The Hanson Marathon Training Approach—Does It Work?

by Ed Mehnert

Let’s start with a trivia question. Who are the Hanson Brothers?

a) Members of a boy band from the 1990s

b) Goonish hockey players from the 1970s Paul Newman movie, Slap Shot

c) Innovative running coaches and running shoe store owners from Michigan

d) All of the above

The correct answer is D, but we’ll discuss Keith and Kevin Hanson, the innovative running coaches and running shoe store owners from Michigan. They lead the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, which includes Des Linden, winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon (AKA Marathon of Misery). As I prepared for my 18th marathon, I was looking for a different training approach that could lead to a different result (yes, an elusive BQ time).

These are the key concepts of the Hanson Method:

High mileage, 6 days/week training plan, speed emphasis early in the training plan, cumulative fatigue, 3 substantial runs per week, 16 mile long runs, and a limited taper. They define cumulative fatigue as “The development of fatigue through the long term effects of training which results in in a profound increase in running strength”. The plan includes 3 SOS (Something Of Substance) workouts per week–speed work, tempo run at goal race pace and long run. The best known element of their plan is probably long runs limited to 16 miles for most people. Plans can be downloaded from their website and include several levels. Read the book for more info: Hansons Marathon Method: Run Your Fastest Marathon the Hansons Way by Luke Humphrey with contributions by Keith Hanson

I used the Advanced Plan and set a 3:36 goal. Your goal time sets pace times for the various SOS workouts—speed/strength runs, tempo runs and even long runs ( ). I ran the speed/strength runs in the Armory and its 200 m track. The goals for these runs were slower than the 800s I ran under my previous marathon training (800s at 3:30). The hardest runs were the tempo runs at marathon pace. I never ran all of these miles at the planned pace. The plan calls for running 6 days a week, so the time commitment is substantial. My plan had peak weeks of 56-62 miles and off weeks at 49-54 miles. Under my previous plan, I ran 50+ miles & 6 days during the peak weeks, but only ran 40 miles and 5 days during the off weeks.

What happened on race day? I started with the 3:35 pace group (Thanks Walter!) in the Illinois Marathon. I stayed with this group through the half (1:47) but began to lose them at 15 miles. I hit 20 miles 9 seconds ahead of my goal (2:45) and felt good. Like most marathons, I was waiting for my legs to die at any time. I reached mile 24 slightly behind (2 mins and 9 seconds) behind my goal (3:18) but had a stiff headwind during miles 22 & 23. The hills by the Country Club were coming up. I knew that I needed to avoid a 9 minute mile. Just barely made it with an 8:55 mile. After passing the 25 mile mark, I heard the 3:40 pace group behind me. Oh no! Time to push the pace on this slight downhill, able to hit 8:05 (my tempo pace) for mile 26 and pull away from the 3:40 pace group. Passed the 26 mile mark, time to empty the tank and make those fast twitch muscles work, every second counts, able to get under 8:00 pace and finish at 3:38:39. That is a BQ for me (first time)! Fast enough to get invited? Won’t know until September.

Final judgement-- the Hanson Method helped me reach my goal. My legs were tired at mile 20 but responded in the last few miles. This method requires plenty of time and training effort. I ran over 850 miles in the 18 week program. I did not miss a training day, but struggled with the tempo runs (bad winter weather or tired legs?). If you try this method, run the easy and long runs at the recommended paces so your body can recover for the next SOS workout.

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of In Passing.