Review of the Hanson’s Marathon Method

For the past 5 months I’ve been training for the Dallas Marathon using the Hanson Marathon Method.  I first picked up this book over the summer after seeing it floating around social media.  I had seen several runner’s that I “know” and respect as runner’s using it and it peaked my interest to say the least.
After the Napa Valley Marathon in March I had said no marathons for me for a few more years.  This is the sickness.  For real.  It only took me a few week’s after I recovered and my knee healed to want to get right back on that horse.  It’s ridiculous.  Ok, so anyway, I decided that I’d run Dallas and the main reason was because I was so curious about this training method.  I’ve known all along that I would write a full review once I finished and now the time is here! I was thrilled to cross that finish line but I was almost more excited to survive this training plan.  Makes you want to try it right?
I’ll sprinkle some of my favorite pics from training throughout the post and I’ve decided to break this down into Pro’s and Con’s, Highlights/PR’s, and my race day experience.  I did a complete post explaining this method.  For that post click here.  I’ll stay away from a lot of the technical stuff and stick mainly to my experience with Hanson’s.
Just to give you an idea of how the Hanson Method works, you build cumulative fatigue over time by running on tired legs.  You run 6 days a week with 3 of those days set aside for easy/recovery runs and 3 of those for something of substance runs, or SOS runs.  These include tempo runs, long runs and speed/strength sessions.  This entire concept was completely new to me.  I’ve always been a 3-4 day a week runner even when training for my last marathon.  When I looked at the training plan I was skeptical to say the least.  I honestly didn’t think I had the runner goods to make it through this process.  I decided to trust it, commit to it and do it to the best of my ability.
1.  Mental Strength
There were so many things I never could have anticipated when I decided to follow this program.  When you have to run 6 days a week you have to get a little tough.  You have early morning runs, late night or evening runs, mid morning runs, feeling crappy runs, runs with a cold, muscle soreness, sick kids.  You name it.  With one rest day a week it leaves the door wide open for all kinds of things to happen to affect those other days of running.  I had to dig mentally to a place I’d never been before.  There were days I loved it.  I felt strong and confident and like I was doing this thing.  Other days, I hated it and doubted the process.  I wondered how in the world I was going to make myself put on my running shoes and walk out the door.  Then I’d come home having sometimes had a great run, sometimes not, but feeling like I conquered it even when it was hard.  I ran in the rain, the heat, the cold.  Mentally I gained an “I can run through anything” mentality which I think will go with me even now that this process is complete.
One of my many early mornings
mid day runs
2.  Muscular Strength
I’ve always carried a lot of muscle in my legs.  I rode horses growing up and played sports.  I honestly thought I would see some changes to my body during this process but I saw the biggest change in my legs.  My hamstrings and glutes as well as my quads have all gotten stronger.  I did a lot of hill routes on these runs even though that wasn’t an official part of the workouts.  I threw them in anyway.  I saw a huge improvement in my ability to run hills and that all comes from the cumulative fatigue.  You teach your muscles to work and move even when they are tired and fatigued.  You don’t push them to over training but you walk that fine line.  My pace dropped as I went through this process which I never expected.  I got faster.
3.  16 mile long run
When I first started this process I was terrified at the prospect of only running 16 miles as my longest long run.  At the same time, I was thrilled.  I’m a solo runner.  Running 18, 19 and 20 miles by yourself through the same routes and past the same pharmacy’s and grocery stores gets BORING.  I’m sure if I lived somewhere scenic I’d love it more, but maybe not.  On my previous plan I dreaded those long runs.  I’d get nervous and anxious about them every week.  This time around I knew the longest I’d go was 16.  I began seeing other runner’s start their really long runs and it freaked me out a little.  At the same time I was putting in double the mileage of a lot of the other basic training plans and that gave me confidence.  I also loved not having to dread those really long runs.
On my previous training plan I got injured on my 18 miler.  So, this was appealing to say the least.  I knew having already completed a marathon that I could do 26.2 miles so I decided to let it go and enjoy that part of the plan.  I loved my 16 milers, all but one.  They began to feel easy since I was running so much anyway.  I ran on Sunday mornings before church and really only had one of those long runs that was hard and it fell at the end of a really hard week, so I expected it.  I was shocked I could handle 16 miles after a tempo run and two other runs days right before it.  I was also shocked that I could run the next day.  I’ve never run the day after a long run, til Hanson’s.  I was amazed that my body would actually go and run.  I had some of my best runs on Monday’s.  Crazy right?
one of my early Sunday morning 16 milers
after a fun running weekend in Memphis
4.  Strength/Speed work and tempo runs
I won’t go into too much detail here but these runs are part of what separates Hanson’s from other training plans.  On my previous beginner marathon training plan there were no tempo runs or speed work.  I ran the same all the time.  I think that’s part of why I got hurt.  I never changed it up or challenged my legs to move faster.  Hanson’s gives you one day of speed/strength work and one tempo run.  The speed days were fun.  It broke up the monotony of running 6 days a week and gave me a mental focus.  I loved speed days.  They got harder as they changed into strength work during the second part of the plan.  This pace was a little slower than the speed sessions and taught you to maintain a harder pace for longer.  Tempo runs were always hard for me.  They fell the day after my rest day and it’s like my body rebelled.  The entire 5 months I struggled with tempo runs.  I was able to do them, but they built that mental toughness more than any other run.
tempo run
speed work…it was still so hot out but it helped so much when the temps dropped
5.  High Weekly Volume
When I first started this plan I had major doubts as to weather or not my body could handle the sheer volume of running.  The most I had ever run in a week was 38 miles, and that was during the peak of my previous marathon training…on the week of my 20 miler.  Yeah, this was a leap.  I have never seen myself as a particularly great runner.  Average at best.  I know I have determination and heart but a natural bent and physical ability to run aren’t there.  It’s something I’ve had to learn to do.  As the weeks went by and my body adapted, I was amazed that I was still in this.  And I wasn’t hurt.  I’d have some aches and pains along the way, but no injuries.   I was doing it.  My very normal nothing special “runner’s” body was holding up.  And I loved that part.  I loved feeling like a real runner.  I know that sounds stupid but it’s true.  I felt like I was tolerating things real runner’s do.  Lots of mileage.  Never thought I could, and I was.
1.  Time
When I say time I mean my entire world became running.  The sheer amount of time it takes to commit to this process is huge.  I chose a particularly busy time in my life to tackle this kind of training plan.  That created some stress.  Also, the runs got long.  I was running 10-13 miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as a long run on Sundays.  I’d drop Lila(my 2 year old) off at pre-school and head out to run.  By the time I ran, came home and recovered, stretched, ate and showered, my day was practically gone.  I had no time for lunch with friends or cleaning my house.  Using the Hanson’s method takes a huge time commitment, especially for someone who is used to only running 3 to 4 times a week and not nearly with that much mileage.  I know a lot of runner’s tackle 50+ mile weeks.  I don’t.  Not in my normal life.  I’m not a marathoner by nature so this kind of mileage takes time and effort and it’s something I’m not used to.  It became the hardest thing to swallow for me.  I was using all my free time to run.  I know this is what it took to build that cumulative fatigue and strength, but it became a hard pill to swallow toward the end.
2.  The Taper
Ok.  So the taper on Hanson’s is unlike any taper I’ve ever seen.  I’m not the most experienced at this, but I  have looked at enough plans and done enough tapers to know that it’s usually a significant decrease in mileage.  The Hanson’s however believe the body thrives on routine.  Change the routine too quickly or drastically and the body won’t adapt as well.  I had been so immersed in the training I stopped looking ahead.  I would never look at the week or week’s ahead.  It just overwhelmed me.  So, I found that sticking to the week I was in made a world of difference.  The same applied to the taper.  I never really looked ahead at it so I never really evaluated that part of the plan, until I was a week away from it.  I had a rough week 16-17.  My body began to shut down a little and I took a little bit of a break.  I shortened a few runs and took one extra rest day and felt like new.  So, as I looked ahead at the taper, I felt like maybe I should “adjust” it.  I cut about 10 miles out of week 17 and week 18, which was race week, I only ran 8 miles before race day.  I was supposed to run 26.  Looking back on it I wish I had stuck to the taper.  Things didn’t go my way on race day and part of me wonders if I rested too much.  Maybe I gave my body too much of a break especially to the load it had become so accustomed to carrying the past 5 months.  Hindsight is 20/20 and I can’t spend time stressing over it.  I have the taper as a con, maybe it would have been in the Pro’s had my race gone differently or had I stuck to it the way it was written.  Who knows. If I could go back I’d have run more during race week, but I can’t.  Next time I train with Hanson’s(yes, there WILL be a next time), I’ll stick to their taper.
Pr’s and Highlights
While there were some challenges to this plan, I found it to be an amazing experience overall.  It tested me in ways I never imagined.  I had days where I never thought I could run, and then I’d run and be shocked that my body could do it.  You can do hard things.  That’s something a sweet friend Lisa would put on so many of my Instagram posts.  I found it to be so true.  Hard doesn’t mean impossible.  I had some highlights along the way including 3 separate PR’s. Only one was in an actual race but I’m counting them all.  They are personal record’s for me.  I could care less if it was a race or training run.  They include a half marathon PR(actual race), a one mile PR and an 8 mile PR.
It had been years since I did a half.  My last one was right after I had my second baby and I finished in 2:07.  I wanted to beat that.  I didn’t want to “race” too hard because at this point I was about half way through training.  I wanted to beat my previous time and I knew I could do that with minimal effort because I’m running faster than I was then.  I held back in this race.  Big time.  I wanted to pass the 2:05 pace group so many times but I resisted.  I decided to be happy with a PR but I really wanted to get under 2, and felt that day I could have.  BUT, I did the smart thing.  I knew I had to run the next day, and the day after that.  I knew I had to keep training and a PR would make me happy but also keep me in a safe pace zone.  So, I finished in 2:05 but the course was a little long.  When my watch hit 13.1 I was still at 2:04 and some change.  Happy girl.
I also had an 8 miler that stood out to me during this process.  I know this isn’t an official distance but it was a decently long run and a highlight and PR for this training plan.  It wasn’t an overall best for me.  I’ve run faster in the past but for this round of training, this run was a highlight.  It was exactly 1 min per mile faster than race pace which made me extremely confident in my goal.
This was my fastest mile.  I’ve never really tried to do a fast mile honestly.  I’ve run faster during speed sessions and such but for a solid mile, I carried this pace.  It felt great and was at the end of a 5 mile run coming off the stomach flu the day before.  You can do hard things.
I had some long treadmill runs
I discovered my love of HOKA’s
Race Day
For my full race day review, click here.   Without going into too much detail, the marathon wasn’t my day.  It just wasn’t.  I lost a shoe and ended up wearing brand new shoes right out of the box.  My legs hated me.  It just wasn’t my day.  After all the mental runs I had had during this process, my mind didn’t show up on race day.   I immediately started doubting this plan and process and feeling like I waisted 5 months.  Then I got to mile 10.  And 17.  And 22.  And finally the finish line.  It worked.  I may have not been running my best that day, but I felt the positive affects of this training throughout the run.  My muscles seized for whatever reason.  However, when they weren’t and I was running, I was RUNNING.  I was passing people and feeling great.  I felt the affects and all the hard work.  I was most thankful for it at the finish line.  I came down that final hill and I felt like I was flying.  I didn’t even feel tired.  I crossed the line strong.  I never felt any negative affects of only running 16 miles.  I didn’t feel any different at mile 17 than I did at mile 24.  I never hit a wall.  I just had legs that wouldn’t work.  I can’t over analyze it.  It is what it is.  But, I do know this training worked, even though it didn’t go my way and I gained more from the journey to the starting line than I ever thought possible.  So, I’m thankful.
It was a long, challenging and amazing 5 months of training.  If you are curious about this plan, buy the book.  Read it from front to back before you start training.  Give yourself a solid base of 5 to 6 days of running a week.  I had a 25-30 mile a week base going in and it made a huge difference for me.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but you can do it.  If I can do it, anyone can and I can honestly never see myself training any other way.  I recovered quickly(except for an Achilles issue from the new shoes) and felt ready to run by Wednesday.  That’s 2 days after the marathon.  This method worked for me and I went into race day with no injuries.  That was enough for me.
If you have any questions about the Hanson’s Method, please comment below or feel free to email me.  I’m happy to help and I’m sure I left so much out.  5 months is a long time and so much happened.  It was an amazing journey. Thanks for running it with me!!!!

11 comments on “Review of the Hanson’s Marathon Method

  1. I am doing week by week review of the Hanson’s beginner plan. I am following the plan exactly without making any judgement’s or tweaks to it. I’m currently up to week 11 as of 09/07/16 so it may be of some interest to others. I do have some reservations of how some modifications might benefit me but I’m going on faith and trying to do as honest review on the plan as is.

  2. Hey Michelle! Thanks for the comments and questions. I also did the beginner plan. Even with 5 marathons under your belt I think the beginner plan is the way to go. Having been a 3-4 day a week runner it gives you a chance to get used to the sheer volume of training. As for the hills I was careful which days I chose those hilly routes. I scoped out a flat path around a lake near my house. I stuck to it for speed days. As the plan a hifted to the strength runs I could go a little further but I kept it flat so I could focus on speed. I was careful to incorporate the “hilly” routes on my long run and at least one recovery day. I’d run slow and take the hills easy but use it as sort of a built in lower body strength workout haha. I’d usually do it Mondays or Fridays depending on how I was feeling. If I felt like my body really needed a break id hop on the treadmill or grass to get a break from the road. If I felt good Id hot the hills. As for pace I chose a fairly safe pace and used it for every single workout. I was horrible at the easy run pace and making it as slow as I was supposed to. The speed workouts I chose a pace based on my shorter distance paces. They were really hard at first but hot easier. I knew my tempo runs were where I would find out if I chose the right pace. I could easily hold 15-30 seconds(not always easy. But I could do it) faster than race pace on tempo days. I was totally open to changing my pace as I went but managed to keep it and base all my runs off if it. I did one half marathon half say through and held tempo pace the whole way. That told me I was on track. Hopefully that helps!!! Good luck and please keep me posted and let me know if you have any other questions. I had a runner buddy who had used Hansons that I bounced questions off of all the time. 🙂 also I’m so sorry for all the typos in this response. Our desk top is being worked on and my phone won’t let me go back to correct anytbing!! I may throw it against the wall:)

  3. Karen, so sorry for the delay in my response. We have a kid with the flu and we’ve had trouble with our internet today. In response to your question, the answer is no. They don’t include strength training at least not in the full plan. They discuss it in the boom briefly but it’s not scheduled in. I maintained a strength routine until half way in. Something had to give but I regret it. I’m sure it’s more manageable with the half plan but I highly recommend working in strength training. Good luck and keep me posted!!!!

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to review this plan so thoroughly! I think I commented before, but I’m starting the Beginner plan now. I’ve been running for 20+ years and have run five marathons, but have never trained more than 3-4 days a week. I’m sticking with the beginner plan and adding two weeks to it to make it a sort-of Advanced Beginner plan. I’ve got a solid 21-mile base to start. (I’ve read the book and re-read lots of sections to make sure I understand the premise.) I’ve also got three littles whom I homeschool, so the time factor will be the biggest challenge.

    My questions are:
    You say you worked in hills. My everyday route is hilly. Should I try to find a flat route, or does your body just adapt to the hills?
    Did you adjust your paces as you got faster? I’m planning to start with my goal race time as an indicator of what paces I should run. They will be tough at first, especially on tempo runs, but I figure I’ll adjust if I have to after a few tempo sessions. I’ve had a hard time figuring out paces for the speed work.

    Thanks again for the info! I’ve been reading reviews for a while, and your experience most parallels mine, so this review is super helpful.

  5. Does this method give you strength training days as well or is it solely running? I’m considering it for a 1/2 coming up in April but I have 3 small kids and am a little overwhelmed by it- hoping the 1/2 plan is less intense!

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