I have been running the numbers (pun intended) regarding the 17 weeks I have available to train for the 2011 Long Beach Marathon. In this post I will compare the Hansons-Brooks marathon training plan to the Daniels’ Running Formula plan, which I used for the 2011 Boston Marathon where I ran an 8+ minute marathon PR of 3:02:04.
Before I begin comparing the programs, Sage Canaday wrote a great, first-hand account of what it is like to run for the Hansons-Brooks team in the book Running For The Hansons. The members of the team run far more than the free, online training plan available on the Hansons-Brooks website. The book is a fascinating insight into the life of a professional runner.
Who Has the Best Marathon Training Plan: The Hansons or Daniels?
The biggest difference between the two plans is found is in the long run, or lack thereof. Daniels’ plan encourages the normal marathon training long run (i.e. 20+ miles), but the Hansons-Brooks plan tops out at a 16-mile long run.
Under the Hansons-Brooks plan, I would run 866 total miles with the three highest mileage weeks at either 61 or 62 miles. Based on the final 17 weeks of the Daniels’ plan I used for Boston (it was a 24 week plan in total), I ran 961 miles. My three highest weeks were 70 miles each.
The difference in total overall mileage is only 95 miles, which breaks down to an average of 5.5 miles per week. But the difference in total long run mileage is 98 miles. That’s a much larger difference. The lack of long runs in the Hansons-Brooks plan accounts for the difference. The Hansons-Brooks plan tops out with three separate 16 mile long runs. Under Daniels’, I ran three 22 milers, one 21, and one 20.
So it seems the quantity of the day-to-day running is similar under both plans. It is only in the long run where they differ. However, the Hansons-Brooks plan emphasizes more quality running. Under the Daniels’ plan there were only two quality runs per week. These two workouts alone made up a large percentage of the weekly total. All of the other running was at an easy, aerobic pace. With the Hansons-Brooks plan there are three S.O.S (Something Of Substance) runs including speed or strength, marathon pace, and long (relatively speaking).
The other main difference seems to be in the scheduling of the runs. Under Daniels, the long run is sandwiched in between easy runs, or an easy run and a recovery day. With Hansons-Brooks, the Sunday long run comes after Thursday’s marathon pace run, Friday’s short and easy run (6-7 miles), and Saturday’s middle distance easy run (8-10 miles). After Sunday’s long run, there is Monday’s 6-8 mile easy run capped off by Tuesday’s speed or strength run of 7-10 miles. The theory is you are doing your “long” runs on already fatigued legs instead of starting fresh. The same is true with the Tuesday speed/strength workout. Once your legs have been trashed by the previous workouts, you have to run fast. Can someone say late-race simulation? Wednesday of each week is a rest day, or you can choose to add overall mileage by running easy miles.
I am curious if anyone has used this plan before with success. Daniels says in his book that the physiological benefits of the long run begin to diminish after two-and-a-half hours. In fact, he discourages runners from running longer than that. Based on my current easy pace for long runs (somewhere around 7:45/mile), that puts the Hansons-Brooks 16-mile long run right around two hours long. Four more miles at that easy pace would approach the two-and-a-half hours mark, a.k.a. 20 miles.
So, What Is the Best Marathon Training Plan?
Can you tell that I like to run the numbers? I am leaning towards the Hansons-Brooks plan just to try something different. This will be my fourth marathon and maybe it is time to try something completely new. I still believe I can run a sub-3 hour marathon, but this type of training is foreign to me. The plan seems risky with the lack of long runs. Running 10 more miles in a race than in training seems like a large physical and mental obstacle, especially in the marathon where the last 10K is the most difficult. However, the amount of raw running strength and endurance that the Hansons-Brooks plan seems to build on paper looks mighty impressive!
Each plan has strengths that appeal to me. In fact, I feel the best approach may a hybrid of the two plans combined. What do you think is the best marathon training plan?
The Daniels’ Running Formula Advantage
More than likely you landed on this page because you’re looking for the best marathon training plan and you’ve at least heard of the Hansons-Brooks Running Project or the Daniels’ Running Formula book. The Hansons training plan is a free resource, but it leaves plenty of questions. What is a speed workout? What is a strength workout? How long/far/fast should I run for each workout? It’s a little vague.
This is where Daniels has an advantage. For roughly $15, not only are you getting a couple different marathon training plan options, you’re also getting 5K-15K training plans, cross country training plans, and an amazing system for training and coaching yourself as a runner.
Daniels’ book outlines the major types of training workouts you should focus on (Easy, Reps, Intervals, Threshold, and Marathon), how often you should complete each workout, how long each workout should last, and the importance of each workout. His idea of “specificity of training” is something I strongly believe in, and it’s lead me to a number of fast race results, like a sub-3-hour marathon, a 1:24 half marathon, and sub-18:00 5K times.
I’m not an elite runner by any means, but following his detailed instruction, I’ve been able to maximize my training, achieve amazing results, and stay injury free. What else could you want from a marathon training plan, or any training plan for that matter.
So if you ask me, you can’t go wrong with Daniels’ Running Formula. I’d label it as required reading for any runner, especially marathon runners. But, as the old Internet adage goes, your mileage may vary.