Over the last four months I followed the Hanson’s marathon beginner plan in order to have a crack at a sub-4 marathon. Though I didn’t quite achieve my goal-running 4.02 at Richmond marathon-I did get a 13 minute PB so I do think the program was effective and did it’s job. I thought I would round up my thoughts on the program in general and whether I would recommend it or follow it again.
I chose the beginner Hanson’s plan rather than the advanced as I was only recently coming off ultra training so I had a decent base, but wanted a few extra weeks of lower mileage and chilled running before starting the serious training. The advanced plan starts speed work from the off and has higher mileage throughout whereas the beginner has a few weeks at the beginning of building base mileage.
I was really happy with how training went and I felt strong throughout. I never had an injury (thanks strength training), though I was sick twice and also had to go on antibiotics for a really bad insect bite. I only missed 5 sessions of the plan out of around 91 which wasn’t bad, it was just unfortunate that I got totally wiped out by gastroenteritis the week before the race, had this happened earlier in the plan I probably would have been able to recover and build myself up a bit more before the race.
I have increased my mileage gradually over the 7+ years of running I have under my belt. I started out running out a few times a week, and have built to where my body is able to cope with the demands of running 6 times a week and 50+ miles for weeks on end without too much trouble. I do not think this is a beginners marathon plan, but something for a more experienced runner who is already used to the demands of higher mileage. The plan is also very time consuming, so if you have a very busy job/lifestyle it might be difficult to follow it, I have a flexible job so was luckily able to stick to the plan. It was the first time I’ve ever consistently run 6 times a week, and actually you do get used to it, it just becomes part of your daily routine. I also never got to the point where I was fed up or dreading going out for a run like I have done at certain points when training in the past.
I never felt drained or tired through the program, despite running more than I have ever done before, and doing 3 sessions of mileage in double figures each week, all of which were quality sessions (tempo, speed, long) done at specific paces. In the past had I done a few shorter runs through the week, and then a 20 miler at the weekend, that would wipe me out for that day and the days following, but I felt much better spreading the mileage across the week. I usually take drop back weeks every 3 weeks when training, and though the Hanson’s plan never had any, I never felt overly fatigued or like I needed a rest week. Rest days became absolutely sacred though, I have never looked forward to a day as much as Wednesday rest day.
I really enjoyed the tempo and speed/strength sessions. As someone who has never really done any speed work before, when I looked at the first session and it said 12 x 400m I was slightly terrified, but as the weeks went on I really started to enjoy these workouts, and could see the hard work paying off. There was no specific hill training on the plan, which was fine as my marathon was fairly flat, but I tried to incorporate as many hills as possible across my runs especially on easy days. I also did all none of my speed/tempo work on the track, which made the runs more challenging but I think was of benefit.
I do think not doing more than 16 miles in training, makes 26m seem like a really big jump. I faded badly during the last 6-8 miles on race day, which partly was down to poor hydration and probably the illness the week before, but also I think due to the fact that an extra 10 miles is actually quite a lot. I would maybe do one 18 miler rather than one of the 16’s if I were to follow the beginner plan again, just so it doesn’t seem like quite such a big jump, and also so I’m used to being on my feet for a bit longer.
I didn’t race at all in training, other than a half marathon on the NDW for fun early in the plan. I probably would have raced a half a month or so out from the marathon were I to do it again, just to have a test run of things and see where my fitness was at. I also missed doing faster parkruns, as I often used these as part of my long run, so I’m looking forward to trying to get some speed back in the legs.
I did strength training (push, pull, legs), three times a week throughout the plan, and managed to figure out a routine where I kept my legs fresh for the sessions. I would stay away from training legs the day before any quality session, and I would often do my weight training on the days of harder sessions which was a lot of training once they got up to over 10 miles, but meant I could take the easy days easy.
The plan got me a 13 minute PB which is nothing to be sniffed at, although I was 2 minutes over the time I wanted, on a different course, on a different day I may well have hit that goal. I had worked out my goal pace and I needed to stay around 9.00mm to hit 3.55, and 9.09mm worst case to run sub 4. However, trying to stick to set targets doesn’t take into account weaving, and course length, so though my overall pace was 9.05mm which is sub-4 pace, I didn’t get my “official” sub 4 because I ran 26.6m nearly half a mile extra, so I think I need to factor this into my race strategy for next time- you live and learn.
Taking into account how much I enjoyed the plan, and how strong I felt throughout the training, I would say it was worth it and I would do it again. Maybe I would look at doing the advanced plan next time, and hopefully that will bring me my sub-4 goal!