Saturday, September 20, 2014

What I Learned Doing Hanson's

This post might be a bit premature (since I'm writing it before I run the race I trained for), but I wanted to explore what I learned from trying Hanson's Marathon Method before my race results could color my judgment (good or bad).

For anyone not familiar with this program, it involves six days of running a week, no cross-training, and long runs that only build up to 16 miles. The main ideas behind their program are cumulative fatigue - so that those 16 mile long runs feel like the last 16 miles of a marathon instead of the first -  and the rule of specificity - the way to become a better runner is by running more.

I was super excited when I first started using this program. I was coming off a very disappointing training cycle using Runner's World SmartCoach. Not only did I dislike the training program, but I suffered through two illnesses and an injury, leading to some less than stellar marathon times during the spring season, only breaking six hours once. Considering I had managed a sub-5 at my first marathon, this was very disheartening.

Hansons seemed like a great way to redeem my running. I had run five days a week before no problem, so I assumed adding one more wouldn't matter. I had done some speedwork and gotten up past 40 miles when doing Hal Higdon for Sleeping Bear, so I didn't think I would be adding too much distance or intensity.

Spoiler alert - those assumptions were wrong.

I ended up getting overtraining syndrome, reigniting the compartment syndrome in my lower legs, and inflaming my cranky left IT band. I cut runs short because they were too hard and took it really hard. I slept and slept and ate and ate but was never satiated. I spent a lot of time feeling bad because not being able to adhere to my training plan didn't just mean I was a bad runner, but also a bad person. (Don't worry, once I scaled back the last few weeks, I realize how silly that was.)

I'm sure this training plan works great for some people, but it wasn't for me. I don't want to guarantee I won't revisit it in the future, but it won't be for a while.

But I am really glad I tried out this training plan, because I learned a lot in the process:

See, I'm just really Zen!
1. I am a terrible all-or-nothing perfectionist.
I was reviewing my training to calm my pre-race nerves, and I was surprised by how many workouts I had nailed. However, after missing a few runs because of the wedding I was in, the wheels came off a bit. I got worried I couldn't handle the training anymore, and, instead of amending my time goal then like a normal person, I skipped workouts rather than fail them. I should've just backed off the pace and at least gotten the miles on my legs, but that didn't seem like an acceptable options, since I had already "failed."

2. I love having prescribed paces, but they are a double-edged sword.
Building off the item above, I love the focus of having a specific pace to hit each workout (even if it is just what my easy pace should be) - I value each run more because I feel like it's accomplishing something. Obviously an easy run will do the same thing if I'm just told to go run based on effort rather than a specific easy pace, but I like tangible goals. (What can I say, I'm an accountant through and through.) However, if I don't think I can handle the pace, I'm very tempted to make an excuse and skip the run entirely, rather than just modify.

3. Saturday is my ideal long run day.
This was something surprising to me. Hal Higdon's long runs were on Sundays, and they were fine, but I used that plan in college, and most of it was over the summer, so I didn't really mind which day I lost four hours on, since my schedule was so flexible. Now that Monday always means a return to the office, I find I like having more couch time the day before. FIRST places the long runs on Saturdays, which might involve some early mornings and use of the DVR during football season, but I'm fine with that.

4. Five days a week is the maximum I want to run.
Hal Higdon prescribed five days a week of running, and I never felt like I was losing all my free time. Obviously, this (again) was different in college, but the thought never even occurred to me, so I assume it will translate pretty well to now. Running one more day a week doesn't sound that much different, but when it means one free day instead of two, it is.

5. I know what overtraining syndrome feels like for me.
As training started to ramp up and I was running paces truly beyond my ability, I got real live actual overtraining syndrome. It's always hard to distinguish between that and just normal fatigue (which is what I thought it was), but I eventually realized what was happening when I put on 5-7 extra pounds without any real diet change and had major trouble falling asleep, which I normally can do just fine. While this certainly wasn't fun, it'll be much easier for me to spot next time it happens.

I wished I looked this contemplative when I thought about it.
6. I love swimming.
This was also pretty surprising, especially because I'm by no means a good or even technically sound swimmer. I was honestly looking forward to Hanson's as a break from swimming, but now I see that was more a burnout of ramping up my yards too fast in the pool. I couldn't be more excited to get dive back in (ha ha ha) a month from now. While it still gets me a great cardio workout, swimming feels refreshing because it's no-impact, and I mean that mentally as well as physically. I'm sure I'll be back to flopping around like a drowned cat, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. 


7. I'm not very good at setting a realistic time goal for myself.
I think I'm better at speed than endurance. (Which is so weird to type since I'm quite slow and enjoy endurance more.) What this means is my 5K/10K times aren't very good predictors of what marathon times I can run, at least in my experience so far. The reason I blew up in Sleeping Bear so bad was I tried to run a 4:20, which my contemporary 10K time (56:08) said I could run, but I could only handle that for about 18-20 miles. My recent simulated 5K indicates I could run around a 4:40 at Monument. Maybe I just lack the race experience to manage myself appropriately to that time goal, but I'm going to be much more conservative. Worst case I can run negative splits and take my mulligan two weeks later at Stone Bridge.

Overall, my takeaway from Hanson's is that it's a great training plan, it just wasn't for me. Running is a way for me to relieve stress, but having some quiet time on the couch every night is vital to my mental well-being, too. I sustained a lifestyle of work, run, sleep when I had my crazy internship two years ago, but that was just to keep from going insane - it didn't renew or refresh me. I need free time to do other things for that to happen.

This post might come off as hyper-negative, but I truly don't want to dissaude anyone from using Hanson's, I just want to lay out the details of my experience. Besides this plan being quite hard (and I think that dead horse has been beaten pretty hard by others at this point), Hanson's takes a lot of time on weekdays. To make the shorter long runs work, you need to hit this weekly mileage. This can really suck all your time, so proceed with caution.

So what's next for me? I've hopped aboard the pendulum to swing the whole other way and will be trying out FIRST's Run Less Run Faster program. This involves three runs a week (intervals, tempo, and long) and two days of cross-training. There is one dedicated rest day and another optional rest day. I'm pretty sure I will be using the optional day to take a slow flow yoga class, another thing I've realized I really miss.

From what I've read (it seems like a lot of people critique this plan without every trying it and sharing their results!), this plan sounds just as physically taxing on Hanson's on the run days, but it will allow me to mix up my workouts and have some free time on weekdays again! I will be swimming on my lunch hours, so I will only need to come home from work (or get up early, like I alluded to in my last post) and lace up twice a week, rather than four.

This plan also allows for more flexibility. As long as the runs are not done on consecutive days, they can be moved around. This will be especially key during the holidays between travel and weird pool hours. I've been using this in between time to work on some other, non-running habits, so I plan to actually recap each week of training.

But if Hanson's taught me anything, it's that flexibility is key!

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