As most of you know, I completed the beginner plan from the Hansons’ Half Marathon Method for the second time. The first time last summer was followed by a triumphant half marathon where I felt I ran my best race ever and got a PR. I followed that plan nearly to a tee and felt it was the hardest thing I’d ever done and was elated just to finish training, nevermind run a great race. This time was completely different. I didn’t follow the plan nearly as well and ran a very disappointing goal race at the end of March.
The few weeks since my race and the end of my training has given me some perspective to think back on my training without the filter of disappointment from my race. The big question I’ve been mulling is, Did Hansons’ not work since I had a bad race? Everything points to an unequivocal N0. Here’s why I think that and why I’m still 100% sold on the Hansons’ method.
My mindset was different.
Last summer, I was committed to trying my best to follow the plan because I wanted to run my best half marathon. I had a lot of doubts that a slow runner without much previous success or natural abilities like me could be able to do such a tough plan, so I was highly motivated to do my best. This winter, I decided to do the plan not to run a PR or have a great race but simply to get through the plan a second time to better prepare me for the full marathon plan I planned to do this year. Because I didn’t have a big goal to shoot for, I was more comfortable slacking off both in training and in the race. In retrospect, I probably just should have done a base building plan and not trained for a race.
The winter weather got to me.
You know I love my cold weather runs. I ran without complaint through a much more brutal winter last year. Maybe I’m just getting old, but winter got to me this year. I ran several of my speedwork days as easy runs because of snow, ice, and extreme cold and even skipped a run. But beyond that, my heart just wasn’t in it. While this winter was much milder, it’s still pretty damn cold at 5 a.m. when I run, and I just wasn’t motivated to get out and do my best like I was last summer.
I slacked off on the training plan.
Likely because of the previous two, I didn’t follow my plan to a tee. In the summer, the only times I deviated from the plan was a planned week of easy runs while on vacation and slightly more tapering at the end. I didn’t skip a single run, and I didn’t cut back on my hard workouts. This time, I cut back on my hard workouts a lot. Of the 4 speed workouts (shorter repeats at a faster pace) I had on my schedule, I did a single one per the plan. Of the 8 strength workouts (longer repeats at slightly faster than half marathon pace), I fully completed 4 of them; the others I did less workout and more easy running. Of my 13 tempo runs at race pace, I did the full workout 8 times. In most of them, I took a break between each mile instead of running continuously. I did complete all of my long runs except one that I skipped because of snow. Also, I never did any of my pace runs on hills even though my race was a hilly course.
I reached my training threshold.
Running higher mileage than I previously had has worked well for me. I tend to feel very strong, fit, and confident, and I’ve never had an injury when increasing my mileage. But I felt like I reached my max capacity for volume in my soul-crushing 47-mile week. In that week I had my highest mileage midday workout of 10 miles and highest weekly mileage and experienced fatigue like I’d never known before. It left me basically incapable of doing much the following week. It also left me mentally done with training and running, which carried through to race day.
When I look back at my training log, I realize my fatigue and burnout was likely part of a greater picture. Last summer, I ran a total of 500 miles in training, and this time I ran 593.52. I think the cumulative fatigue that this plan is supposed to create just hit me a lot harder this time than last time, and I didn’t handle it well. Also, I do wonder whether the goal race pace I arbitrarily set was beyond my current ability, which would better explain the feeling of being burned out I had at the end.
…And I ran a poor race.
Whether all this hampered my ability to run my best on race day is a moot point because I felt extremely unprepared in the weeks leading up to the race. I never mentioned this on this blog, but I’d been toying with the idea of running the 30K instead of the half marathon. I felt like the 30K might better prepare me for a marathon, but I also felt pretty sure that I wasn’t going to do well in the half marathon and didn’t really want to do it. And we know how race day went down. It sucked.
I have to believe it was a combination of all of these factors and not a testament to how well the method can work if you really commit to it to achieve an important goal. I didn’t put as much into training as I should have. I therefore didn’t have confidence. So I didn’t believe I would run a good race. And I didn’t.
But on the positive side…
I still really like this plan. I like the routine of running 6 days a week. I like the different workouts with variety each week. I like the challenge and feeling a huge accomplishment for meeting each workout’s challenge. I think higher mileage just makes me feel better and stronger. And I know that when I really commit to the plan and put a lot into it, I’ll get a lot out, as my first race showed.
I’m going to continue using this method. Another positive is that I know better what my weaknesses are and hope to better be able to meet them. For example, I probably would not try this plan in the winter again unless I want to run on the treadmill (which I don’t). And I probably wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have a big goal race; I’d probably just do their base-building plan. And now I know to expect extreme fatigue in my peak week. All these things will better prepare me for continuing to follow this method.
I’ll end with one final thought. I’ve never read a race recap from a runner who followed the Hansons’ plan to a tee and felt their training wasn’t enough on race day. Most of those runners ran awesome races. Those who didn’t credit factors other than training, like shoe issues and running paces too fast and then being burned out or getting injured. I’ve also heard from runners who did a Hansons-esque plan and didn’t follow it to a tee and still had a lot of success in their races. While Hansons does want you to follow the plan as closely as possible, I personally believe that each person will be as successful as they believe their training has been. I didn’t believe my training was good enough, and that showed on race day.