Hansons Marathon Method – Book Review

Hansons Marathon Method: Run  your fastest marathon. Luke Humphrey with Keith and Kevin Hanson, 2nd ed, pub. VeloPress, ISBN 978-1937715489

This is a thorough guide for anyone aiming to run the marathon, either for the first time or in a better time. The first edition focussed on the latter, with Beginner and Advanced schedules aimed at preparing athletes to identify and achieve specific race time targets.  The word “beginner” is a little misleading, and initially steered me towards the Advanced program, until I read on and understood that the Beginner schedule could extend to experienced runners who had simply not got around to doing the marathon yet (and even to those who had run the marathon but hadn’t yet carried out a structured training program).  I saw that the Beginner plan was actually pretty demanding, certainly after the first few weeks, with the schedule being adapted according to the athlete’s target time.  The Advanced program is obviously at a higher level (though not hugely so, for given target times) and a new feature of this second edition was the introduction of a Just Finish program, aimed at those who are not currently serious athletes but want to safely complete a marathon, perhaps to raise money for charity.

The book is well structured, with introductory chapters outlining their basic philosophy and explaining the key principles of exercise physiology that underpin the programs.   These sections are thorough enough without being too onerous, and interest is maintained before we get into the nitty gritty of actual marathon training.   I particularly like the way the reasoning behind the recommendations is explained. For example, I was surprised to see that the longest run advised was sixteen miles, but this was justified via the principle of cumulative fatigue and with reference to the recovery issues associated with longer runs.  Sometimes I felt that the attention to detail was a little too much for me, and I can’t envisage weighing myself before and after a training run, then carrying out a series of calculations to work out how much water I need to take on board afterwards.  But someone might this useful, and I have taken away the idea that I probably need to drink  50% more than my natural thirst is telling me.

All my questions about marathon preparation were answered, plus some more that I hadn’t even thought of.  Apart from running schedules, clear and relatively concise guidance was provided in areas such as strength and flexibility, and nutrition and equipment, to name but a few. It was understood that personal circumstances, injuries and illness can disrupt preparation, and clear strategies were given to adapt your program accordingly, or target a new race when too many weeks have been lost (as the book helped me to conclude!).

When I began reading Hansons Marathon Method, I was immediately engaged and enthused by what was being offered, and had the idea of slotting into the final few weeks of the program to complete my marathon preparation.  But now it has helped me accept that I need set a new race target, and I am looking forward to resting up to get fully recovered from injury, rebuilding my general fitness through cross training, and then closely following the 18 week beginner program prior to what will hopefully be a successful debut marathon in the Autumn.

Saguero minimalist running shoes review

Product reviewSAGUARO Unisex Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes Aqua Water Sports Shoes

If you’re interested in trying barefoot shoes, but don’t want to spend huge sums of money to find out if they suit you, then I would definitely recommend these great value Saguero minimalist shoes.

I personally like the ample width of the shoe, as I  have relatively broad feet for my size, and right from the off they felt comfortable.  I worried that they were perhaps too comfortable and would perhaps become loose, but the drawstring type lace tightening mechanism works pretty well and ensured that my feet stayed firmly in place.

Sizing seems to be pretty standard, as  I bought a pair matching my normal shoe size, and they are a perfect fit.

I tried them on a variety of surfaces, including grass of varying levels of dampness, muddy footpaths and roads.  The grip on the shoes is moderate, and I had to be very careful on very wet grass and slightly muddy footpaths, coming to grief on more than one occasion.

As explained above, the shoes can work on the road, but I did suffer stiff calves when I tried to go beyond a few miles,  especially over undulating routes.  This may be a feature of any minimalist shoes, and it obviously depends on how familiar you are with the process of running in this type of shoe.   I wore them when walking around and going about my day to day business before attempting to run in them, and I’m sure this is good advice for anyone, as is the the suggestion to at least start by running only on forgiving (and not too slippery)  surfaces .

Durability is OK.  I am seeing significant signs of wear after about three months of wearing my barefoot shoes for most training sessions (a very rough estimate would be 350 miles),  but the price means that even if they only last about four months, or 450 miles, then that would represent decent value.

So, if you are looking to try minimalist running shoes and don’t want to break the bank, you can’t go far wrong with these.

SAGUARO Barefoot Shoes Men Women Road Trail Running Shoes Indoor Gym Fitness Trainers Outdoor Hiking Climbing Walking Shoes Quick Drying Water Shoes, Grey, 7.5 UK

Karrimor Caracal Running Shoes Review

I have worn Karrimor Caracal Trail Running Shoes for a few years now, as they do the job at a very fair price.

So what makes them work for me?

  •  Grip pattern is effective on all but  extreme mud.
  • Comfortable and well suited to my slightly wider foot, with the breathable uppers help to keep my feet cool and the low profile heel being giving stability without rubbing.
  • Hardwearing – my Karrimor Caracal Trail Running Shoes tend to last me the best part of a year at an average of at least 20 miles per week.
  • Reasonably lightweight, and I have achieved pleasing performances in road races from 5k to half marathon in my Karrimors.
  • They seem to give a regular fit, as my Karrimor  Caracal Trail Running Shoes are size 9, which matches my normal shoe size.
  • Their appearance isn’t a key a key point as far as I’m concerned, but they look fine, and I especially like the blue with yellow trim variety that I currently wear.

Having recently bought a (much more expensive) pair of specialist road racing shoes, and suffered from rubbing on my heels, I wonder why I bothered and plan to stick to my Karrimors for the foreseeable future.



Changing your marathon race schedule

What should you do when you get severely behind in you marathon preparation?

I’ve had a frustrating few weeks, largely due to falling into my old habit of not giving injuries enough time to heal.   The consequence of this is that I am now seriously looking at amending my race schedule.

A few weeks ago, as reported in my post, I developed a pain in my groin during a cross country race.  For some reason, I felt that this wasn’t serious enough to warrant the full two weeks rest I would give for, say, a hamstring strain.  I was able to get back to training, but it clearly never fully recovered, and flared up again whenever I tried running at a faster pace or, most acutely, when I recently played tennis.

So now, with just eight weeks to go until my planned marathon race, I am still resting up, having done just two training sessions in the last fortnight and only 12 sessions in the last five weeks.  I am (almost certainly) losing fitness just at the time when I should be training hardest.

Here are some options for the way forward:

  1. Do the April marathon race anyway.  I should be able to build/rebuild  enough fitness to get round.
  2. Look for an alternative  marathon race in May,  about four weeks further down the line.
  3. Abandon the idea of doing a spring marathon and re-set my sights on an autumn marathon.

I don’t especially like option 1, as it’s not worth all the time and expense (including travel and accommodation) to not be able to give my best.  But I have paid my entry fee already and if I can get round then I will have achieved my primary goal?

I like option 2, but I am worried  that it might get rather hot in May, and I really don’t like racing in the heat, even finding 10K races quite a trial in these circumstances.  I’ve identified  a couple of interesting possibilities, ie. the Liverpool Marathon and Edinburgh Marathon, which might not be so hot as they are further up north (especially Edinburgh).

The Edinburgh Marathon also particularly appeals as we have family near there and l Iove the city (not saying I wouldn’t love Liverpool if I was as familiar with it), though I could only get in with a Good for Age time.  I would qualify with my half marathon run from two years ago, but it needs to be achieved after January 2019.  However, if I can achieve it again in the next few weeks (and there are a few races available), then this could be a goer. 

The Edinburgh Marathon

Option 3 might be the most sensible, but I would feel that I have dragged it out a bit.

Perhaps I should make an autumn marathon my main target to hopefully do a good time, but try to do one this spring with the aim of simply getting round and using it for experience?  I’ll see how things go in the next 2-3 weeks and decide then.  I don’t want to waste any more money on entry fees (ie. by entering and not running) if at all possible. 

The Yorkshire Marathon (October)


Gone with the wind?

Yesterday could prove to be a crucial day in my preparations for my first marathon.

Storms across the UK played havoc with my race schedule.  The Deal Half Marathon, which should have been this morning,  was cancelled three days beforehand due to the forecast of exceptionally strong winds (which turned out to be correct ).   I had swiftly entered another half marathon, about 2 hours drive away, noting that refunds were available if you withdrew with at least a couple of days notice.  However, when I noted that the race began at 9.00 am,  and thought about the ridiculously early start to the day (or the expense of a hotel room)  I decided against this, and instead resolved to do my own Deal Half Marathon.

Yesterday (Saturday) was the last in a brief series of bright sunny days, with little wind, that we have been enjoying lately.  So I resolved to do a time trial over the race route (which is local to me), the only snag being that I was working until just before dark.  So I donned my hi-viz shirt and put on the glowing armband that I had bought in the morning, and set off.

Once I got going, I felt that I was running reasonably well and keeping a good pace, without feeling unduly fatigued.  I was wearing my barefoot shoes, even though I had resolved to wear more substantial shoes a week ago.  I had changed my mind because I had developed a very sore blister on my heel (through wearing spikes with only ankle socks during interval training), and felt that the barefoot shoes would not dig into this sore as much as a traditional running shoe heel.  This worked, and I had no problems in this respect.  However, I did start to get very sore calves as I progressed through my run.  At one stage, I felt it was getting beyond stiffness, and I would probably have to stop. But I was more than five miles from my car by then, so tried to ignore it and push on.  I also believed that I was running well and heading for a good time, perhaps one that might threaten my pb from the race two years previously.  Thankfully it didn’t get any worse, and the pain in my groin that I had felt after my last race was still there, but not bad enough to warrant stopping.

The whole run was in the dark, which took me back a bit, as I often used to run on the roads at night, but rarely in recent years, as the roads around where I live are not very conducive to doing this safely.  I had to slow down a little for cars, who all spotted me and slowed done themselves (most slowed down significantly, but other hardly at all).   Though almost all the run was on unlit country roads, I was rarely running in very dark conditions, due to a lovely full moon, and somehow the run seemed to go by quite quickly.  I finished reasonably strongly, but not so strongly that I could accuse myself of taking it too easy, and it was with great anticipation that I stopped my watch and moved under a streetlight. The display read 1:40:59, which was disappointing to say the very least.

If I allowed about thirty seconds for the  few occasions when I had to slow or stop briefly to allow a vehicle to pass, this time was still about eight minutes slower than I ran in the race two years ago.  Here is list of possible or likely causes of me running slower than in the race two years beforehand:

  • I am two years older
  • I had no competition
  • My calves and my groin felt a bit sore
  • I went out for a meal the night before and drank over half a bottle of wine, plus a glass of beer.
  • I was tired from working, and perhaps hungry having hardly eaten anything since breakfast (though I did have an energy gel before and during the run).
  • I wasn’t sure where the precise start and finish line was, and might have erred on the side of running very slightly too far rather than too short.

These reasons might explain why I would be one, two, three , four or even five minutes slower than  in the race a couple of years ago. But I believe that the single biggest factor was probably the barefoot shoes.  The fact that I ran a strong race in the mud at Parliament Hill a couple of weeks ago, one that was perhaps not quite as good as my effort there two years previously, but certainly within a minute or so, suggests that loss of form shouldn’t have caused more than a couple of minute time lag compared to my 2018 half marathon.  The wine and possible fatigue and muscle stiffness  (balanced by the fact that I felt reasonably good in myself during  the run) could perhaps account for a two or three minutes, but no more.

Farewell for now

So its seems that my barefoot running experiment, at least in terms of performance on the road, has not been a success.  Even if I am overestimating the degree to which the minimalist running shoes are slowing me down, I am pretty certain that they aren’t making me any faster!  Perhaps I tried this change too late in my running life,  and perhaps it would come good given time, but with my marathon debut fast approaching , I think I need to re-acquaint myself with traditional running shoes.  I feel that this will give me the best chance of getting through the training and the race injury free and perhaps completing it in a time under three and a half hours.  Two days ago, I would have said that this was my minimum target and I was really hoping for something closer to 3:15, but after my run yesterday, I realise that I should be delighted if I completed the full marathon in something close to 3:30, and  proud of running the distance, whatever the time.   

Welcome back!


Foam roller exercises for runners


I find that foam roller exercises really help me to recover from stiff muscles after training sessions or races.  For me, foam roller exercises, especially focussing on hamstrings, calves and quadriceps, have a much more positive  effect than stretching routines.  But I had never heard of a a foam runner three years ago.

Ben Nevis minus the mist

I had just completed a particularly tough parkrun at the end of our holiday in Oban, on the wet coast of Scotland, and took the excellent opportunity to wade in the cool Irish Sea to help assist my recovery and enjoy the beautiful view.  This was particularly needed as we had walked up (and more significantly, down) Ben Nevis  only a few days before, and my legs were still fully aware of it, a point further encouraged by the rather undulating but firm nature of the out and back parkrun route.

Another athlete, about the same age as me, had the same idea.  As we were  motivated to do this for similar reasons, we got talking about how best to recover from workouts, and he mentioned that he regularly used a foam roller for massage.  Now this guy had finished a considerable distance ahead of me in the race, and indeed was very highly placed in spite of being in the over 50 category, so I thought that he must be doing something right.  Convinced,  I actually ordered two rollers, as I wasn’t the only one in the family who was in on this conversation and I wanted to avoid potential clashes.

Of course I haven’t consistently kept up with using the foam roller for the past three years, but as I have stepped up my marathon training programme, especially as I have built up the more intense workouts such as hill sprints and interval training, I have begun to use it after almost every training session.

Here is my (very) basic routine.

Foam roller calf exercises 

Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you and rest your calves on the foam roller, lifting your backside off the floor with the flats of your hands.  Then cross your legs so that all the weight of your legs is focussed on one calf, and roll up and down for 30-60 seconds before repeating for the other calf.   If it hurts, it probably means that its doing some good. If it really hurts, you might want to try rolling both calves at the same time to halve the pressure.

Foam roller hamstring exercises 

Method same as the calf exercises, but rolling the hamstrings.

Foam roller glute exercises

Your “glutes” or gluteus maximus muscles are basically your backside muscles, and these are done similarly to the calves and hamstrings, but you will need to lift your opposite knee up to help with balance as you roll each set of glutes.

Foam roller quadriceps exercises

I tend to roll my quadriceps (or thighs) in pairs, and adopt a position that would be akin to doing press-ups (at least that’s the polite description) but with the thighs sharing the load with the hands  rather than the feet.  You can extend this of by lifting or crossing over one leg to create more pressure, as with the calf and hamstring exercises.

There are of course a huge variety of exercises that you can carry out with a massage roller, but I am happy at the moment with the above basic routine, as I feel it gives a good benefit to time spent ratio.

There are plenty of sources that will give ideas regarding the exercises you can do with a foam massage roller, including this one, which gives clear photos and explanations.

Second thoughts on barefoot racing

In my earlier post  What is a proper running foot strike? I explained how I was seriously considering actually wearing barefoot or minimalist shoes not just in training, but in the actual half marathon and marathon races.  However, I am now having second thoughts on this, following an hour’s recovery run on the road a couple of days ago.  Recovery was needed as it followed a training session the evening before that involved a tempo run consisting of five laps of about 800 metres, each including a sustained sprint for about 150 metres, all on tarmac.  The calves were a bit stiff from this and I felt that the (not especially steep) downhill sections of of my undulating route were particularly jarring and required me to really slow down.   This may be fine in training, but it clearly could have a negative impact on my race performance.

As the half marathon was just a week away, I needed to act quickly.  I didn’t want to go back to wearing my standard trainers, having hopefully adopted a forefoot strike action that that doesn’t suit them, but the compromise could be to obtain a pair of low drop running shoes, and this is what I did.  The pair I bought apparently have a drop of 5mm.  This means that your heel is just 5mm higher than the ball of your foot (regular trainers usually have a drop of over 10mm), so hopefully these will suit my forefoot running action, whilst giving me some cushioning for the downslopes.  I will be trying them out on a longish training run on the road tomorrow, so watch this space.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Yesterday was the first race in my planned trilogy that will hopefully culminate with my first marathon.  It was the South of England Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill, London.

The Stone of Free Speech

Parliament Hill isn’t particularly near the Houses of Parliament, which as an ignorant northerner I had assumed for many years.  It is believed that it acquired its current name because Parliamentarian troops camped there during the English Civil War.  It was renamed Traitors’ Hill at one point, probably around the time that Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed and his  decomposed head displayed on a spike outside Parliament.  There is one slightly dubious link to the democratic process in the form of The Stone of Free Speech, which still stands in the fields (I leant against it as I did my pre-race calf stretches).  This was apparently a focal point where people gathered to listen as various political or religious enthusiasts expounded their views a couple of centuries ago.

The area is a combination of open fields and woodland that overlook London, giving a fantastic panorama of the great city, with many of the famous landmarks clearly visible, at least on a reasonably clear day.  It is also the most iconic venue in Britain (perhaps the world?) for cross country running, sort of like Wembley for football (soccer to some) and Wimbledon for tennis.  It usually plays host to the South of England Cross Country Championship for two out of every three years, and on the third year is the venue for the  English National Championship (the punishment it takes during these mass running events precludes the possibility of holding both in the same year) .  Unlike Wembley or Wimbledon, you don’t have to be especially good to compete there, as long as you are a member of an affiliated club.

The urban sprawl laid before
I had watched my son race there a couple of times before taking the plunge in the Nationals a couple of years ago, and doing surprisingly well, finishing in 1376th position out of about 2328 runners.  So I was keen to return to the venue as it held positive vibes for me, and the 15k route (3k longer than the Nationals) through the inevitable mud would be ideal preparation for the longer tests ahead.  However, I had an injury setback a week before the race (see my article Dogged by bad luck?) which put my participation in doubt. However, having refrained from running for five days, I did a late fitness test ( a 15 minute jog around the local cricket field) the day before, and decided to go for it.   
The race entailed three large laps (presumably about 5k or 3 miles long), starting with an uphill section (some of the “competitors” in the previous race were already walking at this point) and then it was up and down through various levels of absorption, from firm footpaths to six inch deep mud.  The challenge, as far as I could see , was to look for the better ground, like the jockeys do in the sprint races.  If this meant travelling a bit further then that was fine, and I didn’t usually feel that I lost  significant ground when I did go wide around a bend to avoid the deep mud.  Also, crucially, its taking less out of your legs, so you’re fresher when the ground gets better.  I also find that its best not to push it too hard up the hills and be ready to pick up the pace again when it levels out.  The aim is to even out the intensity of effort rather than the pace, an idea that the multiple Tour de France winning cyclist Chris Froome emphasised in his autobiography The Climb.  I often find that runners pass or pull away from me going up a hill, but I’m up with them again fairly quickly as it evens out (at other times they simply disappear into the distance).  I believe this is a good racing strategy,  but in training by all means push it up the hills, and the well paced uphill efforts in races will seem relatively easy.
The first lap seemed to take forever, and I can’t say I felt particularly great. But as I progressed into the second lap I actually felt slightly stronger (maybe the energy gel I had twenty minutes before the start had started to kick in), and I got an added boost towards the end of the second circuit when I saw, on a section where the course loops back on itself, that I wasn’t all that far behind my team-mate Gavin, who is usually much faster than me.  So from then on I continued to keep the pace going nicely, and actually had a bit in reserve as I came up to the last hill, meaning that I was able to stride out a bit for about the the last half mile, passing a few runners, and only being overtaken by a couple of young  guns who clearly hadn’t pushed themselves hard enough during the previous eight and a half miles.  At the end I thought to myself that I could do another lap if I really had to, though it would have be something really important, such as getting away from an axe wielding psychopath …. or a springer spaniel.

As I walked back towards what I thought was our club gathering point, I could see no sign of the stacked together kit bags etc. and became concerned that it had all been carried away in a mudslide.  But Gavin’s wife Lyndsey spotted my lost figure and called me over to where all the kit had been kindly moved to a marginally less muddy spot.  I then changed out of my spikes, put on my joggers and did a short warm down with Adam,  the third (actually first) member of our team.  This was when I realised that the groin strain I had noticed during the latter stages of the race was actually fairly painful.  I must have incurred this during one of the slips that are unavoidable in these conditions.  It was worth it though, and the confidence I got from today’s run (finishing 760th in 1:08:45, with Adam finishing 630th in 1:05:38 and Gavin 713th in 1:07:27) should outweigh what shouldn’t be more than a few days off training.