67, 72, 83, 93, 60, 114, 90, 101.
Those were my monthly mileage numbers in the eight months prior to running the 2013 St. George Marathon. That’s nowhere near as many as I was running in training for, and setting a PR at, the 2012 Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, yet my St. George finish time was just two seconds slower (I really wish my watch hadn’t died around mile 10, I had no idea how close I was to a new PR).
Three weeks after St. George, I took more than 20 minutes off my 50-mile PR from the previous year and nearly 80 minutes off of my time in the same race in 2011.
Steve has previously posted about his experience using the Hansons Marathon Method as he trained for the 2013 Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll and Pocatello Marathons. He did amazing in those races, setting huge back-to-back PRs. If you’ve read his post though (If you haven’t, HERE it is. I’ll wait…), you’re already familiar with three pillars of the method which I have issues with in my own training:
1. The weekly mileage. The Hansons method training increases the weekly mileage up to approximately 60 miles a week on the beginner schedule. That’s not a number I’ve ever hit for a week. Ever. Even in training for 50-milers. Heck, even in weeks I ran a 50-miler.
2. Six days a week running. That’s also not a number I’ve ever hit for a week. It’s not that I don’t like running, obviously I do, but I don’t want to do it that much.
3. The Hansons method is very pace-based. Each workout is run at a specific pace for a specific reason. Surely there is genius in this and, if done correctly (meaning, have a realistic goal, among other things) it can produce a desired result. Ask Steve. Maybe I lack focus or discipline, but some days I want to run faster than others and I don’t want a schedule to dictate that to me (maybe that’s why Steve’s PR is 25 minutes faster than mine). I was discussing this with another runner friend of mine a few years ago, someone who also keeps to a very strict pace schedule and my thought then as well as now is that upwards of 90% or more of my runs are not races. If I’m not enjoying the non-race runs, then why am I doing it?
One of the most irritating things I hear people say when they tell me all of the reasons they could never run a marathon is that they either can’t, won’t or don’t want to put in the huge mileage that certain monthly publications geared towards Runners and their World (as well as other sources) tell them they must meet in order to be “prepared.” Bull. Loney.
So how did I do it?
Distance running is, in large part, aerobic. Sure, some would argue that maybe Ryan Hall is not running aerobically when he clocks a 2:10 marathon. I don’t know if that’s true or not and I hate to be the one to break this to everyone, but with very few exceptions, none of us are Ryan Hall. So back to this aerobic thing.
Training the body to withstand long periods of aerobic exercise doesn’t require 20 hours a week exercising. Surely someone putting in that sort of time is going to benefit, but all I’m saying is that it’s not a requirement. It really doesn’t even require three hours or more in a single workout (again, you really want to go knock out two or three 20-mile training runs for confidence sake, go for it). In fact, some studies show that workouts of around three hours or more offer little additional benefit over a two hour workout and greatly increase the risk of injury.
This was the basis for my training as I entered 2013. After three years of doing nothing but running, my focus changed and I set my sights on training for a couple of half-ironman distance triathlons. So when I put my training schedule together it included just three days of running along with two swim workouts, a short bike ride (an hour or less) and a medium length ride (1-2 hours) per week. With only (only) a half marathon run in mind, my run workouts never exceeded 10 miles and my total weekly workout time averaged around 6-8 hours a week (I doubled up my workouts on some days, combining a swim with a short ride, a medium ride with a short to medium run, etc).
The importantly thing was that those 6-8 hours a week were nearly all aerobic. If I had been running aerobically for the full eight hours each week, I’d be right around 50 miles. See where I’m going with this?
My monthly mileage in June (114) spiked only because I decided to run the Seattle marathon with Steve at the last minute (by last minute I mean 60 hours before the race began and by “with Steve” I mean the first 11 miles before he left me in the dust—it wasn’t an aerobic pace for me). It was a bit of a stretch, but I finished that race right around my average marathon time. And I was fine the next day. Because it was aerobic. Readers of Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra will recall that as he religiously spent the bulk of his training time in his Zone 2 heart rate zone (an aerobic state), his pace while in that zone gradually increased. All he did at the end of his training was complete five Ironman distance triathlons in seven days, one on each of the Hawaiian islands.
By the time the end of the year came my body still felt fresh. There wasn’t the wear and tear on it that there had been in previous years. And so when I hit the starting line 26.2 miles away from Worthen Park in downtown St. George I felt great. And I ran great. And afterwards I recovered quickly and lined up to run 50 miles three weeks later – feeling great (I won’t tell you how I felt AFTER running 50 miles…but not so great).
My point is that there are probably as many training programs and philosophies as there are runners. The Hansons Marathon Method is one of them and many runners have had great success using it. There is certainly a place for more rigorous training programs. But if you’re thinking about running your first marathon, or maybe running another marathon but don’t feel you have the time or can’t run 50 miles a week please don’t be discouraged as you look at various training schedules. Keep it aerobic. Keep it simple. Enjoy yourself. Finish with a smile on your face.