I want to talk a bit about the Hanson Brothers’ training methods, which are outlined in their famous book Hansons Marathon Method.
I won’t go as far as to review the book in this write-up, but I do want to talk about the Hansons’ training approach relative to other training, my experience with marathon training and where I see this approach working well or not so well. I suppose it’s more of a review of the training method than a review of the book. But the book itself is a good read with some unique ideas, and if the approach may work for you I totally recommend checking the book out.
The basics of the Method, in a nutshell:
- Over 18 weeks, you run six days a week… except for the 1st week, where you begin the plan in midweek instead of the 1st day of the week.
- The plan strictly regiments each workout, with all quality workouts and days off happening on the same day each week.
- Unless you do the novice “Just Finish” plan, you are expected to do a speedwork session and a marathon tempo run every week. These workouts are expected to be done during midweek, on Tuesday and Thursday.
- The weekend long run ranges in distance from 8 to 16 miles, but is not supposed to go longer than 16 miles. As many running minds do, the Hansons emphasize maxing out the long run at about 2.5 hours.
- The day off always falls between the speedwork and marathon tempo run. The speedwork precedes the day off, and the marathon pace tempo run follows the day off.
- Long runs are always preceded by back to back medium-long regular runs.
- The authors strongly recommend the long run be run at a more moderate pace (not quite race pace, but a bit faster than other easy runs), contrasting most advice to do long runs at a very easy pace.
- The speedwork intervals in the early part of the plan are done at 5K or 10K pace. But later speedwork features longer intervals at a “strength” pace that’s about 10 seconds faster than marathon pace, akin to half marathon pace.
- Unlike most plans, The Hansons’ plan does not include tune-up races, and the authors strongly discourage any racing during the 18 week training plan.
Cynicism Time! Who does the method not work for?
Runners who lack experience or command of their pacing. You absolutely need to understand and be comfortable with speed and tempo work to do this plan. Even if doing the Just Finish plan, the plan asks you to understand your estimated paces and maintain specific paces (rather than a looser range of paces) on your runs.
Many runners pay little more than trivial attention to focusing on maintaining a pace, let alone managing their pace, and asking them to learn on the fly while undertaking a marathon training plan on their own might be too much to ask.
Runners who haven’t run long. Since the peak long run of the plan doesn’t exceed 16 miles, an untested marathon trainee isn’t going to reach the start line anywhere close to trained to handle to 26.21875 mile distance. Other training methods will probably better serve their needs and get them closer to equipped.
Even among experienced runners, this is a plan better suited to runners coming off training for a prior marathon who are already stretched out. Shorter long runs will likely not stunt or impact the needed fitness to keep going after mile 20, if the runner has already tapped the danger zone in recent previous training and racing. If you need to stretch out, other plans that extend you past 16 miles will serve you better.
Runners who plan to run other races. Again, the Hansons’ plan is strictly laid out and the authors strongly discourage any racing on the side during the plan. The plan leaves no room for the taper days or recovery time that a tune-up race would require, or room to rearrange long and speed/tempo workouts to accommodate a tune-up race. Other plans offer flexibility for other races that this plan will not. If you want to do any racing at all outside of marathon training, steer clear of this plan.
Runners who need multiple days off per week. The plan only schedules one day off per week, aiming for volume through consistent training. And that never minds the speedwork demanded during the week, or the faster pace recommended on the long run. The plan is designed to compound fatigue from the multiple runs, a la other approaches like Gaudette, so inserting extra days off is out of the question if you want to follow the plan as intended. If you need 2 or more days off per week, just follow another plan.
Runners who just want to finish and aren’t trying to nail a goal time. The plan demands extended tempo runs, and someone not trying to set a PR or break a given time goal not only lacks the need for that, but may also find the tempo running very uncomfortable if not experienced in maintaining a tempo and racing rather than just running a marathon.
What overtraining risk this program presents doesn’t necessarily come from the heavy midweek mileage or lack of days off, but from the extended moderate and marathon pace running the plan demands on key workouts. That alone could pose an injury risk for runners less experienced in tempo and threshold runs.
If your marathon pace is close to your normal everyday running pace, there’s several other plans that probably offer a healthier approach for your training.
Wow, that seems like a lot of no’s. Who does the plan work for?
Experienced runners coming off previous marathons. As mentioned, a stretched out, experienced runner having just rested after a prior marathon and looking to get ready for another in a few months could find this plan ideal. With less of a need to stretch the body out on long runs, a 16 mile and 2.5 hour max long run is probably ideal.
Experienced marathoners looking to improve their results. The plan’s strictly defined tempos could be useful for a runner who has run several marathons and been trying to break through a PR or other goal time.
Similar to Greg McMillan’s baller 10K workout, the plan demands extended interval segments at your desired pace, setting a benchmark to have you run that specific goal pace over long periods. It makes crystal clear how capable you are of hitting that goal pace, and whether sticking to it or slowing your expectations is your best move.
Runners who thrive on consistent everyday running. Some runners get the most out of a few key workouts with resting in-between. Others get more out of habitually running everyday. The latter will benefit most from this plan, as the prime emphasis is on building volume through running almost everyday.
Runners whose typical training run lasts about an hour. Because the median distance for the Hanson runs is about 6-7 miles, most runners will expect to go for about an hour or a bit more on most training runs.
If you already run daily and run about that much in your everyday runs, then this plan will suit you very well. The only adjustment will be the speed and tempo workout demands, and perhaps the cumulative fatigue of following back to back runs like that with a long run, depending on what you’re used to.
Runners who don’t want to race or focus on anything else other than training for a marathon. With the discouragement of doing tune-up races combined with the nearly everyday training this plan demands, a runner who wants to focus solely on a goal marathon will probably love this plan.
More than any other marathon training plan the Hanson Marathon Method demands almost-everyday dedication to the plan from start to finish. You must be locked in and solely focused on training for the race and hitting every workout. Some people thrive on that kind of demand or focus, and such people may click with this plan.
There is no intention to offer a verdict. The Hanson Marathon Method is a quality training method for some situations and styles of training, and a bad idea for a lot of other individuals and situations.
Personally, I would have used it for Vancouver 2019 if I didn’t want to run a bunch of tune-up races that winter. Since I plan to run several races before May, I should follow another training plan that offers the flexibility to still train for and run these races while also preparing for the marathon.
There are situations where I can see wanting to follow this plan myself:
- Summers where I won’t have much interest in running other races. I find a lot of summer races annoying due to crowds.
- Right after a marathon recovery period, when I’m stretched out and trained for a marathon. I may not need to run longer than the 16 miles in Hansons’ longest recommended run if I’m not too far removed from the longest run.
- If I’m running around 6 miles per day, with speed and tempo running, and thus can easily step into all of the Hansons’ recommended workouts.
- Of course, I have demonstrated focused ability to do speed/tempo workouts on my own.
- I go into a cycle with clear marathon pace goals. The Hanson Marathon Method’s strict pace expectations can keep me in line on whether I can hit those goals.
Regardless of what marathon you’re preparing for, the Hanson Marathon Method could be your plan of choice as well. Consider it.