Using the Hanson method for trail marathons

I’ve used the Hanson method for the first time to train for the Broadway marathon this weekend, clearly I need to wait and see what the result is in the race but from a training perspective it has felt awesome and really clicked for me. But it is a plan aimed at road marathons given how the pacing’s work for the various sessions so I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I’ve adapted the plan for a trail marathon.

What is the Hanson method?

If you haven’t come across the Hanson method before I do recommend buying the book on Amazon and having a read. At the very least it’ll get you thinking about your approach to training even if you don’t follow one of their plans. In essence their approach is all about building fatigue in your legs so that when it comes to your long run you are tired. The longest run you do is 16 miles but it should feel like the final 16 miles of the marathon given the running you’ve done in the days before it. There is also a big emphasis on different paces with easy runs truly being easy and then strength and tempo work done around marathon pace.

hanson method plan

Why choose this approach?

My weakness in the marathons I’ve done so far where I’ve been pushing for a PB has been the final 5-6 miles, like you hear from so many people ‘fine up to 20 miles then the wheels came off’. It’s so bloody frustrating when you’ve put all those weeks of training in to slowly see your goal slip away but the classic plans have never got me past it. The consistent mileage in the Hanson method and the design of the sessions has been created to address precisely this issue so it felt like the obvious evolution of my training approach. It also helped hearing other runners sing the praises of the plan, notably Cathy.

ridgeway trail run
Can you tell how much I enjoyed this run?

Until last week I’d done every single run that was in the plan, always hitting the goal each week and feeling great with it. Tired of course, but no sign of injury etc. Then kids and bugs (them not me) got in the way and a few sleepless nights meant I skipped a couple of runs, but given I’m so close to race day I really don’t think it’s an issue and I think it goes to show how well this plan works. There is no massive long run at the weekend that kills you for a few days, or crazy speed session in the week that is hard to recover from. Sure it can feel relentless at times but as long as you embrace the easy runs and keep them easy then I think it works really well. I’ve certainly never done such consistent and high mileage before and a read of my Instagram feed would quickly show you how positive I felt doing it.

Adapting the plan for trail running

But what about adapting the plan for trail running? Well that’s the tricky bit given that a lot of the sessions have specific paces to run at that are derived from your target time. Clearly running off road means it’s almost impossible to keep a consistent pace going with the changes in terrain and of course some lovely hills. My approach was to try to keep it relatively simple but most importantly not get too obsessed about hitting a precise pace.

My solution was to set myself 2 pace goals for each type of run, so 2 easy paces, 2 tempo paces etc with one set of paces being what I would target if I was running a flat road marathon and the other set based on the time I expect to run Broadway marathon. Unsurprisingly the 2 sets of paces are quite different and the risk is that you end up with no real distinction between the different types of run each week. But I do think it was needed because while I do most of my running off road the hills around me simply aren’t significant enough most of the time to use just the slower paces that I’ll need for the race. I don’t think basing my training on them would have pushed me hard enough.

Training for a trail marathon has to feature hills
Training for a trail marathon has to feature hills

I think it worked ok, any road run I did I purely did the faster set of paces and then when running off road I primarily used the slower set of paces. The exception being the speed and strength sessions where I varied which to use a little depending on the terrain I was running on. For example if I was doing a 1km rep and it was mainly uphill I’d use the slower pace, but if it was flat or downhill then I’d use the faster pace.

Long runs and tempo runs were done at the slower pace to mimic the race as much as possible given that these sessions aim to train consistent pacing and build endurance. Easy runs were definitely done easy!

Now I’m sure if the Hanson’s heard about my approach they’d say I butchered their methodology but it worked for me and I think balanced the specificity of training with the reality of the terrain I was running on. Of course the proof is in the pudding as they say and hopefully come Sunday lunch time I will have finished Broadway marathon in under 4 hours!

Has anyone else used the Hanson method for a trail marathon? Or a road one for that matter? What were your experiences?

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