Monday, May 27, 2019

Hanson's Marathon Training--One Runner's Review

Marathon runners are forever wondering just how best to prepare to enjoy and succeed in the endurance contest which is 26 miles, 385 yards.   I've utilized several plans in my (now) 87 marathons/ultramarathons.   Hal Higdon's various plans have served well to get me up to that distance repeatedly.  I commend them.

I opted for a different direction, though, as I prepared for the 2019 Boston Marathon.   The decision settled for me during the 2018 Monumental Marathon, as I ran out of gas in the final miles of that familiar race.   I captured the concern at the end of that post:

With Boston looming in April, I'll do some rethinking on training going forward.  Lots of cold weather runs, of course, here in Indiana.   I'll find a system and see if I can come back.  

And this led me to consider the the Hanson's Training Method. 

I had heard many things about this approach and it simply seemed a step-up for me.  I bought the book and read it carefully.    It was challenging but it seemed a good way for me to progress in both effort and speed.   I knew I needed a clear plan in order to enjoy the challenge of Boston, so I went all in and started.

You can read the plan for yourself.   It's an 18-week plan in which Every Single Run has a purpose.   Pace, distance; rest, stress; tough days, easy days;  progressive weeks; short taper; focus on a single race.   It has three main sections:

  1. The first five weeks just get you going
  2. Weeks six through sixteen are just plain hard
  3. The final two weeks taper
 It was hard and I enjoyed it immensely.

With the program behind me, I'll try to summarize my thoughts.  What did I think of Hanson's Method?
  • It's tough.   It's just a lot of running.   Six days a week.   Only Wednesday off.   Three hard days, three easy days, one day off every week, once you get to week 6.  Multiple 45+ mile weeks, back to back.     
  • Midweek runs are hard.   There are a number of 8 to 10 mile runs on Thursdays.   I tried hard to do them all but a few I have just had to cut short, due to work requirements.   I did my best.   I worried about this early but realized I could only do what I could do, given work commitments. 
  • It demands attention to detail.   Every run has a purpose.   Every run is different.   Every run has a pace.   They fit together as a unit.  I learned this through reading the book carefully and it made sense.   I then made up a spreadsheet to help me keep track...see the photo below of my daily record-keeping plan  
  • It very carefully builds.   This is an amazing part...the miles kept piling up but it didn't feel unmanageable.  It's astounding to me, in retrospect, I could stay with it.   I didn't think it was possible. 
  • It avoids injury.   I've never run this many miles.   I'm 65.   And I had no substantive injuries, only a couple of niggles which resolved by the next day.    
  • I slept a lot.   All the miles tired me out.   Normally, by 9pm, I was bushed and usually in bed.  I had zero expectations of much social life during this plan.  That's a cost of doing this plan. 
  • I ate a lot.   I found myself often very hungry.   I did not do a good job of satisfying that hunger with healthy eating.   I too often filled up on grains rather than vegetables or fruit.  This surprised me and I must plan for it in future.  
  • I quit depending on my feelings.   Many, many times I went out for one of the three weekly hard runs and said to myself "There is no way I can hit the pace and distance today." And when I got out, I did it.   Time and time again.  I've talked with other people who have done Hansons and this is a common reaction.   In their book Luke is very forward saying the program teaches you to run hard on tired legs.   Yeah.   
  • The 16 mile long run worked.   The biggest criticism of Hansons is that their longest long run is "only" 16 miles.   Yet, I did this five times and every time it was on tired legs.  Would it translate to carrying speed through 26.2?  It did...see the results below.  While it seems illogical, all the other illogical things with this system have held up.   And this did too.
  • You can't do it all the time.   In their book, the Hansons emphatically say the MOST you should do this 18 week program is three times in two years...better only once per year.    Yeah.   I'd agree.   It's tough and would likely break you down without spacing. 
  • Don't do it for a spring marathon.   Boston only happens in the spring.  Doing this plan during January and February in the Midwest was just awful.   Getting in all these miles in lousy weather was very hard.  I had to use the treadmill on a few days and that's something I really don't like.   Next time I do this, I'll target a late fall marathon.   I'm keen to see how having the heavy miles in September and October will go. 
So how did this all work??   Let me capture some data for you.   

>>Here's a screen shot of my training log summary on March 24 in the heart of the training period.   You can see the high mileage each week.   In particular, this was the first time I've ever logged over 200 miles in any 30 day period. 

>>I ran a half marathon on Saturday, March 23, using it as Hansons tempo run.   I comfortably went 1:58.   And then did the required 16 miles at 9:53 the next day.   

>>I had one notably difficult training week, March 4 to 10.    Awful Indiana winter weather settled in, so I had to use the treadmill on Monday and Tuesday.   No speed work on Tuesday.   Took the regular Wednesday off.   But got up early Thursday for the required 9 mile tempo run.   And that was bad...I simply could not wake up and went back to bed, taking two straight days off and zero speed work for the week.    I was worn out physically and mentally.    Work was demanding that week.   Then took vacation day from work on Friday, March 8 and ran mid-day.   I then had to shorten  the scheduled 16 mile run on Saturday due to family requirements, doing 12, not 16.  I then modified the Sunday run to add 4 more hard miles to a 9 mile total run.   Was it perfect?  No.   But I still got in almost 40 miles. 

The crucial proof shows up in results, not process, though.   And I ran two races, the biggest being Boston but the best running being Wisconsin.

>>In the Boston Marathon (race report here), I succeeded in my goal to enjoy the event and absorb all that went on.   But my time was not what I wanted, going 4:40.   I discussed that in my blog post and have come to grips with it.   I will say, though, that the Hansons method clearly gave me the base to work through all the strangeness which is running the Boston Marathon and the final five miles at Boston was the best ever. 

>>Wanting to still take advantage of all this work, I ran the Wisconsin Marathon three weeks after Boston on May 4 (race report here).   In many respects, the experience was the opposite of Boston...a small race on a loop course, very flat, which I had run 4 previous times.  I made a serious attempt to get a sub-four hour time.   It went well through mile 19 but I couldn't hold it and finished in 4:08:49, four minutes shy of a BQ time.   I gave it all I could but the proximity to the Boston effort likely took off the shine.   Still, to do this so soon after Boston was very encouraging. 

So, the key question:  Does Hanson's Marathon method work? 

In my opinion, it does.   There are no magic guarantees in training.  But this plan links the desired results to the day-to-day process.  I'm a 65 year old guy who is not very fast.   And it got me out for more miles than I've ever done, injury free and got me through two hard marathon efforts in very decent shape.   

I'm looking forward to applying it again.   I'm going to apply it again targeting the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 2, 2019.   The 18 week plan will begin on July 9.   Having experienced the plan once, I'm psyched to go at it again. matter what plan you use. 


Here's a photo of one of the three paper schedules I utilized.   I taped this to the back of a closet door in our bedroom and used it to help me keep track of all the details.   If you are interested in the Excel spreadsheet I made for this, email me and I'll be happy to share. 

My paper log for first 8 weeks

Here's a photo of how I kept track of the running on a mirror in our bedroom.   Grateful my wife tolerates me. 


Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Race Report: Wisconsin Marathon, 2019

 The Numbers:

4:08:49, a 9:30/mile pace
    155 of 339 overall
    107 of 204 men
    1 of 8 men 65-69

The Story:

My focus all winter in training was the Boston Marathon on April 15.   But I had the Wisconsin Marathon on May 4 in pencil all along, wanting to get in a second marathon if I could, given all the training I had done.   On the Tuesday before race day, I checked the weather for Kenosha and it looked to be perfect, so I signed up.

I’ve run this race 4 times before, so I knew the drill.  I drove up after work on Friday and picked up my packet pre-race.   The weather was indeed perfect...about 40F at the start, maybe 50F at the end, hardly any wind, sunny.   The course is flat and beautiful along Lake Michigan and through lovely neighborhoods of lake homes.

I decided to run the race on a perfect day with a hope to go sub 4 hours again, which is my race pace target (9:08/mile).   I went out fine and was holding myself back all along. I hit the half marathon mark in 1:57:52 and felt very good. My splits were very consistent.   How long could it hold, though??

The answer began to take shape soon.  By mile 16, I knew I was working harder to hold on.   I started taking one mile at a time. I hung on through mile 19, with a 9:22 pace but it was slipping, with miles 22 and 23 were 10:57 and 11:03 respectively, the slowest two miles of the day.  That was pretty much it, having used up any time I had “banked” earlier.

I re-calibrated my thinking, doing enough mental math to realize if I kept working, I could still beat 4:10.   So I did my best, with mile 25 in 9:41, mile 26 in 9:50 and the last bit to the finish line at a 9:03 pace. I slipped in just under 4:09.   

It took me a while to come to grips with missing my sub 4 hour target with weather and course in my favor.  But, on reflection, my training had targeted a race three weeks previous, I had run Boston, and a sub four-hour marathon is just a tough target for me.   I enjoyed the race, knew I had given my best and I needed to leave it as that.   Winning the AG with more than two others in the AG was a nice consolation prize.   

A nice day and that’s the way it was. 

Persevere...with or without cheese.