Final Review of Hansons' Half-Marathon Method

This is the last in my series on the Hansons' Half Marathon Method, as I've nearly completed the plan and have my race this Saturday. Other posts include easy runstempo runs, speed workouts, long runs, and strength workouts. While I can't yet speak to how the training translated to race-day performance, I can give my thoughts on the training plan itself. 

When I first decided to do Hansons, I created a scaled-back version because I didn't think I could do so much mid-week mileage. I run early in the mornings before work, usually waking at 4:45 to run. I would have to wake up even earlier to do longer runs, and I'd have to eat before doing those longer runs and then wait until everything was out of my system before starting the runs, since I did not want to be 6 miles away from my house and have to use the bathroom. The mid-week mileage just didn't seem doable. But everything I read on Hansons--which were reviews of the full marathon plan; I couldn't find a single review of the half-marathon plan--said you really need to follow the plan exactly, so I decided to give it a try.

Deciding to do the as-written beginner plan was a huge leap of faith for me. I'm not a fast runner--I used the slowest pace charts in the book--struggle with speedwork, had never tried running six days a week, and my highest mid-week run prior to this training segment was 6. I did have a bit of experience with higher mileage, which I tried in my spring half marathon training (many weeks in the upper 30s with peak week of 40) and found it worked well for me. Still, I had many doubts that I could actually do the plan, but I decided to try my best.

I shortened the 18-week plan to 15 weeks to fit my goal race, taking out the first two weeks of the plan and the last week of speed work, modified the plan to do a bit less mileage and just easy runs while on vacation, and scaled back a bit on both intensity and miles in the last two weeks. Otherwise, I followed the plan to the letter.

To do that, I had to give my life over to this plan. I started going to bed at 8:30 p.m.--without any problem because I was usually so tired--to wake up at 4 a.m. to eat and digest before starting to run at 5 a.m. My longest mid-week run was 9.5 miles and took 1 hour and 54 minutes, after which I would have to take my dog for his 30- to 45-minute walk, get ready, and have to work a full day. I typically spent between 8 and 9 hours running--just running and not including all the pre-run dynamic stretches, the warm-up walks, the post-run stretching, foam rolling, etc. that adds even more time--with most weeks in the low 40s (my peak was 43.5), so this plan was basically like another full day of work for me.

This plan was very difficult and was definitely the hardest training I've ever done. The cumulative fatigue concept has you running a lot of miles with partial recovery so that you are always running on tired legs and never feel fresh. As a result, everything was tough. Even my tempo run, which takes place the day after my only rest day, was tough. The speed and strength workouts on Tuesday, which come on the sixth consecutive day of running, were the most difficult. I know many people define "good runs" as feeling easy, but my definition of a good run changed through this training. Nearly every run was hard. I had to dig deep and push on my speed workouts, strength workouts, race-pace runs, and long runs. Even my easy runs did not typically feel easy because my legs were so tired. So if I could get through my run, it was a good run!

And in the end, I did it. I freaking did it, and what an awesome feeling that is. The plan builds you up gradually, so running six days a week and running long, hard workouts during the week became normal. But I often felt like superwoman after a tough workout. I would be in morning meetings and look at my drowsy coworkers and feel such a huge accomplishment that I'd kicked butt in a hard, 8-mile workout in the dark, hot, humid morning--all before everyone else was even out of bed. As the weeks went by, my confidence grew and grew. If I could push hard and dig deep and get my runs done on tired legs on hot and humid mornings, I had no doubt that I'd be able to push hard when I needed to on race day in the fall. For me, that alone was worth all the training because I don't have a very successful race history and am thus not a very confident runner.

I was diligent about stretching and foam rolling most days, and I fit in strength training when I could--usually two 20-minute sessions a week. Not only did I not get injured, but I had very few instances of even aches and pains. I felt very strong and very fit. In addition, I was eating a ton and never had to worry about gaining weight.

And then vacation happened in week 12 of the plan, right during my peak weeks. While I planned to scale back a bit on mileage and a lot on intensity, I ended up skipping my long runs two weekends in a row. I still got in more than 30 miles during my vacation (plus more than 30 miles of hiking), but the biggest damage was to my momentum. When I got back from vacation, I just didn't want to run anymore. I was mentally done. I struggled to get in another hard week of training and then started scaling back intensity and mileage the final two weeks. Those are taper weeks in the plan, but I tapered even more than the plan called for. Taking my vacation so late in the plan was really bad for my training, but there was no way I could have changed it.

Overall, though, I think this was a great plan for me. I felt myself getting stronger and more fit, with faster easy paces at the end of training, my confidence grew and I feel very prepared for race day, and I didn't get injured. I plan to use the Hansons' method for all my future training--with some modifications.

I believe that the plan is really geared for faster runners who are seeking age-group awards or big PRs and/or more experienced runners--even the beginner plan that I did. I follow many running blogs, and I was running more in terms of miles and time than most people who were training for full marathons. Faster runners using the plan would spend much less time on the plan and thus it would be more manageable. Aside from the time I spent running, I think the high-mileage hard workouts were just too much for me, and they contributed to my feeling burned out at the end. There were many mornings that I thought I might drop on the trail and just hoped other runners would find my body and be able to get help. I can handle 6 x 400-meter repeats. Or even 8. Ten would be really tough. But the plan called for 12. And that's the very first speed workout! I'm nowhere near going for an age-group award and just don't think I needed that much of the hard workouts. In addition to reducing the number of repeats of the hard workouts, next time I will run for time instead of miles on some of the easy runs, at least for the half-marathon plan or plans for shorter distances. On a particularly slow day, I would cover five miles in 1:07. Hansons' coach Melissa Johnson-White, who I consulted with while doing the training, said to assume a 10-minute pace for the easy runs. So if the plan calls for 5 miles, the intent is 50 minutes of active recovery. I would still get the benefits of that run if I ran for 50 minutes, even if I wasn't doing all 5 miles.

So, is the plan for you? Here are my thoughts on who would do well on it.
Saturday is my race, so next week I'll be posting about how this training translated into race-day performance. Tomorrow I'll post my race-day plan.