A few weeks ago during a conversation with a fellow 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?”
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 Hanson’s 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 Hanson’s Marathon Method different?
Cumulative Fatigue: CF is at the core of Hanson’s 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 are 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. Hanson’s 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.
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 Hanson’s, 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, Hanson’s 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?