Running the Hansons Way

I had one thing on my running mind when the calendar flipped to 2018: The wall. (NO! Not that wall…) The wall that runner’s dread, that point in a race where what was free and easy is becomes a death march. Steady strides become an agonizing shuffle. The race to meet a goal transforms into a race to simply survive. I was determined not to hit the wall.

Though I had previous marathon experience, my first and only attempt before last year had been in 2016, when my own naiveté had me training with a plan that did enough to instill confidence that I could cover all 26.2 miles, but not much else. To get myself to a place where I could challenge for the audacious goals I had set for myself I needed to be toughened up, my mind and body made ready to blast through the moments where I would inevitably asked the question: Can you do this? Under a plan that would have me perpetually feeling like I was running at the end of a race, rather than at the beginning, I had hope that instead of hitting the wall, I would bust through, the Kool Aid Man on a marathon course. Oh yeah!

I knew I needed a plan that emphasized both distance AND speed during training, the speed element sometimes lacking in plans that are tailored to runners just hoping to finish a marathon, but not necessarily at a fast clip. I knew I benefitted immensely from interval training. I knew I struggled with and needed to master tempo runs. I loved running long, my 20+ mile runs being one of the few highlights from my 2016 training. I found what I was looking for in the Hanson brothers.

Kevin and Keith Hanson are best known in the running world for being Desi Linden’s coaches when she won Boston last year. They have been around long before that, largely misunderstood as the “short” long run guys. The phrase reflects a deep misunderstanding of their approach to marathon training. Yes, their prescribed long runs are shorter than what most plans dole out, but their training is as hard as any I have undertaken, it is based on sound scientific theory, and it gets results.

When I first read the theory behind the Hansons approach to training, several elements of the plan stood out to me:

  1. Running six days a week: This is not a Hansons exclusive. I have seen several plans over the years that dictate running six or even seven days a week, but these have often been in plans pitched to advanced runners. The Hansons dish out running six days a week even to their beginners. Of course, beginner here is a loose term. If you are tackling the marathon for the first time, I would not recommend the beginner plan to you. The intensity is ratcheted way up from other plans I have seen. Had I attempted running the Hansons way as a younger runner I think I would have been turned off to running, so intense are the demands. In Hansons terminology beginners have previous racing experience in marathons or shorter races and are usually looking to race a marathon to meet a challenging time goal (there is a Just Finish program in the book, Hansons Marathon Method for brand new marathoners with less running experience). So why run six days a week? It is important to build consistency. Consistency is the key to reaping the rewards of hard marathon training. In previous years when I ran four or five days a week it was easy to put off a run here, reschedule a run there. The result was training that was all over the place, which likely held me back. Running six days a week demands dedication and, while it is sometimes psychologically draining, I found it turned training into a regimented practice for the first time in my running career.
  2. Three key (Something of Substance or SOS) workouts: Again, this is not exclusive to Hansons. I came into last year with experience running intervals and tempo runs. Many marathon training plans, however, emphasize the distance and not the intensity needed truly race a marathon. The Hansons provide that intensity. Speed work is run weekly early in the program, helping the runner to build the strength needed to run longer, hard workouts later in the program. This speed work always adds up to three miles, but with recoveries, warm ups, and cool downs, the workout can total up to nine miles. Speed eventually gives way to what are called strength workouts, which double the mileage of speed workouts though they are run at a slower pace (still fast though at 10 seconds per mile faster than planned marathon pace). Again, with recoveries and the warm up and cool down, the overall mileage for a single workout can get up there, topping out at 11 miles. Tempo work is run at marathon race pace, with the longest workouts reaching 13 miles when the warm up and cool down are included. When people focus on the “short” long run, which I will touch on in a minute, they ignore the demands from the entire week of training. A hard week in the later stages of training sees a strength workout and tempo workout total 24 miles combined before you ever get into the rest of the week’s mileage. The long run does not need to be long but running long at higher intensity has already been achieved.
  3. The “short” long run: Long runs are the third SOS workout you do in a week. While they are shorter than a typical program prescribes (many programs have a runner attempting multiple 20+ mile runs), and you only run a true long run every other week, they come at the end of a week that is already high in mileage. The result, as the Hansons brothers are known to say, is that running one of their long runs is “not like running the first 16 miles of a marathon, but the last 16 miles!” This is critical in the program design. The Hansons plan focuses on building what is called cumulative fatigue, where the body is continually stressed and never really allowed to fully recover until the taper. This may seem Draconian, and it does mean that you spend a large chunk of the training cycle tired, but it is really building the sort of fitness needed to break through the dreaded wall. Workouts are not the test for runners, the races are. Hitting a workout feeling fresh may feel good and encouraging, but is likely doing nothing to prepare you for the rigors of breaking through the wall late in a race when the body needs to know how to run on tired legs. Trust me, runng 16 miles at the end of a typical Hansons week is done on tired legs. Now I will add a word of caution here: pushing to fatigue for the sake of it is not smart training and will lead to burnout and injury. The Hansons don’t run you into the ground. I found that the plan took me to the edge of my abilities, but never pushed me over the line. I followed a plan that met me where I was in terms of fitness. I had experience running tempo runs and intervals. I had run 40-50 miles a week the previous year. I felt that the beginner Hansons plan was right at the level that would push me but not break me. If I had decided to try to run 100 mile weeks instead, I would have broken down.
  4. Active recovery with easy runs that simultaneously build a mileage base: This really is where the six days of training a week come in. Each week consisted of three SOS workouts and three easy runs. The easy runs brought two benefits. First, they served as active recovery for my weary legs. So long as the easy runs were run at a true easy pace, at times for me this meant up to two minutes over my planned race pace, my legs enjoyed the benefits of having extra blood circulated through the tired tissues, which brought with it healing agents, while avoiding the microscopic muscular damage that running at a faster pace brings. This speeded my recovery. These easy days also helped establish a larger base of weekly mileage. In the beginner program I topped out at 57 miles in weeks of overall running. These easy runs, though not fast, built bone density, grew additional mitochondria, spurred tendon and muscle development, and helped build endurance. The formula of these runs plus the SOS runs paid dividends on race day.

How I ran the Hansons way in 2018

For both the Cleveland and Columbus Marathons I ran using the beginner programs. Again, beginner is a misnomer here and I was pushed to my limit training for both races. At the easiest, once training began in earnest, I bottomed out at 38 miles in a week and topped out at 57 miles in a week. Speed week built from 400m intervals run at approximately 5k pace to 1200m. Strength runs ran through a pyramid structure, starting at 6 x 1 mile and building up to 2 x 3 mile runs, before descending back down again to 6 x 1 mile. Tempo runs run through three-week cycles, starting with a block of running a five-mile tempo once a week for three weeks, then jumping to a three-week block of running eight miles, then a three week block of nine miles, then a three week block of ten miles. For variety, I occasionally ran my long runs as hills runs, choosing to run most of the second half of those runs uphill to further challenge my fatigued legs. That decision paid dividends when I was able to tackle several small but challenging late-race uphill stretches during the Cleveland Marathon.

Largely I followed the structure and timing of the plan. The six day a week schedule makes moving workouts around challenging anyway. Race training in northeast Ohio during late winter/early spring can be hectic though. There were times when I had to rearrange my schedule to fit runs in when the weather would allow. I avoid, at all costs, running on a treadmill because I hate it. This does not mean I take unwise chances running in icy conditions or in dangerously cold weather. What it did mean was that if any tweaks had to be made, I tried to make sure easy runs were done inside and hard runs done outside. I avoided, at all costs, putting two SOS workouts back to back. The body just cannot recover fast enough to safely handle that much intensity over two days. I knew I would be risking injury if I tried. When concerns like that arose, I would rearrange not one, but two weeks of my running schedule to fit everything in. By being flexible, I was able to run almost every workout I was supposed to.

The results speak for themselves. I nailed two PRs, two BQs, and finished just three seconds away from gaining entry into this year’s Boston Marathon. Cramping and a bout of late-race nausea in Columbus held me back, and they are concerns I will have to address. However, a lack of fitness never caused me to hit the wall I so feared.

Pushing it forward in 2019

Sitting in my office are two dry erase boards filled with what every day of the next 16+ weeks will look like. It is my running calendar for the next four months, my plan for breaking three hours in the marathon. I am sticking with the Hansons plan and will be for the foreseeable future in my marathoning and half marathoning. I am that happy with the results. I have pushed on to the advanced plan and, barring some sort of injury setback, it will carry me through to race day.

The advanced plan follows the same basic outline as the beginner program. Mileage does not increase that much: where the beginner program peaked at 57 miles the advanced program peaks at 63. However, the increase in total mileage is significant. The beginner program sees five weeks that go 50+ miles. The advanced program more than doubles that to 11. Intensity begins earlier too. Speed and tempo work does not begin until Week 6 in the beginner program while it begins in Week 2 with the advanced plan with tempo work beginning the week after. The result is a plan that asks for more mileage and more high-intensity mileage, further steeling your legs against the demands of racing 26.2 miles.

I have also added some small tweaks to some of the SOS workouts. The hill runs will remain. They really did make a difference in the late stages of my races last year and I am hesitant to remove that training stimulus. Plus, I just love the course I run for those workouts. Training is supposed to be fun after all. I have, however, decreased the number of hill runs and added in a few fast-finish long runs. A main mental component of my training this year is reinforcing my race plan during training. Where I have jumped into my race pace early in recent races, I want to hold back something in the early stages of my races this year, and then turn on the afterburners later. Fast-finish long runs seem like a smart way to do that. I have also added a few tempo-hill sandwich runs. Mario Fraioli first published this workout in Competitor Magazine several years back and it quickly became a favorite workout of mine. The link describes the workout, so I won’t waste time going into detail here. What I will say is that the workout combines two workouts into one, challenging multiple systems and recruiting a wide variety of muscle fibers. It is a workout that is long, with its multiple breaks, and truly difficult as the second half of your day’s tempo run is completed after two sets of challenging hill sprints. While exhausting, it is a workout that leaves you feeling confident when you finish that last mile. I really felt I improved on my ability to run workouts at tempo pace last year and I am hoping this small tweak to a few tempo workouts seasoned in over the next several months will provide just a little more of an edge.

For information on the Hansons marathon training method check out these resources:

  1. Marathoning the Hansons Way This was my first exposure to the Hansons, read in a long ago edition of Runner’s World
  2. Hansons Marathon Method: Run Your Fastest Marathon the Hansons Way The source itself. This book covers in detail the intricacies of training the Hansons way, the physiological adaptations that occur when you follow the program, and the science that supports their approach to training

I will check back in after the Cleveland Marathon to report on how all this goes. Until then, happy running.



2018 and 2019: How Two Approaches to My Offseason Prepared Me for Marathon Training

In The Sting of a Near Miss: A Framework for Handling Disappointment (in Running or in Life) I described the difficulty of getting so close to a goal (gaining entry into the Boston Marathon) only to miss out on it (three…freaking…seconds…). As difficult as that experience was, the truth is 2018 was a good year for me as runner. I took my training to new heights and enjoyed the results that followed.

One of my goals with this blog is to teach others through sharing the technical details of my own experiences. I don’t simply want to tell you what I did but explain why I utilized certain training approaches and the learning curves and pitfalls of trying those approaches.

As we head in 2019 I will be sharing a series of posts that highlight a particular aspect of race training: off season training, running, strength training, nutrition, recovery, and mental training. I will explain my approach to each of these subsets of training in 2018 and how I plan to advance to make 2019 an even better year.

Off season training: late 2017 and early 2018

Given the vast interest in running and racing there is surprisingly little information on what do to in the down periods between race training cycles. Looking back at the training I did between the 2017 Towpath Half Marathon and the start of training for the 2018 Cleveland Marathon, one gets a clear sense I was making it up as I went along. Weekly mileage totals vary wildly. I do not run on set days. The sole constants are a weekly long run and speed development work. Tempo runs are nowhere to be seen.

To be fair, training outside of race training cycles does not need to follow a strict regimen, depending on what one’s immediate goals are. One of the reasons I love the break between my fall race and my spring race is that, at seven months long, it offers me enough time to break away from the strict routine of race training. If I want to relax, I can. If I want to head out and run and not worry about time or distance, I can. However, as the start of a race training cycle looms, the goal shifts. I entered 2018 knowing I would be utilizing a plan designed to elicit a major jump in performance. The plan, utilizing the Hansons brothers’ (famous for being Des Linden’s coach) approach to training, called for a jump in weekly mileage compared to my previous highs and running six days a week. Jumping into it after spending several months with an “I’ll run if I feel like it mentality” was brutal. I dealt with small but nagging injuries and struggled to adapt to running six days a week.

The last thing that stands out to me looking back at my training logs is the total absence of strength training. None was done. I simply ran. Given the demands marathon training would place on my body, I am somewhat stunned that I held up as well as I did under the Hansons plan without a base of strength work. I would start to strength train once actual marathon training began but it is hard not to wonder if my early training would have gone smoother if I had done more to strengthen my body first.

Off season training: late 2018 to the present 

This offseason I have built far more structure into my training. My earliest weeks were just about getting out and enjoying the freedom of the road again. Structure is good, but marathon training is a long slog and I did not want to get sucked in too early into the grind of a daily routine. However, after Thanksgiving I got serious and adhered to a plan that emphasized the following points:

  • Running five days a week, and later six days a week, to get me mentally back into the weekly routine the Hansons plan establishes.
  • A focus on three hard runs: long runs, speed development runs, and tempo runs. In years past I ignored tempo work until actual training began.
  • Strength work four times a week, establishing a pattern I plan to continue when marathon training begins. This year I am strength training using the principles Jay Dicharry outlines in his book Running Rewired. My workouts during the offseason have been at the low end of the intensity spectrum and will get progressively more intense when marathon training begins. I will be discussing strength training in more depth in two weeks.
  • Running a weekly mileage that progressively builds to the mileage I will be running during the first several weeks of marathon training.

I have followed this plan with one large break in the week that began the day after Christmas and continued through New Year’s Day. I took a trip, planned quite late, to Charleston, SC, in the days following Christmas and then passed around a stomach flu with the rest of my family. Rather than risking a setback, like a prolonged illness because I was pushing my body, I decided instead to take the week, adjust the mileage the week after, and then resume my normal training load.

With marathon training beginning next week I feel good about where my body is. My easy pace is faster than last year’s but feels effortless. I have felt noticeably faster during my speed development runs and my tempo pace, which I often struggle to find and hold, feels hardwired into my legs. Granted, I am running roughly 20 miles per week less than what I will peak at later in the year. If I learned anything from the Hansons plan last year, it is that the cumulative fatigue the plan prescribes will make everything feel harder as I get deeper and deeper into training. Still, a year later, I feel I am eyeing the start line of another training cycle with hard-earned experience, the confidence that comes with it, and feeling far more physically ready for the challenge that awaits. We will see what happens.

The lesson

Rest and recovery are important. Race training is physically demanding and the routine can be mentally draining. There is nothing wrong with using your down time to break from that structure and run when and how you want. However, when you begin to stare down the start of another training cycle, it is beneficial to prime your body for the mental and physical demands of training. Adopting structure, mimicking what your training will look like, but at lower mileage, will help you enter a new cycle with confidence. Time will tell if I’m better prepared for marathon training in 2019. I feel I am, though, and confidence can go a long way.

Next week I will be talking about the Hansons plan that I followed last year and my plans to advance that training this year. Hansons is not for everyone but I will vouch for the results. I hope what I can share about it will be educational to anyone that reads the post.

Happy running,



Ten Books Runners Should Read In 2019

Okay, so this was supposed to be a year-end post in 2018 where I reviewed the top books for runners I read last year. However, when your brother decides to push up his wedding and it requires a multi-day drive to arrive at the destination, things get pushed back. So here I sit, posting this a week later than intended but still chock full of information I hope you will all find useful. The ten books I am going to list are not all running books per se, but they are all books that can benefit or be of interest to runners.

Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

By far the best book I read in 2018. It is full of information on performance, recovery, establishing a proper mindset, and more and is applicable to running and life. I reworked almost all aspects of my training program to incorporate their suggestions. Stulberg is a former consultant at the elite McKinsey and Company and now coaches and writes about human performance. Magness is a coach to professional runners and the cross country coach at the University of Houston. Their twitter feeds are a plethora of great information and I highly recommend you follow them. Stulberg is @BStulberg and Magness is @stevemagness.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is one of the more important books I’ve read in the last five years. I still listen to the chapter on keystone habits five or six times a year. Duhigg covers the theory and science of habits and habit formation well and Clear builds on it with practical approaches to creating new habits, breaking bad ones, and advice on how to streamline the process. Anyone looking to start a new running routine or review their current running routines would be smart to give this book a read.

You Are Not a Rock: A Step-by-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (for Humans) by Mark Freeman

A mental health book may sound like a strange suggestion to runners but I think this book is a must-read tome for anyone. Freeman shares his own struggles with mental health (tales which showed me that I was not nearly as alone as I thought in my own struggles) and details an ongoing process people can utilize to handle their own mental health issues. One early strategy Freeman highlights is learning to identify and sit with your compulsions, rather than feeling the need to give in to them. His writing on compulsions made me realize how often I give in to compulsions, (cough checking my phone cough) even in the middle of workouts or between running and strength sessions. These habits have surely robbed me of some of the gains my workouts are designed to elicit and I have since begun to work on identifying my own compulsions and working to overcome them.

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

I read this early last year and was captivated by the different stories Hutchinson (one of my favorite sports science writers) shares. He dives deep to help us understand the roles the physical and psychological play in our ability to push ourselves to and even beyond our perceived breaking points. I took my mantra for last year’s Cleveland Marathon, “pain is a privilege” directly from reading this book.

Running Rewired: Reinvent Your Run for Stability, Strength, and Speed by Jay Dicharry

Dicharry is a physical therapist and running coach whose approach to strength training is to make sure runners are running with the proper muscles firing before they take on trying to lift heavy loads. Dicharry’s book clearly details the various ways that muscle imbalances and lack of mobility can compromise a runner and result in injury. A series of tests and corrective exercises seek to correct imbalances, early workouts establish dynamic core stability and glute and hip strength before later workouts work to develop more pure strength and power. After finally establishing the habit of regularly strength training last year, I am upping the ante and tackling Dicharry’s more progressive workouts in my lead up to the Cleveland Marathon in May.

Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You by Kara Goucher

I have long admired Goucher’s openness about her struggles with confidence. In this book Goucher further digs into this challenging part of her professional career and the ways she has developed confidence from the ground up. Moving beyond a simple biography, the book is also a workbook for the reader, inviting us to share our own insecurities and to use mantras, power words, and other confidence-building strategies to help us be our best. A great read that is applicable to running and life.

Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom by Cameron Stracher

If you enjoy the professional side of running, this is a great book that digs into an earlier time period when the dominance of Americans Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar spurred the first running boom. Stracher does a wonderful job capturing the rises and falls of all three runners set against the establishment and earliest runnings of the Falmouth Road Race. At times I felt like I was standing in New England on the side of the road watching the three titans sprint by. I am not sure there is any practical information a runner can take from the reading, but for pure enjoyment of racing as a spectacle, this book does well to bring those old races directly into your living room.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

This is another book that takes the reader back into an earlier running era. I had no idea how close to disaster Knight was in the early days of Nike and how many times it could have gone sideways for him. I still have notes from reading this book about risks Knight had to take, small but important lessons he learned, and the psychology of going all in on an uncertain bet.

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey

Not a running book in any sense. I read this during the Olympics last year. For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the Miracle on Ice. I have read everything I could on Herb Brooks and the methods he used to take 20 young men from different backgrounds and get them, not just to come together as a team, but to come together as a team capable of beating the best program in the world. The book details the backgrounds of each player and the months leading up to the games, all weaved together during a lengthy retelling of the game against the Soviets. I guess I like this book for runners because I run to compete: against myself, against the clock, and at times against others. This book beautifully captures the nuances of one of the greatest competitive sporting matches ever held.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Another book that is not a running book but that contains a central thesis that I think all runners can learn from, especially in this age of digital distraction. I cannot speak for any of you, but I will admit that my workouts are often interrupted by my devices. Sometimes it is because I am listening to music or have Netflix on in the background. Other times it is because a sporting event is going on during my workout and I return from my run to check and score, and then Twitter, and then other social media and now, dammit, I was supposed to start my strength training right after my run and that was 20 minutes ago and now I haven’t started and I need to eat and I’m getting hypoglycemic and I’m almost past the crucial 30-minute window to get in some nutrition after a run and… You get the point. Newport’s thesis is simple: In a world of distraction those who can stay focused will be valued commodities. In your running, your ability to keep the main thing the main thing, that is, your workout, will help you achieve stronger and faster progress than if you are constantly stopping mid-workout to take a picture or check your Twitter feed. This is a good book to help you understand the need to avoid distraction.