Hansons Marathon Method: should I reduce my mileage at the beginning?

Many times a runner is already running the weekly volume that the training plans start out at. This prompts the question, “do I need to lower my mileage at the start of the training plan, or can I keep going at my current mileage?” Anyone who knows me at this point, knows what my immediate response will be, “it depends.” There really are cases to be made for keeping on with current mileage, as well as, reducing down to match what the plan is asking you to start at.

When you should reduce back:

  • If you have looked at the plan in entirety and realize it’s going to be the hardest training plan you’ve ever followed. This can be a combination of weekly mileage, workouts, and workout volume.
  • You are already doing workouts. By this I mean, speed, strength, tempo, anything of intensity.
  • You have been running for more than 2-3 weeks already and are at 85% of your weekly mileage.
  • You never took significant down time after your last major race.
  • You have a nick, a trouble spot, or are actually injured.

The reason these are important factors boils down to two things. The first is the length of time you will then make the training plan. With the two main Hansons Marathon Method plans, you are looking at 18 weeks of structure. This is already a long time. If you now turn it into a 22-26 week training plan, then you are asking for trouble late into the training plan and will turn cumulative fatigue into plain old overtraining. The second is that not only are you making the training segment loner, you are making it longer at a higher level. This is a combination that more often, than not, leads to injury, staleness, and overcooking. It’s by design that the plans start out a little easier, especially the beginner.

Consider reducing the mileage as hitting a refresh button to the plan. I know many of you are worried about losing fitness, but I can assure you that you won’t lose much at all. With two weeks completely off, you’d lose about 5% in performance. All I’m asking is to reduce your mileage. It’s all about getting you to peak fitness for race day, not the 4 weeks prior to your peak race. If you haven’t already, check out my blog post on Getting too fit too fast.

I would take a step back if you have any one of the above scenarios that apply to you.

When you should keep on keeping on

Despite what I just said, I do see a couple scenarios where it might be best to just keep on with what you are doing until the training plan keeps up with you.

  • You are currently injury free, but have come off a long layoff (4+ weeks of no running). The biggest issue here is that you have already had a lot of time off and you really want to make sure that you are ready to get into a long training plan. So, where before you might be starting a plan with an already fitness that’s high enough, you might be trying to get your to a decent starting point. It wouldn’t do you any good to cut back when you already cut back for several weeks.
  • You are currently NOT doing any SOS days. To me, the mileage is secondary to intensity. What I mean is that usually the mileage is fine as long as the intensity is low. It’s usually the higher intensity for extended periods of time that will overcook the runner. So, if you are running, but just keeping it easy, then I don’t usually see problems later on.
  • Your weekly mileage is 40-60% of what your peak mileage will be. While intensity might be the bigger factor in overtraining, if your mileage is continually near peak, you go back to making that segment too long. If you’ve been running at say 30 miles per week, with no SOS, and the training plan starts at 20 miles a week, then I don’t see a need to scale back to reach the prescribed early mileage.

At the end of the day, you just don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’ll be regretting your decision six weeks out from your marathon. With beginners and first time Hansons Marathon Method users I tend to be more cautious. With these runners, I know the training is going to be hard for them, but they might think it’s too easy at the start. If they have never been through cumulative fatigue before, it’s my job to make sure they don’t overdo it too early in the program and then go straight through CF and into injury, illness, and overtraining. Hopefully, these scenarios can help guide you in making the decision that best meets you where you are at! If you take anything away, I want you to recognize that you should start a plan fresh, recharged, and not already too close to peak fitness. You want to reach that peak fitness in the last 4 weeks, not the last 8 weeks!