I’m over half way through training for Snowdon now and there are just 7 weeks to go until I give marathon number 6 a go. I’ve been following the “Hanson Marathon Method” again, because it worked so bloomin’ well for my London training last year: I hit my time goal bang on, had a really awesome race and stayed happy and injury free for the majority of the 18 week training program. It’s fair to say I’m preeetty keen on this style of training for a marathon, and a complete convert to their way of getting you through a marathon – where it’s your first or your fifty first. I’m mostly a huge believer in how they structure training for 26.2. In the past 12 weeks, I’ve done 97% of my training sessions – missing one because I’d ridden 112 miles and one because I got my period, felt shitty, it was raining and I had woodchip to remove.
The way I’ve been running, I think – no, I KNOW, has an awful lot to do with why I’ve been so consistent and happy running. There are 4 “pillars” to this way of training, and each of them have a slightly different but important role in getting you through a marathon. It is a lot of running, yes, but it makes sense. Here’s why…
Easy runs make up the majority of the weeks’ miles. At least 50% of miles run in the week are to be run at an easy pace – which is at over 1 minute slower than your goal marathon pace. The phrase ‘junk miles’ now really winds me up, as when you’re training for a marathon, no miles are junk miles. Miles in the legs are GOOD. I love and hate easy runs. I find they give me time to think, time to really ENJOY running. With marathon training, you can often find yourself incredibly restricted by what’s on your plan, what you’re meant to running and this means missing out on running with friends and exploring new places. Having so many miles set as ‘easy’ it leaves this as an option.
I have found them some of the toughest sessions during the week, however. I think it’s because my legs are really fatigued when it’s time for an easy run and I just can’t be bothered to drag them round. I’ve also noticed it’s where I can feel I need a good stretch, massage or to re-check my form.
Tempo runs are marathon pace runs, and teach CONSISTANCY, which is so key when you’re going to run a marathon, especially if you’re going for a big PB (or a small one!). Teaching yourself to run comfortably at a set pace is so important, whether you are going to run the race in less than 3 or more than 6 hours. I’ve worked this method into training for 10K races and triathlons: setting a set distance where the goal is to run at race pace for an extended period. It is challenging, but they’re so worth it.
The unusual thing about this particular plan is that long runs don’t go over 16 miles. The ‘science’ behind why this method doesn’t go super long is complicated and simple at the same time, but basically it is for these reasons:
- You’re running pretty long in the week – I’m now running over 11 miles twice during the week.
- The idea is to run fatigued and to mimic the last 16 miles of the marathon, rather than the first 20.
- Most marathon training plans for amateurs have the ‘long’ run as the main focus of the week – meaning some runners are on their feet for nearly 4 hours… which is bound to wipe you out for the following week.
- It makes little sense to have the long run make up such a huge percentage of weekly mileage.
I’m going to be running 16 miles three times and that’s it. BUT during the 16 miles run weeks, I will have racked up 60 – 65 miles in total. I ran 62 miles last week, felt fine running long on Sunday, felt pretty good for the rest of the day and feel fine now. From previous training experiences, I’m really not sure I would be able to say that if I’d clocked up 20 miles on Sunday morning and totalled less miles overall…
Once a week, I speed it up. Not massively, mind. Over the first 6 weeks, I ran intervals at my goal 5K pace on the treadmill, working up from 12 x 400m to 3 x 1600m. Now we’re into the second stage, it’s a total of 6 miles at just 10 seconds quicker than goal pace – from 6 x 1 miles up to 2 x 3 miles. Again, a key focus of these sessions is to be consistent, and hit the pace suggested. Going faster isn’t going to be of much benefit – not really. I’m as guilty as anyone for, if I’m feeling good, pushing a bit harder, but it’s usually come back to bite me either in the last interval, or wiped me out for longer than it should in the week – especially this far into training. These are also so important for teaching your body to run hard for longer periods, which is why they max out at 3 miles. For a marathon, although speed work is important- if you want to PB especially – running 400, 600, 800m reps is training a different energy system and teaching your body to work in a different way. If you want to do a marathon fast, run hard but run long.
I’m no expert at marathon running, but I’ve run enough to know what works for me, and I have realised – finally – that training for 26.2 shouldn’t break you; it should be tough but not impossible and should challenge you but not tip you over the edge. I really do believe that sticking to these ‘pillars’ of training and running more, more often is the key to running a happy marathon. I KNOW that timewise, it’s a pretty impossible ask for some people to run such big distances during the week, but if you can, do… it could change your perception of marathon training entirely.