Monday, August 26, 2013

The Effect of Hansons Marathon Training on a Marathon PR: A Perth Chevron City to Surf marathon race recap

I did say some time ago that this marathon was going to be an experiment. So here you go...

Abstract: This case study is of a female subject, aged 28, running her fourth marathon in four years. Using the Hansons Marathon training method, subject successfully attained her goal time of under 5 hours, produced a 20-minute PR, AND had fun most of the way except for quad cramps as usual right near the end.

Introduction: This is a one-subject case study. You know me. I know you (if I don't, please leave a comment to say hi!) Let's skip the introduction. You can read the rest of the blog.

Race faces - it was go time at 5am! I'm on the right; on the left is Holly whom I talked into doing the marathon as well. SHE had a VERY good run. Read all about it. Photo courtesy of Holly. 

- Training:
Starting in April, I began using a variant of the Hansons Marathon training plan (I didn't get the book until about a month ago - READ THE BOOK if you intend to use it). Its most important principle is probably cumulative fatigue: you run six days a week with a speed day, a tempo day, a longer run day (up to 25km), and three easy days. This is to simulate the LAST 25km of a marathon, not the first. Rest between your speed day and your tempo day.
I was able to stick to the training plan, give or take a few km, for the first 10 weeks or so; thereafter, work commitments, illness and slight injuries meant a week of lower (40km) mileage every couple of weeks.

- Other stuff
Nail polish (blue, the usual; assume colour does not affect aerodynamicity and fingernail aerodynamicity does not affect overall speed)

Immediate pre-race inputs: Dinner - pizza, turkish bread with dips and caprese salad. (Photo from Holly.)

Breakfast - coffee and Orgran's Buckwheat Os. The cereal was much like Cheerios but, well, made from gluten-free buckwheat - since I have no gluten sensitivity this was not a concern. These were a brand new (to me) cereal that we'd been eating for the past few days with no ill effects, and since I sometimes have cereal before a race I figured this would do just fine.

During-race inputs:
Hydration - Nuun in the waterbottle, refilled twice with water
Fuel - One pack Clif blocks in 'margarita' flavour from 6-21km; half a chocolate Honey Stinger gel from 28-30km, gave up because too sweet; one chocolate Honey Stinger gel from 37-40km because of hunger pangs.

Garments: Race-day weather was uncertain (rain? yes? no? how much?); the temperature was a balmy 12 to 19 degrees C throughout the marathon - really optimal running weather for me (i have been known to winter hike in New Hampshire winter in a t-shirt). I wore a wind jacket and cotton arm sleeves to the convention centre start, discovered I was warm by the time we got to the start point 1km from the hotel, and took the gamble to leave arm sleeves in clothing bag. Cap, capris and tank top ended up working out just fine and were a great departure from the usual What Not To Wear disasters.

I maintained a fairly even pace till the 30km mark, crossing 10km just over an hour, 21km in 2:12 (very nearly pulled off a new half-marathon PR, which should NOT be the case during a marathon), and 30km around 3:30. (There were two fairly big hills between 22 and 30km and much of that portion was upslope.)

Between 6km and 12km I crossed paths with an older gentleman who had lived in Perth for 44 years ("I came on vacation 44 years ago and never left. Been to Singapore plenty of times") who was running his 38th marathon with bells on. Literally - he had them in his hand. Out of curiosity I asked him what time he planned to come in. Five hours, he said to my slight horror (while he was good company, I was not about to listen to jingle bells for 36 more kilometres this far short of Christmas). I ran away. (Later edit: he did remind me to run the tangents. "Cut the corners," he said. "Good girl.")

There were some GREAT views of the Swan River, first as we ran along it, then from the top of a hill in King's Park botanical gardens. Sadly, I never got to see the surf at the beach where the race ended - was just too sore to walk around a whole lot. Also, there was a big ol' downhill right after the finish line, which was quite enough for me.

On-the-run funnies included three cyclists with signs at the top of a hill: "BIKE FOR SALE", "EPO UP AHEAD" - "Do you offer rides?" I said.

Official results and race splits aren't in yet, but I felt like I began to slow down around the 32km mark and cramped at 36km - to the point I had to squat down and stretch out my thighs. I walked about half a km, crunched half a Nuun tablet, drank some water, and kept on going. (At that point I had about an hour left to get in under 5.)

There were not one but TWO hills from 38km, right before the finish. Fine, I understand, this is natural terrain and not the bridges that race organisers in Singapore keep saddling us with.

Oh yeah, and I came in at about 4:53 (race clock minus the extra minute it took to cross the start line). This was a >20-minute PR from my last one, and I'd very much wanted a sub-5-hour marathon too. Winning!

Edit: Official net time was 4:54:18, with the following splits (really just for my own info):
10K - 1:00:08
20K - 2:05:05 (1:04:56)
30K - 3:15:13 (1:10:08) <-- big hills here
40K - 4:35:11 (1:19:58) <-- cramps AND hills here, always a fun combination
Finish: 4:54:18

Would I use the Hansons method again? Yes, it seemed to work. It seems as though there are plenty of believers, too. (Jeano!) I managed to hit and stay at higher mileage, fairly consistently, than in previous training cycles where I topped out at 55+km. Thanks to the increased mileage, I'm in better shape than I was during my previous PR (5:15 at Tokyo in 2011). And I'm now used to running six days a week.

It probably worked for me because I have so much room to improve (my marathons over the years have been 6 hours, two in the low 5s, and now this.) I'm not sure cumulative fatigue and higher mileage alone would work as well for someone who's pushing PRs of a few minutes each time. That one will take speedwork and mental mettle.

Mentally, this was the easiest marathon I have ever done, as the weather was so pleasant. For the last 6km, the motivation was very simple: I knew there were hills, I knew I would cramp, I came prepared for battle.  I simply wanted that sub-5 way, way more than I minded the pain. In all I might have walked a total of 1 or 2 km - at no point did I think 'I want to throw in the towel', it was more like 'well if you want it you're going to have to fight for it'!

Why was I injured in training? That's a mystery but there are a few possible reasons: Hansons does not specifically include strengthening/ agility exercises or a stretching regimen, which I started doing quite late and which often fell by the wayside due to work; I'm also extremely flexible and somewhat injury-prone. I'd definitely recommend doing some strength exercises and much stretching/ foam-rolling in any marathon plan.

Why in the two blue hells do I still keep cramping?
I have very nasty and well-documented problems with leg cramps. The nice physiotherapy student who gave me my post-marathon massage said the crampy muscle was, very specifically, the vastus medialis. That's the lower bit that goes from the inner knee midway up the thigh. I'm glad it held off till 36km, the longest I've gone in a marathon without cramping. Thanks, weather.
I did a couple of things that probably helped: sugarless electrolyte drink and Clif margarita shot blocks with electrolytes from the beginning, and Nuun-tablet crunching (what? haven't you ever had Pop Rocks?) and lots of water the moment the cramping began.
But I don't know why the cramps happen at all. Was I dehydrated? Perhaps, but I didn't want to drink more water because I could feel it sloshing around inside me. Why do those muscles cramp and nothing else (calves hamstrings glutes other quad muscles)? If you have any answers, correspondence is by blog comment please.

Would I recommend this race to Singapore runners? YES. At 1500 runners, this was easily the smallest marathon I have ever run. The 'swag' that Singapore runners are used to in their goody bags (daffy knicknacks, snacks, caps, vouchers) is nonexisistent; you are paying for excellent organisation, abundant water and Powerade and Gu, trucks to transport your baggage to the finish line, portapotties, road closures, shuttle buses to get you back to town, and finisher shirt and medal.

The course has a number of hairpin turnarounds to make up 42.2km so don't expect to be too fast. But spectators do line the streets and cheer. This year, the weather was superb. Just make sure you do a great deal of hill training (you have no idea how many times I've run up those @#(%& Botanic Gardens and Rifle Range Road hills in training). And take it easy on the downhills.

Supplementary materials
Link to obsessively checked Perth weather website
Link to City to Surf website. All I could think was 'Chevron is a sponsor? If you win what do you get? Free gas for a year?'

This is a really hard-earned medal, thank you very much. 


  1. first of all, Congratulations!

    did u enjoy the scenery around king's park?

    -random googling in forums throws up magnesium deficiency as a possible factor for v.m. cramping... Do yr supplements contain magnesium?
    - The fact that u did strength training for quads, glutes, other large muscles prior probably helped. v.m.s are a tricky muscle to do strength training for....


    1. Thank you! The scenery was fabulous! King's Park is lovely. Even if those were killer hills. Hmm, might have to try magnesium supplements. This marathon thing is an experiment in progress. :)

  2. Yay, so many congratulations!! You both did an amazing job today (yesterday? I think you may be 23 hours ahead of me). And that's a huge PR-almost 1 minute per mile!!

    I'm also glad to see the Hansons didn't totally fail you; I get nervous when I read about other people using their plan because I worry it won't work for them and then I'll just be a crazy quack shilling useless goods.

    Congratulations again, and enjoy the rest of your time in Perth!

    1. Thanks Jeano! I'd say we ought to pool our results so we have an N of 2... but it's so hard to keep all the other variables constant.
      Right now we're sitting in a cafe after lugging too many heavy electronics around the art museum and trying to kill time before a midnight flight!

  3. Congratulations! That's such a great result.
    Andrew could be onto something with the magnesium. My son used to have issues with cramps during soccer matches and was advised to take magnesium - cramps stopped!

    Melbourne Marathon is in October. There's a few long runs to go yet,

    1. Thanks Char! Hmm, magnesium definitely sounds like something to try. As a kid I used to have cramps after ballet class and could never figure out what to do short of stretching and waiting. The funny thing is I don't cramp on long runs so would have to wait till my next race to see if it works.

    2. Or, now that you aren't marathon training, try inducing cramps with a really long run (or by running the first part faster than usual, to bring on that "36th km feeling" sooner!). =) Experiment time!!!!

  4. PS Dibs on GCA as a marathon buddy. She rocks. If any of you want her, you'll have to clear it with me, first. ;-)

    1. We could all just go as a marathon platoon - you, me and whomever else feels like sharing that hotel room with our sweaty clothes airing out.

  5. Congratulations, sounds like it was an awesome run! Really enjoyed reading the account too. I don't know why but these Clif blocks you keep writing about sound very tasty to me :S And hurray for blue nail polish!

    1. Thanks! It was VERY enjoyable really. Clif shot blocks and blue nail polish are my secret weapons. ;)

  6. Wow! Looks like an awesome race! Congrats on the amazing 20 min PR! Quite the accomplishment, indeed! Keep on running.

    1. Thanks Amy! I'm still boggling at the 20-minute PR. It's going to get tougher to make such huge jumps from here on out, the easy gains are done. Well, except for the cramping problem. :)

    2. PS - I am so slow, I JUST realised your blog has moved house and I have to fix the address in my feed reader :P

  7. Nice one! Congrats the huge PR! Good to hear Hansons worked for you (I've yet to read the book and try it but sounds interesting!).

    1. Thanks! Next up, beating my dad's marathon record :)

  8. Congrats on your PB!!!! 20 minutes is spectacular :D

    It was great finding your blog (and Holly's) because it just so happens that I'm researching Perth as a marathon destination (nearest to SG, heh hehs). And also great to discover that you are yet another happy user of the Hanson's method! I'm currently starting on Lydiard, which is probably older but similar in that you have to do back to back longer runs. But Lydiard focuses on nothing but aerobic buildup for at least 5 weeks. Have you done Gold Coast though? I heard it's a superbly flat course :D

    1. Haha, yes - Perth is an excellent marathon destination - it's near SG and has good food and great scenery. I'd also recommend Tokyo if you can get in! I think of Hansons as a descendant, so to speak, of Lydiard. Either should work if high mileage works for you; a marathon is all about aerobic running after all.
      I haven't done Gold Coast, but I hear it's a great course to PR on! :)