Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hansons Half-Marathon Training Program

One of my goals this year is a new personal best at the half-marathon distance. I ran a 1:32:35 at the 2014 St Louis half-marathon (7:04 pace/mile). Now I'd like to lower that PR at the Illinois half-marathon on April 30. In my dreams, I break 1:30 (~6:52/mile). In reality, I'd be happy with any improvement in that current PR. 1:32:34? That'll do! In terms of practical goals and target times, I'm shooting for a 1:31:46 (7:00 pace/mile). Seven minute per mile pace seems doable.  A challenge, but reachable. It's a nice "round" number too. And a finish time of 1:31:46 just seems right. Hard to remember, but that's fine. I'll easily remember 7:00 pace.

The St Louis race course was rather hilly compared to Champaign. But the weather in St Louis was almost perfect--no wind and temperatures in the low 40Fs. Champaign will be a flatter course, but probably warmer. Is that a push? One element evens out the other?  Maybe. Another plus for the Illinois course is proximity--I'm a 15 minute drive from the starting line. No hotels, no strange dinners or breakfasts, no worries about traffic or parking. And I know the actual race course. Plus, plenty of friends running and volunteering. Overall, a huge advantage. This new PR seems possible! Even at the age of 50.

It seems possible, but how do I achieve this "possible goal" and make it a reality? I'm using an actual training program. Novel idea (for me). No more day to day, week to week, haphazard planning. For this PR attempt, I'm going with the Hansons Half-Marathon Method based on their book by the same name. They also have a marathon training plan I may adopt for my BQ attempt in July...but first the half-marathon in April.

Why the Hansons Method?  I was drawn to it because it had a thorough exploration of the half-marathon distance and race strategy. And nutritional advice. Not just a 2-page training plan. It's a full book dedicated to the half-marathon. That's rare. I also like that it incorporates two types of weekly speed work (that change over time) plus a long run. And it emphasizes "cumulative fatigue" by requiring 6 runs/week. Consistency will build strength, speed, and fitness. I need that for a personal best. Their basic 18-week plan can be found here (without the full details that are provided in the book).

What are the key elements of the Hansons training plan?
  • Tuesday speed session. Every Tuesday is an interval workout that begins with a focus on speed (5k race pace) and transitions to strength (10k race pace). An example of an early speed session would be 12 x 400m intervals at 5k pace. About half-way through the program, the speedy 5k intervals move to "strength" intervals that are longer efforts at 10k pace. For example, 3 x 2-mile repeats. 
  • Thursday tempo run. Each Thursday is a progressively longer tempo run at half-marathon race pace. This develops your lactate threshold and also gets you comfortable with race-day pace. Win, win. 
  • Sunday long run. It may "only" be a half-marathon, but those long runs are still important. No 20 milers needed, these Sunday runs top out at 12 miles. Toward the end of the program, you alternate weekly 10 and 12 mile efforts. Long enough to build endurance and stamina, but not so long you can't recover and be ready for the Tuesday speed sessions.
  • 3 other "easy" runs. To build overall weekly mileage, which peaks at 48 miles in the beginner program, you need lots of regular easy runs. These range from 4-7 miles all done at an easy conversational effort. You become more fit through active recovery. 
  • One rest day. Each Wednesday is a day off. No cross-training, no weight-lifting, no running. Just rest. With 6 days of running, you need a full day of rest to allow healing and adaptations. 
If I survive this very structured and intense plan, I'll be ready for a great race at the Illinois Half-Marathon on April 30th. Wish me well.

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