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More than a one hit wonder?

As many of you know Ian Barrett recently ran the Great Welsh Marathon in a fantastic time of 2:58:35.

Ian has kindly shared his thoughts on his training (specifically the use of the Hansons approach):

For those of us of a certain age the Hanson method might involve singing cheesy lyrics into a Karaoke machine. But it is also a marathon training plan devised by two brothers in Michigan. It differs from the traditional structure of a marathon training plan in that the maximum long run distance is just 16 miles – can you really prepare for 26.2 miles if your longest run is 10 miles shorter?


This was a questions I was interested to answer. Having never quite embraced marathon running and the joys of the Sunday long run, could I get on board with the process if the only time I had to run for 3 hours was race day? I had followed a few people who had been successful, running Boston qualifying times and GFA standards, they all said the same thing. It can work, but it takes some nerve to trust that 16 miles is far enough when you toe the line on race day.


The plan is still full-on. 60 mile weeks, running 6 days a week, and a lot of quality. This is not a low volume, get you round plan. It is for experienced runners who prefer faster running to long slow miles. The early weeks have 400, 600 and 800m reps at 5K pace in the schedule, later on there are 6x1mile and 2x3mile sessions. And always a longish run at goal Marathon Pace. But the feature of the plan that gets the most focus is the long run. Instead of a 20+ mile run, the plan splits the long run in two. One week you run 2x10ml on consecutive says, the next week you run 8ml followed by 16ml. Day 1 is to build the fatigue, so Day 2 can feel like the last 16 miles of a marathon, not the first 16.


So how did I find it? Well first thing to say is I strongly modified it. I’m a triathlete, I still wanted to swim and cycle. So those easy days in the plan became swims or cycles. I did up my normal run schedule from 3 days/wk to 4, and as the plan ramped up the swims and cycles were very much easy recovery. But I embraced what I thought was the essence of the plan. Consecutive days at the weekend of medium length runs, often taking in Parkrun on Saturday to double up as the 2x3ml interval session. Then a Marathon Pace run during the week, and another easier run. About half way through the plan I felt really good. An hour long easy run felt easy, a 9ml MP run required some focus but felt manageable. I was hitting the pace on the rep sessions and ticking off the longer runs. About 3 weeks out and I was getting tired. Hitting the paces was getting harder, some bad weather didn’t help. But the last 2 weeks are taper so I just concentrated on recovering.


Did it work? For me, yes. While picking the flattest marathon known to man and modern shoes obviously helped, but I hit my sub-3 target. And while it wasn’t a negative split – I blame the headwind for that - I did run a stronger 2nd half than most of those around me. Only a twinge of cramp in the final mile hinted at a slight lack of conditioning. The Sunday morning 16 milers on tired legs were obviously important, but for me the key session was the Marathon Pace run. The pace became so engrained that I was able to tick off the early miles on race day with barely a glance at my watch. And just maintaining that pace was enough to pull away from the group I had run with to halfway.


Why not try Hanson’s? Well for starters it might sound like your idea of hell! If you enjoy 3 hour long Sunday runs and shy away from faster running sessions, there are better marathon plans for you. If you are not used to high intensity running or running on multiple consecutive days then then it could end in fatigue, or worse, injury. And maybe if you have never run a marathon before, not experiencing a 20+ mile run in training might be too big a leap of faith. There are things like nutrition strategy that you can only simulate when out on your feet for a long time. You can probably survive a 16 mile run on minimal calories and fluids but that is going to be tougher on race day. I’ve struggled with this in the past, but practiced various different fuelling strategies on many long bike rides. On the day I took my own gels and drank the on-course water. It worked, for me.


And I think that’s the conclusion. It worked, for me. But I enjoy running parkrun on a Saturday morning and adding in a few extra reps around it. I prefer my long runs to be nearer to 2 hours than 3 hours, and I can find an hour on a weekday evening to run at goal Marathon Pace. If you want to read more on this subject, there is a book – although I’ve never read it! There are plenty of people who have tried the plan and shared their experience online, and there are free marathon and half marathon plans on the Hansons Running Group website.

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