Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hansons Marathon Method & CIM Post-Mortem

First, I want to say "HI!" to Rabbits' Guy. Hope you are all doing well! I'm always excited when I see a comment from you :)





I tried to do lots of blog reading about Hansons before I took the plunge so I thought I would post my  own thoughts.  If you're seriously interested in Hansons I recommend you get a copy of the book as it goes through a lot of the thought process behind the training.  Hansons is probably most known for its 16 mile long run.  I think because of this people think the plan is easy.  It is not easy.  It's been a few years since I trained seriously for a marathon but I felt as though Hansons was a lot more intense than anything I had done in the past.

The basic premise for Hansons is something they call cumulative fatigue.  You never really get to rest your legs so you teach them to run when they are tired.  They say the 16 mile long run simulates the last 16 miles of the race while other plans have you running the first 20.

The Plan

There are three major workouts a week which are called "something of substance" (SOS) runs:
1. "Speed" which is traditional interval work. This day later transitions to "Strength" which has you doing 6 miles of slightly faster than goal pace running in variable chunks.
2. "Tempo" which for Hansons is extended work at marathon goal pace.
3. "Long Run" which for Hansons is not done at your slow easy pace.  They prescribe them to be done at basically the faster side of easy.
It is a 6 day a week plan so the other days you run easy.


Beginner vs. Advanced

As I noted in my previous post I attempted to do the Advanced plan in late 2016 but got injured halfway through.  I stepped down to the beginner plan for CIM.  I think that "advanced" and "beginner" are a little misleading.  Hansons overall is not a beginner marathon training program.  They also have a "just finish" plan which I would liken more to your typical first marathon training plan. Plenty of people run very fast times off of the beginner plan. The main difference between beginner and advanced is that the mileage for the advanced plan is higher and there are more weeks of SOS runs.

The one thing I did not like about the beginner plan is that the first five weeks has very low mileage and no SOS runs.  I don't mind the lack of SOS runs, but the low mileage seems a rather poor start to a marathon training plan.  Week 2 has you running 15 miles total.  I sort of did my own thing instead of following the first 5 weeks of the plan as I was already running more base mileage. Week 6 you jump to not only speed and tempo runs but you also jump up to 6 days of running.  As I noted in my CIM race report it was a bit of a rough transition for me.  I did a few weeks of introducing some very basic speed back into my routine before week 6 came around, but it was still a bit of a shock to my system that took a few weeks to adjust into.  There was another dubious jump in the plan between weeks 8 and 9, but I survived that okay so it ended up being more mental than physical.

When I did the advanced plan the increases seemed much more incremental and sensible. If you have a good base of 40ish miles I don't think the advanced plan is as much of a shock to your system. Having done the first half of both plans it almost feels as if the beginner plan starts you off easier but then has to make much larger jumps at a time to sort of catch up to the advanced plan. By the end of the plan the SOS runs are identical between advanced and beginner plans. The easy day runs are a couple of miles shorter per day in the beginner plan (hence the overall less mileage even though the SOS days become identical as the plan goes on).

That said, if I ever did it again I would choose the advanced plan and decide if I wanted to maybe step down the easy day run lengths a click. So sort of a hybrid of advanced and beginner. I'd also consider doing an 18 or even 20 miler if I could run it at a pace that keeps it under the Hansons 3-hour as the longest run length rule.


Why it was a good fit for me

If you take a look at my race PRs, you'll see my 5K and 10K PRs do no line up with my marathon and half PRs.  My 10K PR pace is slower than my half or marathon PR pace.  I haven't spent a lot of time training for shorter distances because frankly I don't like running at that end of fast.  I think that is why Hansons ended up appealing to me.  Even the 400m repeats are done at only 10K pace (which for me feels sort of crazy fast on any day) and by the last half of the plan you are doing only marathon pace or marathon pace minus 10 sec/mile which is a very safe place for speed haters like myself. So in that regard this plan definitely catered to my strengths.

I'm the type of person who orders the same thing at a restaurant every single time. I thrive on consistency and predictability.  The workouts for Hansons are very similar week to week, just progressing a bit on the distance of the hard stuff.  I loved this about the plan. It was great for my confidence to see how I could run farther each week at a certain pace during the Speed segment.  It was easy to tell myself, "Okay, you did that pace for 8 miles last week, what is one more mile this week?" when the Tempos bumped up.

If you spend any amount of time chatting with Hansons runners they will talk about how taking the easy days EASY is so important.  I think this probably true of any training plan.  However this point was driven home to me with Hansons and very much appeals to the type of runner I am.  I love to run easy and default to the slow end of easy on any day without a specified pace.  I know some people have a hard time running slow but I am definitely not one of those people.

I'm a member of a couple of Hansons online groups and so many people post saying, "Oh my goodness, I can't run as slow as the book says I am supposed to run on easy days!"  A) I have no understanding of how this could be a problem and B) everyone always responds with, "don't worry eventually you'll slow down from the cumulative fatigue," if the true answer isn't C) maybe your goal time is too slow for you.

I can say from my own personal experience B is totally true.  Pre-Hansons when my legs were fresher my easy pace runs were 9:40s.  By the end of the plan I was running very close (over or under) to 11:00 pace on easy days which sounds alarmingly slow to even myself.  But the other three days a week I was nailing all my SOS runs so I didn't let it bother me.  I think if you have a hard time running truly slowly on easy days Hansons may be a little tough to swallow.


Did it work?

As far as my performance at CIM vs. how training went, I took the most stock in how I did during my weekly tempo run.  In the beginner plan you start with 5 miles at goal pace and over the weeks it slowly increases to 10 miles.  The tempo portion is sandwiched by a warm-up/cool-down which I usually did 1-1.5 miles.  So my 10 mile tempo run was a 13 mile run with the middle 10 miles at goal pace.  You'll recall I had a less aggressive goal when I started out (was originally hoping to run sub-9:00 for CIM).

Here's how my pace for the tempo portion of my run shook out over the course of training:
5 miles  8:58
5 miles  8:58
5 miles  8:44
8 miles  8:44
8 miles  8:44
8 miles  8:38
9 miles  8:41
9 miles  8:39
9 miles  8:38
9 miles  8:37 (I had added in a buffer week for injury/life which I didn't need so had an extra week)
10 miles 8:37.8
10 miles 8:37.8
10 miles 8:35.7

When I looked at the above info I settled on 8:44 as my goal pace (which was revised to 8:43 to help ensure a sub-3:50 finish).  I didn't start training at 8:44 so I'm not entirely sure how to assess whether or not holding that pace at CIM was a success or not.  One could argue maybe I was capable of 8:40 pace which may or may not have panned out (I'm thinking not, but who knows).  Someone once told me the pace you put down your last 10 mile tempo was pretty indicative of performance on race day in which case I utterly underperformed (I think I was wise enough to not get greedy/silly and to see that 8:36 pace wasn't going to happen). I should note I tried to be really cognizant not to race these tempo runs.  After the first 4 runs I changed my goal tempo pace from 8:58 to 8:44 and I was always trying to hit 8:44 on subsequent runs.

That's the tricky thing with marathon training. Your fitness improves over the course of training but that doesn't mean your goal needs to quicken.  I started the training cycle off at a pretty poor fitness level for myself and saw major gains which made goal pace setting a little harder.  I would be very curious to do another round of Hansons with a better feel for my current fitness and train for a time consistently the whole cycle to see how that worked. The plan is designed for you to pick a goal pace in the beginning and to stick with it the whole training cycle.

One thing I questioned during training was that the tempo run pace (which remember is goal marathon pace) never felt the way I assume marathon pace should feel.  I was working to keep the pace every single week.  I think a pace you want to hold for 26.2 miles shouldn't feel too challenging for say, 8 miles.  Other people using the training method would say that the tempo run simulates the last 10 miles and after running a marathon using Hansons I agree.  On race day goal pace did NOT feel the way it felt during the training runs.  It was a working pace but not hard the first 16 miles.  I was definitely working the last 10, but as others said you channel your 10 mile tempos and dig deep to get the race finished.  So the cumulative fatigue really does make everything seem harder and teaches you to run on tired legs.

My two faster marathons were done with a Brad Hudson plan where I ran three 20+ milers during the training cycle. It's a little bit of comparing apples to oranges as I had a much stronger base going into the Hudson training cycles and therefore obviously felt a bit stronger the whole cycle.  But I think if you truly detest 20 milers Hansons is a great answer.  The Hudson plan had an "easy 23 miles" which seemed to take forever.  Hansons is 16 miles at the faster end of easy (which for me felt like a pace I had to work for, but it wasn't hard to keep) and this made the run go by much faster both mentally and time-wise. I'm going to say my official stance on this is that it is probably in your interest to run farther than 16 if you can tolerate it physically, but it may not be entirely necessary. I should in full disclosure also state the last time I did Hudsons I got a PR and also a stress fracture so the claim Hansons has that people get injured less on their plan may have some merit.

Another aspect of Hansons is that there are no true cutback weeks.  The tempo length only increases or holds steady.  There is a slight decrease in mileage every other week by virtue of the fact that the long run is done only every other week.  However weeks without the long run the length of the easy runs increases so you don't really feel as if you're getting a huge break.  I might have run 3 miles less a week I didn't do a long run versus a week that I did.  Even the effort doesn't truly peak as the hardest strength workout occurs during a 9 mile tempo week and not a 10 mile tempo week.  The whole plan just feels sort of consistent.



My weekly mileage this training cycle.  Weekly totals in red.

Hansons also has an almost non-existent taper. You don't get a decrease in mileage/effort until 7 days before the race.  I had one day less between my last SOS workout and race day because I shifted all the run days one day to accommodate what day of the week worked better for me to do certain types of runs. I actually asked Luke Humphrey about this who said that one day wasn't a big deal.  But if I had to do it over again I would have shifted my last SOS day back to where it belonged to have an extra day to recover from hard efforts.  I only didn't do this because it would have meant doing my last 13 mile tempo run the morning of Thanksgiving which I would have had to do very early in order to get to the Turkey Trot the rest of my family participated in on time. And I decided that a few hours extra sleep and being able to fully stretch and recover post-run equaled or trumped one extra day of recovery.

While I was running CIM I had the distinct feeling the last 3 miles that my entire race was spiraling downhill.  It was really rough to keep the pace and I felt certain that the lack of 20 milers was catching up to my poor legs which must be in shock.  I just remember that average pace ticking up from 8:43 to 8:44 in the last miles and it made me feel defeated.  Obviously I met my goal and I was truly over-the-moon with my result, but while running the last 5K I had a different gut reaction to what was happening.  If you look at my actual paces though, the race looks pretty good:

I have my Garmin set to record splits every 0.5 miles:
8:52
8:43
9:08
8:43
8:39
8:40
8:45
8:49
8:38
8:40
8:45
8:48
8:38
8:48
8:41
8:50
8:40
8:48
8:43
8:40
8:33
8:32
8:52
8:26
8:45
8:36
8:37
8:42
8:58 (refill water bottle)
8:51
8:38
8:39
8:35
8:37
8:49
8:36
8:43
8:45
8:42
8:43
8:39
8:47
8:49
8:48
8:44
8:47
8:44
8:52
8:40
8:43
9:04
8:53
8:28

The splits are all over the place because of the rolling terrain but I was really surprised when I looked at the numbers.  That last full mile was my slowest, but it wasn't as much of a crash and burn deceleration as I felt I was going through at the time. I think Hansons really gave me a very solid race.

Official stats, very nearly even split race.

This plan didn't get me into the best shape of my life, but that wouldn't have been a realistic goal given where I started fitness-wise.  I do think the fact it took me from doing 2 mile easy runs every other day in June to my third fastest marathon six months later is very impressive.  I am curious what the advanced plan could do with a stronger starting base.  I wouldn't hesitate to endorse or to use Hansons again in the future.

That said, after a lot of soul searching I decided to not use Hansons for my next marathon.  My big goal for 2018 and beyond is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  I'm running Big Sur for mainly funsies in April then wanted to work on speed before starting up marathon training for CIM in December.

I wanted to bring a coach on board for many reasons and the idea of bringing a Hansons coach to the table didn't seem to make a lot of sense.  I could be totally wrong, but my perception of Hansons coaching is that they pull you a plan from a bunch of pre-fabricated plans. I am sure they adjust things as needed, but it doesn't seem to have the level of personalization of other coaching offerings (and it is pricey when you consider this, probably because Hansons Running takes a cut of the profits before the rest trickles down to the actual coach).  I was happy with Hansons but I also didn't want to pigeonhole myself into one training philosophy for an entire year.  The coach I am working with is familiar with Hansons and said she would be happy to discuss incorporating elements I enjoyed from Hansons. That was all I needed to hear to put the "Hansons coach vs. non-Hansons coach" debate in my head to rest.

5 comments:

Rabbits' Guy said...

Hey! Hi back at ya. Always fun to follow the ups and downs of a serious runner with goals and plans! You have sure come along way. Boston Qualify .. go for it.

I am beyond now the ability to have any sort of best time! Just finishing is good. I have been fortunate to live with both hills and long straight flat stretches with cross roads (in the country) every 1/2 mile or mile. Easy to do all sorts of training.

I think it would be great if marathon training could include several 23 or 24 mile runs, hill runs, and speed runs along with more organized runs. But that takes soooo much time.

Are you a member of Marathon Maniacs? Started by guys and gals around where I live and it sure grew!

Angela Knotts said...

Yeah, I think the cumulative fatigue thing makes a BIG difference. Like people are always trying to figure out how to make their hard runs & workouts feel easier & how to have nice fresh springy recovered legs every day, but when you think about what mile 23 of a marathon feels like that just seems like the completely wrong approach. I used Hanson's for my first marathon (except did some longer long runs, an 18 & 20 miler, because I never had before) and with both that and RunCoach I feel like at a certain point it was just heavy, sluggish legs every day. Which made me really good at running with heavy, sluggish legs! And yes, it always amuses me when people are like, "Oh, I don't have time to run that much / I don't want to run that much / I'll just do Hanson's because no 20 milers." Like. OK, dude.

Layla said...

Thank you for posting this analysis! I'm definitely in the "running slow is hard for me" camp, but I did learn in this CIM training that I need to focus more on it. I also think I benefited a lot from cross training, so the six-day plan is something I shouldn't let myself do. However, I do like the idea of some mid-distance runs with more sustained marathon pace miles in them, so I'll probably try to build that into my next training plan (which will be starting from ground zero).

Have you ever done fast-finish or negative-split runs in training? I tend to do a bit too much of that without meaning to, but I wonder if it's why several times I've found another gear in the last 5k of a marathon -- or maybe I just start out too conservatively...

Jen said...

Thanks for documenting your experience! I’ve always been curious about Hanson’s but was intimidated by the weekly mileage and the amount of race pace miles. I’ll have to revisit this when I consider my next marathon training cycle.

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