Marathon Training Plan Review: Hanson’s Marathon Method

This post is the third in a series that reviews marathon training plans.  Each review is based on my experiences and opinions.  Your mileage may vary.

Who the heck are the Hansons, and can I really run a marathon without doing lots of long runs?

The Basics

Keith and Kevin Hanson are brothers who own and operate a running store in Detroit.  Twenty years ago they took a look at some of the science regarding long distance running and developed a plan based on the premise that optimal running performance is achieved when running 2-3 hours…and physiological damage is done after that point.  To this end, the Hanson Marathon Method is a high-mileage training plan, but no single run is longer than 16 miles.  It is based on the principle of cumulative fatigue.  As the Hansons like to say, the plan teaches you how to run the last 16 miles of the marathon (when most runners fall apart).  The plan includes SOS workouts (Something Of Substance), which are tempo runs, speed workouts, strength workouts, and long runs.

The Differentiator

The Hansons’ plan that eschews the traditional long run is radical.  I must admit that I was skeptical of the entire premise.  The plan requires runners to train six days a week, also radical in our fast and efficient society.   Rather than looking at all of the easy days on the calendar and dismissing them as “junk miles”, the Hansons challenge their audience to understand the idea of cumulative effort and that running every day teaches you to run when tired.

The Pros

It’s a blessedly simple and straightforward plan.  Only three paces to guide your workouts– 5K and 10K paces for speed and strength workouts, goal pace for tempo workouts, and goal pace + 1-2 min/mi for easy workouts.  The book explains clearly the value of specificity– running faster is the best way to make your body learn to run faster.  And running a lot will help your body learn to run a lot.

The plan requires no fancy equipment.  While there is a very short chapter about stretching and strength training, it is not a formal component of the plan.  Let’s face it….most runners like to run.  And this plan is all running, all the time.

That said, you don’t have to devote your entire weekend to a long run.  For those of us who have weekend commitments that make running for 3+ hours on the weekend a challenge (soccer games, swim meets, other kid activities, church)– and then the afternoon nap required after such an effort– the no-run-longer-than-16-miles plan allows you to still have a family life on the weekend.

The Cons

There’s no way around it.  This is a high-mileage program.  It requires your commitment to running and running only.  For the 4-hour marathoner, you may be running two workouts per week that are close to two hours each.  Also, with only one rest day per week during the majority of the training weeks, you should expect to be exhausted during training.

For the novice marathoner, I can see that there might be a mental hiccup in truly believing that a 16 mile long run will have you prepared to run more than ten miles more on race day.  This is where you just have to trust the training (like one of the Hanson wives did, and PRed after having being skeptical of her husband’s training program).

The Bottom Line

If you love to run and have the discipline to run a lot of easy, fairly slow miles, this is your plan.  If you have a work/life schedule that allows you to workout 60-90 minutes a day, most days of the week, this is your plan.  If you like simplicity, this is your plan.

It took me two times to read through the book before I decided that Hansons Marathon Method is the training plan I’m using to prepare for the 2014 ING NYC Marathon.  I’m ready to rediscover the peaceful rhythm of running daily and am looking forward to trying the Hansons plan.

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