Want to do the Hanson Marathon Method Without Speedwork?

I’ve had some people inquire lately for info on trying to run the Hansons Marathon Method without speed or tempo work (which I’ll refer to hereafter as just speedwork).

First of all, the Hansons did write a plan into the 2nd edition of their book which they called Just Finish. It’s a beginner’s version of their plan, without speedwork.

However, there’s a substantial issue with that plan: It’s clearly just a lightweight version of the other plans. There doesn’t appear to be any real adjustment for the loss of speedwork. The total volume of the plan is far too short on mileage volume to adequately prepare a runner for the marathon. The average mileage is about 30-40 miles, which wouldn’t be so bad except there’s no speedwork to make up for that shortfall.

The less speedwork you do in a training plan, the more important regular and long aerobic runs, plus a large training volume, becomes. The effectiveness of the medium aerobic Hanson weekday runs and 16 mile max long run is logistically contingent on you completing a speedwork session and extended tempo run during the week.

Still, people like the scheduling, run frequency, and the spread of the Hanson plan, though understandably prefer to avoid the lengthy, demanding speedwork and pace sessions.


Is there a way to follow some variation of the plan without speedwork, in more robust fashion than following the lightweight Just Finish plan, without totally undermining the plan?

First of all, yes, or else I wouldn’t be writing this. Secondly, the Hansons Marathon Method of course is their trademark, and any fundamental change to their general plan basically makes it another plan. Plus, much of what I will outline fundamentally disagrees with their Method.

I also assume those reading this have purchased and read the Hansons’ book. If you’re considering a plan like this and haven’t bought and read a copy of the book, you absolutely should. I realize you might change your mind and do their original plan with speedwork anyway! Stranger things have happened.

Still, I’m going to go into detail on a modified plan in that style with no undesired speedwork, keying on what adjustments must be made.

Before doing that, I want to point out that the Hansons and Luke Humphrey released a book on a revised version of the plan directed at first-time marathoners, Hansons First Marathon. Humphrey and the Hansons actully make various adjustments to the format of the general plan, which I won’t get into right now (though one key change is some pace workouts are moved to Sunday and made longer, in lieu of a long run).

But Hansons First is mostly the same plan, they wrote multiple plans for a variety of experience levels… and here’s the secret: You don’t necessarily have to be a brand new marathon runner to use them. Honestly, anyone can follow the Hansons First plans no matter how many marathons they’ve run. The value, again, is that these plans are modified from the main Hansons Marathon Method. It may be a softer landing for those who want to do Hanson but found the original Method a bit too daunting.

However, of course, the Hansons First plans still ask for speedwork. And we’re here to discuss how to modify the original Method for no-speedwork, while still preparing you to run a marathon… without burning you out or demanding too much time.


A few key notes:

To start, the long run has to be longer in duration. The 2.5 hour max long run was contingent on the volume run during the week, and that volume factors in the speedwork and pace work you don’t want to do. They implicate that fatigue from the earlier workouts is a key reason to cap the long run at 150 minutes or 16 miles. The Hansons like many cite the risk of damage outweighing the benefit of running beyond 150 minutes, in why they cap the long run.

But a) without speedwork you won’t have as much cumulative fatigue before the long run, allowing you more energy for the long run, b) many plans ask far more than 2.5 hours or 16 miles on long runs, and most of its runners benefit without undue injury, and c) most importantly… everyone on marathon day has to run the 26.22 mile distance.

It doesn’t matter if your body experiences diminishing returns on long runs after 16 miles or 2.5 hours. Everyone must cover the same distance on race day. It may not be feasible to find adrenaline or momentum on race day to cover an additional 10 miles you’re not trained to run.

The obvious risk is that if you just add mileage or time to the long run, you outright turn this plan into something other than the Hanson Method. Our goal is to create a modified plan that fits the Hansons framework as best as possible.

Like many, the Hansons advise the long run be 25-33% of your weekly mileage, 33% max. So, no 20 mile runs on a 40 mile week of running. The long run has got to match the volume run the rest of the week.

Still, we can go beyond the 2.5 hour, 16 mile limit on the long run… provided the volume during the rest of the week backs up our decision to do so.

The real answer is to make sure the midweek runs are all robust. One very long run per week and a lot of short runs will not prepare you aerobically, neuro-muscularly, as well for the marathon as a long run and a week full of medium-long runs.

While IronFit offers a similar framework in how long the midweek runs are, they also build in multiple days off on some plans, demand speedwork (which we’re trying to avoid), put the off day at the end of the week instead of the middle of the week as the Hansons do, etc. Plus IronFit bases their plan on minutes run, rather than miles. And IronFit offers plentiful options for cross training, whereas Hanson is purely a running plan.

Still, IronFit does one thing I think translates well to a modified Hanson No Speed plan: They assign workouts a run time rather than a mileage, e.g. 60 minutes rather than 6 miles. Given the various skill levels and abilities of runners, that provides a better baseline than telling everyone to, say, run 6 miles on Monday.

An elite-caliber runner can run 6 easy miles in 45 minutes. Many recreational runners need about an hour. A slower runner may need 70-80 minutes. Those are very different workouts, as there are physical demands and effects that kick in at 60-90 minutes. Faster runners will never hit that point, while slower runners will blow through the threshold every day.

However! Recall that our plan is to eliminate the speedwork. Hitting that 60-90 minute aerobic threshold becomes more important because you’re not doing additional demanding speedwork from which your body needs to recover. Your body can devote more attention aerobically. Not all demands are equal, obviously, and many argue that you’re losing benefits from not doing speedwork. But you still have a finite amount of hormone and glycogen driven energy, and this energy can and should be channeled differently.


So, all that said, I outlined a simplified, modified plan following the Hansons framework, omitting speedwork demands while still providing volume that will get you ready.

First, and this would be the case for any aspiring marathoner… you should be able to consistently run at least a 12:00 mile (or 7:25/km). If that’s a struggle (and no shame in that: It used to be a struggle for me! I had to get better)… while many would recommend you start with shorter races first, I understand people are driven to chase dreams and ambitions. If slower than that… following something like the Galloway Method, where the plan builds in walk breaks, may be better for now. Galloway would require way more time, but following Hanson when you run slower than 12:00/mile (7:25/km) would require way more time anyway.

Even Hal Higdon‘s plans would work fine, as long as you run/walk the runs… though some of the midweek runs will take you substantially longer than Galloway asks. Plus, Galloway’s walk breaks allow you to go farther on the long runs than Higdon demands. Perhaps you could just run/walk the longer Higdon runs, and run every step of the shorter runs. But I digress.

Why not do a modified Hanson plan if slower? The basic plan I present below still sets a time cap on long runs, and you couldn’t run enough miles in the time limit to fully train for the race distance. The only way to get the fitness to run the miles you need is to follow a Galloway or Higdon style plan, where you can run/walk and take all the time you need on the long run.

The other caveat: You must be comfortable running every day, and your training log must demonstrate a consistent ability over months, even years, to run everyday or at least close to it without substantial issues. If you need more than 1 day off per week, the Hanson approach probably wouldn’t work for you whether or not you do speedwork. A key element to Hanson is the frequency, running 6 days per week. So you need to be capable of running everyday, period.

This also means you need to either be a durable, injury free runner, or well equipped to navigate any form or pain issues. Your running form needs to be consistent and pain free. You need to be able to make form adjustments to address any sudden issues or other difficulties. This is not something you can learn on the fly. If you indeed have run consistently for a while, this probably is a skill or sense you have developed… because otherwise injuries and regular issues will have knocked you out of action on the regular.

If in doubt… use your glutes, slow down, and take it easy. Jog every inch if you have to. Make it very difficult to get injured while running.

And finally, needless to say… running 4-8 miles every day must not be a big deal for you. There’s not going to be a lot of easy 3 mile runs on this plan, and if you want to do a plan like Hanson then you should have no interest in such short runs anyway. Otherwise, why are you even interested in a plan like Hanson?

FINALLY, THE NO SPEED MODIFIED HANSON PLAN:

– You will run the same schedule the Hansons request: Monday, Tuesdays, off Wednesday, then run Thursday through Sunday, with the long run on Sunday. If you have to shift this over, e.g. you take Tuesday off instead, that is fine as long as that 7th day is a long run day. Otherwise, you’re doing a different plan. The Hansons put the day off three days before the long run for a reason.

(If you just can’t time it like that, do a plan like IronFit instead, and replace the speedwork with regular runs lasting the recommended time.

Spoiler: You could in fact do a half-assed IronFit where all the runs are regular distance runs for the prescribed run time, with a 45-60 minute run in place of one of the days off, and the other day off shifted to the middle of the week… and basically be doing a modified No Speed Modified Hanson. It’s not IronFit anymore if you do that, of course, but it’s close enough to what’s described below.)

– I will describe workouts by time, e.g. 60 minutes. If you insist on doing it by miles… remove the zeroes, and replace “minute(s)” with “miles”. In the case of ’45 minutes’, just add a decimal left of the last digit, e.g. 4.5 miles. If you like round numbers… round down early in the plan, then round up later in the plan, e.g. 4.5 miles becomes 4 miles in week 2, but 4.5 miles becomes 5 miles in week 16. If/when I ever put this in a formal chart later, I’ll do this for you. Until then….

– On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday… your runs should be 60 to 90 minutes of mostly easy running.

Remember that 60-90 minute threshold I mentioned above? Wink wink!

– On Monday and Friday… your runs should be 30 to 60 minutes of easy running. Early in the plan, they can be shorter. Later in the plan, they ought to be longer. In fact, by week 9 of 18, these runs should be more like 45 to 60 minutes.

(Don’t worry, I’ll put this breakdown in a list by day for easier viewing soon)

– Every 4 weeks, either skip the Monday run, or only run for 30 minutes max.

– If you want to strength train… do whatever you feel is best for strength training, but if you do it, then do it Monday and Friday, aka the easier shorter run days. As many recommend, do you strength training AFTER your run, not before.

– If you have a pace goal (despite not wanting to do speedwork)… follow the Hansons’ easy run pace guides from their book… or run at least 60 seconds per mile (30-40 seconds per km) slower than your pace goal… on most of your runs. Once a week, probably on Thursday, seek to maintain your goal pace for the entire run. If it’s right for you, it should feel a little challenging and only a bit faster than how you usually run. If this feels unduly difficult at any time, fall back into an easy pace. Don’t push this too hard: We did say no speedwork!

– I know we said no speedwork! And we’re sticking to it! On Tuesday, if you’re feeling good 15-20 minutes into the run… go ahead and run hard for a minute or two, then slow down. If this feels terrible, no need to do it again. If you can manage it, do this a few more times during the run. ONLY do this Tuesday. And again, if this feels miserable, don’t do it again! The main goal is to get the run in.

– If on a given day you really cannot do a full workout, you have options:

BEFORE YOU READ THE BELOW: Don’t consider curbing a workout just because you’re sore or tired. A training plan by design makes you cumulatively sore or tired. You want to avoid overtraining, burnout or injury, yes. But if you’re generally fatigued or a bit sore… that’s often supposed to happen. Get out there and run easy. Eat well, sleep well.

That said, if you MUST consider curbing a workout:

1. Break the run into two shorter runs, one done early in the day and one done later. Take a 60 minute run and do 30 minutes in the morning, then 30 minutes in the late afternoon.

2. Run whatever you can and then fill in the remaining time with moderate aerobic cross training. If you can only do 30 minutes of a 60 minute run, then cross train for the other 30 minutes.

CAVEAT: Only cross train in methods where you can train aerobically and get to a moderate heart rate and intensity. Cycling, elliptical, ARC Trainer, NordicTrack, rowing machines… are typically good methods to train moderately. Swimming is usually not, unless you have Michael Phelps ability and can really jet. Walking is almost never enough. Weight training is not aerobic: You work in brief instances, then stop.

I actually avoid the spin bike for this kind of cross training because most times I can’t get to a moderate heart rate on the bike without undue effort, though others can.

3. Just commit to doing 30 minutes. At worst, it’s better than nothing. Often, you get out there, by the 20th minute you feel good enough to do more, keep going… then end up doing the whole workout anyway!

4. If you’re really sore, have some nagging injury, and you’re not quite ready to outright drop out of your goal race (which if you have to do this more than twice a week, or multiple times after the 8th week, you should consider doing)…

… cross train moderately for 45-60 minutes. Again, you need to do an aerobic method of cross training at a moderate intensity.

(If you want to fall back on cross training more often than once in a while, you honestly should just do IronFit instead. Hanson by design is a pure running plan. I might even be outright contradicting its principles in offering the option to cross train out of a workout)

5. Don’t avoid the long run. Err on the side of cutting into a midweek workout, if you believe it’ll help you be ready for the long run.

But! Don’t just dodge a workout to prep for the long run because you’re sore or tired. Again, you should be somewhat tired or sore as you continue the plan. That’s normal!

No matter what: Eat well with lots of protein and whole food. Take some fish oil. Turn in early and get some good sleep.

If you’re looking to curb workouts because work, school or life is getting in the way, this could be a dealbreaker no matter what marathon plan you want to use. If you can’t make the time to train, you can’t get ready to run a marathon. That’s something you need to reconcile well before you decide to train for a race.


– Now, the most important element. The Sunday long run:

— These will often be longer than the Hansons recommended long runs. These long runs are based on being at least 25% of the minimum volume by time when adding in the rest of the week, and no more than 33% of the max volume by time when adding in the rest of the week. (If that sounds complicated, just trust my math on this!)
Minimum time: 2 hours (120 minutes). Maximum: 3 hours 15 minutes (195 minutes). If you’re going by miles instead of time, then 12-20 miles. Closer to week 1 it should be more like 12, and closer to week 16 it should be closer to 20.
— You should be able to cover at least 10 miles. At your peak, you should be able to go no less than 16-17 miles.
— Your max distance should be a function of your natural pace within those time limits. The best runners could cover the full marathon distance and more in 3:15, but they’re also probably not following a plan like this.
— Every 4 weeks, the Sunday after your Monday Off Day (or Easy Monday)… make the long run shorter: Minimum: 80 minutes. Maximum: 2 hours, 15 minutes (135 minutes)… or 8-13 miles.
— If desired, you can add a 2nd recovery run to Sunday. This run should be no more than 4 miles. Make sure the 2nd run is at least 5 hours after the end of your long run.
— On the long run BEFORE your Monday Off/Easy Day… you are allowed to do a long run up to 4 hours (240 minutes) for that long run. If you’re doing miles… yes, that means you can go up to 24 miles. Stopping at 20 as many recommend, however, is completely fine. It’s just a maximum allowed, not a requirement.

THE TYPICAL NO SPEED MODIFIED HANSON WEEK:

Mon- 30-60 minutes, strength training optional
Tue- 60-90 minutes, brief periods of hard running optional
Wed- OFF
Thu- 60-90 minutes, goal pace optional
Fri- 30-60 minutes, strength training optional
Sat- 60-90 minutes.
Sun- Long run, 120-195 minutes.

WEEKS 3, 7, 11, 15:

Mon- 30-60 minutes, strength training optional
Tue- 60-90 minutes, brief periods of hard running optional
Wed- OFF
Thu- 60-90 minutes, goal pace optional
Fri- 30-60 minutes, strength training optional
Sat- 60-90 minutes.
Sun- Long run, 120-240 minutes.

WEEKS 4, 8, 12, 16, 17:

Mon- OFF, or 20-30 minutes, strength training optional
Tue- 60-90 minutes, brief periods of hard running optional
Wed- OFF
Thu- 60-90 minutes, goal pace optional
Fri- 30-60 minutes, strength training optional
Sat- 60-90 minutes.
Sun- Long run, 80-135 minutes.

WEEK 18 AKA MARATHON WEEK:

Mon- 30-60 minutes, strength training optional
Tue- 30-60 minutes.
Wed- OFF
Thu- 20-40 minutes, switch the optional strength training to this day
Fri- OFF, or 20-30 minutes
Sat- OFF, or 20-30 minutes
Sun- The Longest Run. 26.22 miles. (or, if it’s on Saturday, do it Saturday of course)

If you don’t see a week number listed, you’d follow the Typical No Speed Modified Hanson Week.


Someday I may make a chart for all this. But for now, I hope this helps people thinking about modifying the Hanson Method without speedwork.

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