Pros and Cons of the Hanson Marathon Training Plan

Are you looking to challenge yourself with your next marathon and push your limits? You should find a good training plan to follow. But it can be hard to know which one is right for you.

There are a lot of options out there, and they are most definitely not all created equal. Two of my favorites, for more advanced runners, are Pfitz and Daniels. But Hansons is definitely in the mix.

The Hanson marathon training plans are tough, and they are best suited for intermediate to advanced runners. They strive for greater balance than other traditional marathon plans, and they de-emphasize the weekly long run.

Keep reading to find out where you can find the plans, what they look like, and what’s so great (or not) about them.

Where Can I Learn About the Hansons Marathon Training Plan?

The Hanson marathon training plans are a collaborative effort between the Hanson brothers – Keith and Kevin Hanson – and Luke Humphrey.

The Hanson brothers are runners turned coaches who have worked with some great American distance runners over the years. Des Linden was one of their athletes, and her experience with them was a key part of her memoir, Choosing to Run. Luke Humphrey was another one of their runners. Although he doesn’t quite have the claim that fame that Des does, he certainly has a strong resume as a runner (2:14 marathon PR, ran in several Olympic Trials).

Together, they distilled the Hanson’ coaching philosophy for elites into a plan that would be more accessible for serious amateur runners. Luke wrote a book, Hanson Marathon Method, to outline the plans.

As is always the case, if you decide to follow one of these training plans you should absolutely get and read the book. You can always find a copy of a training plan on the internet – but it’s the wisdom in the book that will make that plan come to life and help you be truly successful.

The first part of the book goes into the science behind running and training. If this is your first time dabbling in a more advanced training plan, you should absolutely read through this. If you’ve already read through Jack Daniels’ Running Formula and/or Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning, then you’ll find a lot of overlap here and you might want to just skim through.

The next part provides an introduction to the training plans themselves. They lay out the terminology they used for determining workout intensities, and you’ll need to understand some of these concepts to actually use the training plans. This is followed by the two actual plans that are included in the book, with weekly breakdowns of mileage and workouts.

The final and third part of the book dives into a bunch of other topics – like choosing a pace, strength training, nutrition, race tactics, and recovery. Again, there’s nothing new under the sun and there’s a lot of overlap between this and other major books (like Running Formula and Advanced Marathoning), but if this is your first serious marathon you should definitely read this part carefully.

What Makes the Hanson Marathon Training Plan Special?

There are two training plans in Hanson Marathon Method: a beginner plan and an advanced plan.

But make no mistake. Neither of these is “easy,” and the beginner plan is geared towards someone who may be running their first marathon but is taking the training seriously. So it is much more demanding than something like a Hal Higdon or Grete Waitz training plan.

As it is a more advanced training plan, the Hansons plan has more in common with a Pfitz plan or JD’s 2Q plan. But there are a couple of things that set it apart.

First, the Hansons stress the importance of adequate mileage. Although the beginner plan starts off quite low (10-20mpw), it quickly advances to a solid 50+ mpw. There is no plan that peaks at 40 miles. The advanced plan doesn’t go all that much higher (peaking in the low 60’s), but it has greater average mileage as it ramps up more quickly. These sit in difficulty somewhere between the 55mpw and 70mpw plans from Pfitz and Daniels.

Second, the Hansons strive for balance. The importance of the long run is minimized, and the importance of mid-week quality sessions is increased. You may be surprised to see that the long run peaks at 16 miles, and in some weeks it is much shorter. But this is paired with two demanding weekday workouts.

Compared to Pfitz, you’ll spend a lot less time on your weekly long runs, but you spend a lot more time on quality running. Compared to Daniels, you’ll spend a little less time on your long run. You’ll probably spend a similar amount of time focusing on quality, but it’ll be during the week instead of the way that Jack combines the quality work with the weekly long run.

Overview of the Hansons Training Plans

The two training plans are 18 weeks long. The beginner plan has you run 5-6 days per week, for a total of 40-50 miles per week towards the end of the plan. The advanced plan has you consistently run 6 days per week, and the weekly mileage reaches 50-60 miles towards the end.

Sundays typically alternate, with one week being a traditional long run up to 16 miles and the other being a moderate length run (~10-12 miles).

Tuesdays are a hard workout day. In the first half of the plan, you focus on short, quick intervals. Think VO2 max work with Pfitz or I/H running with Daniels. In the second half of the plan, you’ll do longer, slower intervals. Think threshold running for Pfitz or T pace for Daniels. In both cases, there’s a progression of workouts over the course of the plan.

Thursdays are the other hard workout day. They are reserved for marathon pace tempos. The Hansons have you run at marathon pace every week, starting with 5-6 miles and building up to 10. There’s a much greater emphasis on race pace work than in most other plans.

The rest of the mileage is spread out throughout the week. Wednesdays are an off day. Saturdays are a little bit longer than the weekdays.

Sample Week from a Hansons Training Plan

To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a sample week taken from the second half of the advanced plan:

  • Monday: Easy 8 miles
  • Tuesday: 3 x 2 miles at threshold, 800m recovery (total 12 miles with warm up and cooldown)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: 12 miles total, with 9 miles at marathon pace
  • Friday: Easy 7 miles
  • Saturday: Easy 8 miles
  • Sunday: 16 mile long run
  • Total: 62 miles

Note that this is one of the weeks with a longer long run. The weeks before and after only have 10 miles on Sunday.

Pros of the Hansons Marathon Plan

The Hansons training plans break the mold on marathon training a little bit, and they have some good stuff going for them. Here are a few highlights.

Reduced focus on long runs. By capping the Sunday long runs, you’ll get more time back during the weekend. You’ll also recover more evenly and risk fewer injuries. Pushing yourself to run 20+ miles in training doesn’t always make sense, and it can sometimes be counter productive.

Comfort with race pace. With weekly race pace tempos, you’ll be very comfortable with your target pace once race day comes. You’ll have practiced it weekly for months, and you’ll have built up the length of that tempo to a respectable 10 miles.

Simple workouts. The plan is easy to read and simple to implement. Workouts don’t have any complicated steps. They’re either a straight tempo or a simple set of intervals. If you don’t have a track available, it’s easy to convert those intervals to time and run them on the road.

More even demands and easier recovery. Although the weekly workouts can be tough, your effort throughout the week is spaced out pretty well. There’s no individual day, like a 20 mile long run with a segment at race pace, that should leave you beat up for days. If you manage the paces appropriately, you’ll be able to ride that fine line of fatigue but still feel fresh enough.

No tune up races. If you like racing, this is probably a con. But one of the annoying things about Pfitz plans is they place an emphasis on racing during the training cycle. While this gives you some feedback on your progress, it can be hard to schedule and it can also risk injury. There are no scheduled tune up races here.

Cons of the Hansons Marathon Plan

But that doesn’t mean that the Hansons plans are the best option for everyone. So here are some negatives to consider.

High mileage, especially for beginners. If you’re ready for the kind of mileage included in the plan, great. But the ramp up in the beginner plan is harsh. If you go into it underprepared, I don’t see how you’ll make it out in one piece.

High weekday time demands. By shifting more of the mileage and quality running to Tuesdays and Thursdays, you get some time back on the weekend. But you lose a lot of time during the week. You’re probably looking at 2 days of 90 minutes, give or take. Depending on your schedule, this may be hard to accommodate. This is also definitely not the plan for you if you want to run 3-4 days per week.

Less flexibility. While you can shift the whole plan by a day in either direction, having three quality sessions per week makes it tough to move things around. You have a lot less flexibility to reschedule things than you do with a plan like Jack Daniels 2Q.

Monotony is high. If you like fancy, complicated workouts, this is not your plan. There’s something to be said for keeping things simple, but you may get tired of doing roughly the same workouts every week for two months.

Lack of long runs may hurt your confidence. Even if you assume that the cumulative fatigue will build up your endurance, there is something mentally satisfying about doing a traditional long run. If you never go over 16 miles, and you don’t even do that often, you may not be as confident come race day.

Hansons Marathon Training Plan: The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, Hansons training plans are difficult – and they are solid. If you make it out the other side in one piece, you’ll be a stronger, faster runner than you were in the beginning.

If you love going out for a long run on the weekends, if you have limited time during the week, or if you crave complicated track workouts, this is not the plan for you. Hansons plans strive for balance and consistency. They prescribe simple workouts and repeat them over the course of the plan to help you develop and recover.

This is not the best plan for a true beginner. It’s also not the best plan for someone who wants to run 70, 80, or more miles per week. Those willing to put in the work for high volume training should look elsewhere. If you’re not yet at that point, though, this can be a good springboard to help prepare you for a future season at high mileage.

For an intermediate runner, looking to run their first good marathon, or the advanced runner who wants to progress on moderate mileage, the Hanson marathon training plan is a great choice. And if you’re going to follow one of the plans, make sure you get a copy of Hansons Marathon Method to help guide your training.

If you’ve followed either of these training plans, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. How did things go? Did you feel well prepared come race day?

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