anxious. Now the MP tempos make me anxious, so there’s always something… And most importantly, both times I used it delivered PRs including, most recently, a BQ.

      1. Thanks NSU! That’s very helpful actually. I don’t know that I’ll ever train with Hanson’s but you’re right – it’s the really extra long-long runs that cut more seriously into family time.

  4. I had used the Pfitzinger 70mi plan for Ottawa (interrupted due to injury), and Boston (completed training), and switched to Hanson’s for NYC training. I liked Hanson’s for a number of reasons – less miles than the plan I used before so I didn’t feel burnt out, speed work and easy runs made me focus on pace, and capping at a 16mi long run made my running/work/life balance a bit easier. I do think I need to throw one or two runs over 16mi into the mix for me – I felt really strong until that point in the race and it fell apart after that. I don’t blame my training on that – there were many factors such as the difficulty of the course after that point, and the weather. I found that reading the book really helped too. Understanding the method made a big difference and a lot of lightbulbs went off for me. I will definitely use Hanson’s in the future when I return to the marathon distance – eventually ;)