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Hanson’s Marathon Method: The Verdict.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Richmond Runfest Marathon 2017

If you have read any of my recent posts you will know I have been following the Hanson’s marathon method beginner plan for the last few months in order to have a crack at running a sub-4, my goal race was Richmond marathon yesterday and this is how it went.

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Getting to Kew for an 8am start meant leaving at 6.20am so it was early morning, but the journey was fairly pain free, I arrived about 20 minutes before the start, and there were no queues for the ladies toilets and I was straight into the start pen. I think around 800 people finished the full marathon so even at the start it never felt too crowded, especially as the paths in Kew were nice and wide, by the end of the race we were thinly spread out though started to mix in with some of the half marathon runners towards the end who started an hour after us.

The first 4 miles looped around Kew Gardens which was pretty cool, I had never been inside before, so it was nice to have a look while running around. I settled into a comfortable pace wanting to keep my miles around 8.58-9.00mm pace, it’s hard not to get sucked in to the enthusiasm at the start though so some of my miles were probably a bit quicker than they should have been. I felt good, the weather conditions were perfect and I was just trying to focus on each hour individually.

After 4 miles we were out onto the towpath, I forgot how uneven the surface is  so I really had to concentrate on where I was placing my feet. I had run quite a few parts of the race in previous races (Thames Meander marathon, Richmond half, London 2 Brighton ultra) so I was familiar with a lot of these sections as we wound round the towpath and towards Richmond bridge.

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After the first hour I had my first fuel- a 33shake chia gel- and I was trying to sip water every few miles from my hydration pack (clearly not enough though as when I got home I realised I had only drunk 500ml of fluid during the entire 4 hours- probably explains the fading later on).

I tried to focus on maintaining my pace during the second hour, I still felt comfortable and the miles were ticking by as we ran through Teddington and Kingston. After 12 miles we crossed a bridge over the river which I didn’t realise we were going to do, and we got onto probably the busiest section of the route, with a lot of bikes and people on the Thames Path as we headed towards the turn around point at Hampton Court Palace after 15 miles- this was another place I’ve never been so was cool to see. I had another 33shake gel and was still feeling good and the miles were still ticking by at just under 9.00mm pace. My hip was a little sore on this section which I think was due to the mixed terrain and unevenness of the towpath.

The next section was on a parallel part of the towpath to which we had headed out on, but it was really boggy and I spent most of the next few miles mud and puddle dodging, this is where my pace started to slow a bit but I was fine with it as I knew it was because of the conditions underfoot. I had a medjool date at this point for a little energy boost. After 18 miles we crossed back over the bridge into Kingston. For a race mostly along the towpath, it was definitely not flat- I think there was about 600ft+ of elevation which isn’t a crazy amount but I’ve certainly run flatter marathons.

In the next few miles there was a lot of little loopy parts and switch backs and by the end it was starting to do my head in as we kept looping past bits we had already done. From 19 miles on I really started to struggle, and though I was trying to maintain my pace, I was getting slower and slower, and I just had nothing in the tank. By mile 21 I had slowed to 9.26mm pace, and I couldn’t go any faster. I had a nakd bar through the next few miles, and tried to drink more as I was so thirsty, but I think it was too little too late.

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I could feel my sub-4 goal slipping through my fingers. My strava audio announcements had been pretty even with the mile markers the entire way, but by the time the mile 22 sign arrived, my strava was registering half a mile extra, meaning I had somehow run extra on the race course, and wasn’t likely to make my goal factoring in this extra distance. I started to feel a bit negative, which was then compounded as the sub-4 pacer came past me with 2.5 miles to go, and I had absolutely nothing left to be able to go with him.

I was really having to grit my teeth, and it took a lot not to stop and walk at this point. We wound through Ham towards the Old Deer Park, and when my Strava was on 26 miles before we had even got into the Old Deer Park I knew my goal was over. The last section was a horrible loopy bit on the fields, but near the finish straight I saw my other half and puppy Baxter and this killed any negativity, I took the dog and he ran me down the finish straight. Home to finish in 4.02.14. So close to my goal, but yet so far, though I did run 26.6m, so technically my 26.2 time was sub 4, but obviously I wouldn’t count it as such.

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The positives are that I ran a 13 minute PB, I had a great race up to about 20 miles, and considering I was so ill the week before I think it wasn’t a bad result. There are so many variables in marathon running, and a lot were on my side yesterday which I why I really felt like I had the sub-4 in me. Perhaps with better hydration, or on a flatter road course I would have nailed it, but it’s hard to say. Would the race have been different if I had gone out 5-10 seconds slower per mile in the first half, or drunk more fluid- who knows.

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The race was really well organised, there was a nice friendly atmosphere, a great medal/t-shirt and good finish zone area too. I’ll do a post on my final thought on Hanson’s plan, but now it’s time to recover, and eat all the food.

Hanson’s Marathon Method Month 4

It’s race evening, and the pre-race nerves and excitement are kicking in now. It’s been a somewhat interesting last 4 weeks of training, it was all going smoothly and to plan until I got struck down with one of the worst gastro bugs of my life last week, I managed to only miss 4 sessions and 5 days of training, but the after effects were tough, and it really was dreadful timing.
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Going into week 13 I was pretty tired as I was still recovering from the cold, this week was peak week though so I really wanted to nail it. The sessions were good, I did a strength workout of 3 x 2 miles with 800m recovery’s, and the tempo workout went up to 10 miles tempo so 12 miles for the session. This week was my final 16 mile run, and I did a Mile End parkrun sandwich, it was a good run, my pacing was a bit all over the place- a lot of miles were way too fast, but I felt good during it so that was the most important thing.

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Week 14 had a slight drop in mileage, but it was still a 50+ mile week, there has been a lot of them in a row! I was in Cardiff visiting my parents this week, and it was really nice to mix it up and do my sessions somewhere a bit different. It was really muggy this week- I feel like the temperature has dropped so suddenly from a couple of weeks ago. This weeks strength workout was 4 x 1.5 miles with 800m recovery, I wasn’t sure how the strength and tempo sessions would go as Cardiff is quite hilly, but actually they were fine, I hit my targets no problem.

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August was my highest ever mileage month at 238 miles and I felt really good for it. The biggest thing I’ve noticed about Hanson’s is that I’m not battered after sessions and tired for days after long runs like I would have been had I been doing much longer ones. My final long run was 10 miles and I did a Cardiff parkrun sandwich. I followed it up with 8 easy miles the next day, I loved this run despite having a hangover and trying to avoid period cramps coming on, it was just really chilled, and I felt really comfortable and strong.

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That is where it all went a bit wrong. I went to work on Monday of week 15 feeling like I had the flu, I had a headache all day, was lethargic, and my whole body ached. I woke up on the Tuesday still with a severe headache, and then had an upset stomach all day, I just ate plain food, but by Wednesday I was feeling even worse, had a temperature of 103F, I didn’t eat anything for nearly 2 whole days, and it’s taken the entire week for my stomach to start improving, and for me to be able to introduce bland foods and keep expanding my diet. There was no way I could run at all, the only running I was doing was to the bathroom. I lost over 6 pounds during the 4 really bad days of illness, and since then I’ve been trying to build myself back up and I have managed to regain some of the weight (hopefully in glycogen storage!). It wasn’t missing the four sessions and 34 miles this week, but how I felt after, just weak and drained, and inflamed. I was improving day by day, and on the weekend ran 7 miles on Saturday and 8 on Sunday, both easy paced- I couldn’t go any faster, but I felt very sore particularly on the right hand side while running- almost like running with a constant stitch.

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This week I’ve just been trying to recover, and build myself back up for race day while getting in the easy runs on the plan. I still had the soreness and constant side stitch in the first runs of the week, but this has improved on my last two runs, so hoping I will feel ok tomorrow.

I did my regular 3 gym sessions a week in week 13/14 but haven’t trained since then due to the illness in week 15 and the taper this week, I am missing the gym a lot! I have barely been to yoga all month again but managed it this week, for a little pre-race stretch out, my hips were so tight so it was definitely needed.

4 months of work is done, 638 miles, 85 out of 91 planned sessions complete. I guess it’s time to race- let’s see what happens.

Week 13: 58 Miles
Week 14: 51 Miles
Week 15: 15 Miles (Ill)
Week 16: 17 Miles + 26.2?

Hanson’s Marathon Method Month 3

1 month to go! Just 4 weeks until marathon day. This third month has absolutely flown by- I feel like I say that on every update though. The weekly mileage has been bigger of late, and for the first time in the whole plan I’ve felt really tired (could also be something to do with training while I had a head cold…).

In Week 9 the Tuesday speed sessions turned into strength sessions. These are still interval based, but they are much longer repeats and done a bit slower than the speed sessions were. The first session was 6 x 1 mile with 400m recovery jogs. The Tuesday interval session now is 10-11 miles each week which was a big jump from the 6-8 mile speed sessions. I am still really enjoying these sessions though. I was starting to get a few niggles this week and had to invest in some new Adidas ultra boost trainers, as mine had a lot of mileage on them. This week was also the first 16 mile long run (I had done a 15 miler two weeks before) which is as far as the distance goes in this plan, I did a parkrun sandwich with a few miles either side of Southwark parkrun which finally was my 50th parkrun.

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Week 10 saw the tempo runs jump up to 9 miles of tempo from 8 the previous few weeks with a mile warm up and cool down, so this now means I’m doing three double figure runs each week, two of which are quality sessions. I had no problem hitting the required pace for this run, it was only an increase of 1 extra mile at tempo, and it stays at this distance for the next 3 weeks. I got my period this week which usually means I have to miss some training, but I actually managed my runs quite well around the pain so got all my sessions in. I’m trying to do the long runs on feel (ie. what I think 9.38 pace feels like) but I mostly find myself going way too fast so having to slow down, especially if I include a parkrun. I’ve been doing a lot of my easy paced runs with my other half, who has been doing a lot of running this summer, he’s been joining me on 5-8 mile runs which I am so impressed with, and he’s even gone on and run further without me up to 13 miles now, which is awesome, it’s really nice having a training buddy, especially on those days where my legs are tired.

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Week 11 was a big mileage week, its the second highest in the plan after peak week next week. My ITB started to really flare up this week, and I had a little bit of pain during my speed session (3 x 2 miles with 800m recovery) which reminded me I really needed to focus on my rolling and stretching routine (I had been slacking as I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and went to the athletics twice so my evening routine was out the window!). I started to come down with a sore throat on Thursday, but I managed to get my tempo 9 miles in, hoping it would go away. I just about managed to stay on top of the cold, and it didn’t develop into anything really, just a bit of a stuffed up head and blocked nose to add to the sore throat, it went very quickly too so I managed not to miss any training, I have been very tired during and after the illness though, probably my body fighting it off. This week was another 16 mile run, I didn’t do this as parkrun sandwich this week as I was out on Saturday so this was a Sunday run.

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Baxter after walking down and up Boxhill

On the Saturday we went to the NDW and walked down and back up Box Hill, so my legs were pretty fatigued and as I was still getting over the cold, I was really happy to hit the required pace and get the miles in on the Sunday long run. I felt absolutely shattered at the end of it though, I really had nothing left, which is not reassuring when you have to run an extra 10 miles on race day, but I think it was a combo of fatigue, illness and heat.

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Week 12 had a slight drop in mileage, but still some really tough sessions. The Tuesday strength session was 2 x 3 miles with 1 mile recovery, totaling up to another 11 miles in the bank, and I did another tough 11 miles with a tempo 9 miler on Thursday. I’ve still been feeling tired this week as I recover from the head cold, but hopefully I’ll be back to normal soon. It’s easy to underestimate the time it takes your body to recover from things, and what an impact it can have on your running while your body is busy fighting stuff off, so I’m trying to be kind to it (outside of doing loads of miles of course!).

I’ve managed to get to the gym for my usual 3 strength sessions a week, though I’ve been slacking on the yoga with only one class this month- oops! Next week is peak week, and then the countdown to race day really is on.

Week 9: 55 miles
Week 10: 50 miles
Week 11: 57 miles
Week 12: 51 miles

Training: Hanson’s Marathon Method

For the last three months my life has been taken over by the Hanson’s marathon method. I’ve blogged about a few of the months of training so far, but I thought I’d give a little insight into how the weeks are structured and what training my week consists of.

Monday: This is an easy day, which for me means the pace needs to be between 10-10.40 minute per mile pace. By Monday I have run for 4 days in a row, so my legs are usually fairly tired and I enjoy having an easier session. These runs tend to alternate between 5 and 7 miles depending on if it’s a higher mileage week or not. I will try and get one of my gym sessions in today too, usually Push which is chest/triceps/shoulders and a bit of core to finish. I don’t train legs or back on this day as I need my legs to be fresh for Tuesday’s session.

Tuesday: I head into Tuesday’s with a sense of dread, but I always really enjoy the sessions. The first 5 interval sessions were speed sessions made up of shorter faster intervals, but the last 7 weeks of training are strength sessions made up of longer intervals, but not done as fast as the speed sessions at 8.48mm pace. This week I did 3 x 2miles with 800m easy recovery, for a total of 10.5 miles. The Tuesday runs are pretty long now, between 10-11 miles, but I do feel really good after finishing them. I will try and get to the gym again on Tuesday, and usually train Pull (back/biceps) and core, or Legs and core. I’m pretty tired by the end of the day and ready for that Wednesday rest day.

Wednesday: Rest day. I’ve never appreciated a rest day as much as on this plan. I try to move as little as possible on this day and really embrace the rest, and time off my feet. Going for a dog walk, or walking to/from work is about as active as I get.

Thursday: This is another big session day as it’s tempo time. The tempo runs have been increasing over the weeks. Currently I am doing 9 miles of tempo at 8.58mm pace with a mile warm up and cool down. This is another session I sort of dread, just because of the length of it at pace, but it feels good hitting the paces and I know this session is really important to practice race pace. I am very reliant on my Garmin for pacing though, I find whenever I try to go without it I either run way too fast or slightly too slow- something I need to work on. If I haven’t been to the gym twice already this week then I will go today.

Friday: Easy run. This one is usually a tough one after the previous days tempo session, especially if I’ve done a gym session as well. This is usually around 5 miles and I tend to do it with the other half, it’s one of my easier sessions of the week as my legs are pretty tired. After this I will head straight to yoga for 1 hour, although I haven’t managed to make it the last two weeks as I haven’t had time. It’s not a particularly gentle class which I think would be more beneficial, but I do find it helps me to recover, and I feel good after the class too. This is another potential gym day, and I will either do the second session of the week or third depending on what I have had on that week.

Saturday: This is marked as an easy day, but I usually do my long run this day as I like to combine it with parkrun. The long runs vary between 10 and 16 miles each week, and are done at 9.38mm pace. I try to leave as late as possible from my house, turning up to parkrun just in time for the start as I don’t like to break up the session and stop. I’ll do parkrun and then continue on for the rest of the miles after quickly having my barcode scanned. I find mentally it makes the runs not seem as long, and I’m keeping my number of parkruns ticking over too. I’ve been doing the shorter long runs (10) at Hilly Fields, which is a really hilly route for me there and during the run, and the longer (16) ones at Southwark which is much flatter, and closer to what the race course will be like.

Sunday: This is usually an easy 8 mile run which I do with the other half. My legs usually feel OK after the day before, though I start to feel pretty tired at this point in the week. If I haven’t done my third and final gym session of the week, then I will do it on Sunday afternoon.

So that’s the current schedule. I tend to do either a series of stretches or foam rolling each evening, though I think it’s the strength sessions each week that keep me injury free. I am training for a sub-4 hour marathon, so these paces would go up or down depending on your goals. Running six times a week seems like a lot, but the mileage is so spread out that I feel as though the plan is quite well balanced, and I’ve never been crazy sore or tired compared to previous marathon/ultra training where long runs have dominated the week. I guess the verdict on the plan will have to wait until race day, but so far I am really enjoying it.