Hanson's Method: Easy Runs

This is the first in a series of summaries of the different aspects of the Hanson's Half Marathon Method I'm using for my fall training. I posted earlier this year about how Hanson's method includes a lot of easy runs, but because easy runs play such a large role in the plan, I wanted to give it more attention.

I remember reading something, somewhere that said something like, Anyone can run fast. Just look at beginners, who start out running too fast, feel frustrated that it's so hard, and then decide they hate running and quit. Running at an easy pace takes patience and discipline.

That's so true! Slowing down and going easy requires checking your ego at the door and making peace with the slow paces that show up on your watch. It's very hard to do when your goal is to run faster. I never understood how easy running could possibly help me get faster and be a better runner until I read the Hanson's book, which says
Misconceptions abound when it comes to easy running. Such training is often thought of as unnecessary, filler mileage. Many new runners believe that these days can be considered optional because they don't provide any real benefits. Don't be fooled; easy mileage plays a vital role in a runner's development.

The book then describes and presents the science behind how easy running stimulates physiological adaptations in muscle fiber development, energy utilization, capillary development, cardiovascular strength, and structural fitness--all things that make you a better runner.

A lot of mileage in the plan is to be done at an easy pace, defined as 55-75% of V02 max. The Hanson's plan takes the guesswork out of figuring out your V02 max by prescribing paces for easy runs. My paces are exactly in line with the paces I run when I'm monitoring my heart rate and keeping to my easy range--even though they seemed impossibly slow when I first read the book.
Easy runs are often misunderstood as junk mileage or filler training. The truth is, easy runs make up a big percentage of the training week, and when they are run at the optimal intensities, they promote a wide array of favorable physiological adaptations. 

You can see just by looking at my plan how much of the mileage is easy--colored yellow.
Easy runs play a large part in the strategic weekly volume component of the method, designed to create cumulative fatigue, which simulates running the later stages of a race.
Adequate weekly mileage plays an important role in the cumulative fatigue process. Increasing mileage comes along with increasing training from 3-4 days a week to 6 days a week. This doesn't necessarily mean adding intensity but rather more easy mileage.
Easy runs are also important to the partial rest component of the method.
When it comes to cumulative fatigue, you walk a fine line between training enough and overtraining. The goal of the Hansons [sic] Method is to take you close to the line but not over it. The training you do throughout the course of the program is tough, but it will lead to a better, more enjoyable race-day result. Incomplete recovery is an important part of the training because it allows you to perform well, even when you aren't feeling 100 percent....Whether you are doing a speed, strength, tempo, or long run, there is a general preoccupation with the idea of being "fresh" for workouts. That freshness, however, requires days off before and after workouts, which takes away from the crucial aerobic adaptations that easy runs offer. While we don't put hard workouts back-to-back, we do employ the idea of active recovery. This means that workouts are often followed by easy running days.... Easy running is done at low enough intensities that you are primarily burning fat, allowing your body time to rebuild the lost carbohydrate (glycogen) stores [from the hard workouts]. In addition, your muscles learn to more efficiently burn fat because they are running at a pace that promotes fat burning rather than carbohydrate depletion. The muscles also adapt to the training loads placed on them and will eventually become stonger. This means you can handle increased workloads, recover, and gain aerobic fitness faster if you run easy on days you don't have a hard workout. 

This all sold me when I first read the book, which is why I incorporated more easy running mileage into my last training plan, during which I never felt as strong and fit as I did then. Of course, I was running a lot of hills, which also likely contributed. But it was definitely a combination of more easy miles and hills. I started using a heart rate monitor when I added more easy miles to ensure I was doing them at a truly easy pace. Prior to using a heart rate monitor, I thought my easy pace was 11:30-12:00. But per my heart rate, it's actually 12:30-13:30, and sometimes 14:00 or above on hills or with recovery after intervals, which is exactly the paces the Hanson's method prescribes based on my time goal.

The other important thing about the easy runs is that they reduce the chance of injuries and burn out, which is crucial in the Hanson's high-mileage program.

That's a basic summary of why easy runs are such an important part of the Hanson's method. In future posts, I'll be talking about the importance of what the method calls Something of Substance (SOS) workouts--the speed, strength, tempo and long runs--as well as how the Hanson's method handles crosstraining.

Do you like easy runs? Is it hard for you to run at a slow pace? Sometimes it's hard for me to slow down, but I love easy runs!

Labels: ,