Recent Question: Can’t hit speed work at longer distances… HELP!

A couple days ago a reader dropped me note and had an interesting question.

Donald is doing his speed work based on his 5k time. We should point out that the he stated that it was based off a time he has run, not a “wishful thinking time” as Don said. The problem was though, that as the repeat distance increased from 400 meters to 600 meters and above, he could no longer hit the 5k pace. So the question is, what gives?

You know me, there’s never a simple answer, but I’ll try to break down my thoughts on this as short as I can.


The very first point I’d like to make is that this is why I don’t usually prescribe 5k pace training during the marathon. Here’s why, Don stated he’s a pretty new runner. So my guess is that he ran that 5k PR even earlier and probably wasn’t training as much as he is now. I know it seems counterintuitive, but think of this way- when training for that 5k, let’s say he was running 20ish miles per week and probably running a few days per week. Within that week, he was probably doing a speed workout a week and a moderate length long run. Needless to say, he was fairly fresh when he ran that. Now, he’s probably running 40+ miles per week with two workouts and a long run in the week. You may have heard me say that speed is relative and this is exactly what I am talking about. Doing a bunch of work at 5k pace is important for 5k to 10k races, but 5k pace for a marathon isn’t as big of a deal. Doing the speedwork at 10k pace is plenty fast for 95% of the people we work with.


The second part to this has to do with some hard physiology. 5k paced training is designed to be pretty close to VO2max, just slightly under. The time we can run at our VO2max varies based on our ability. A world class 5k runner can run close to 2 miles at their VO2max. A newer runner, probably more like 3 minutes. So given this, it makes sense that Dons workouts would start falling apart as the repeat distance increases. 400’s for Don would be about 1:42. 600’s would be 2:33 and 800’s would be 3:24. Seeing this, it now makes sense that Don’s workouts start falling apart after the 600 distance repeats. He simply has reached the max amount of time that he can sustain that pace. The farther he runs, the worse the workout will be. In this case, he reaches pretty close to VO2max in the first couple repeats, and then he’s literally maxed out so that each following repeat will simply be slower and slower. The longer the repeat, the worst it will be.


So, my recommendation is for marathon training, keep speed at 10k pace OR only do 5k workouts that will keep each repeats under that three minute range for beginners and around 5-6 minutes for more advanced runners. Other than that, please know that you will get what you need from doing the work at 10k pace. The marathon isn’t about working on overall speed, but rather the speed necessary to run your best marathon. To increase your overall speed, I recommend doing a separate training segment where you can work on all paces from 10k down to 5k and even mile race pace!

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Hanson’s Philosophy

A few days ago, I put together a Youtube video pertaining to the cornerstone of our marathon training philosophy (and hopefully a podcast shortly). It consists of what I would describe as the pillars of the Hanson philosophy. While we do certainly go into length in our books, it is so important for anyone that is using the system, or even thinking about the system to have a full understanding of why the training is the way it is. Ok, so let’s just jump right in!

What is our goal with marathon training? Well, yes, it is to finish as strongly as possible. Thanks to all the smarties out there 🙂 Let me rephrase, what is our end goal from a training standpoint? From the Hanson view it is to develop a high level of marathon readiness through the concept of cumulative fatigue.

Cumulative Fatigue: The development of fatigue through the long term effects of training which results in in a profound increase in running strength. In other words, it’s not one workout that makes you tired. Not one sticks out as being “the one” but rather you are fatigued/tired from the daily grind. The important aspect here is that you aren’t training too hard so that you are in a hole that you can’t get out of. And there it is, how do we train hard, but avoid overtraining. Well, Charlie, let’s find that golden ticket!

What makes cumulative fatigue work are four components, including balance, weekly mileage, consistency, and appropriate paces. Our first component is balance and balance alone has different meanings to runners. For our discussion, balance is referring to our balance of training paces, or workouts that we do. For Hanson followers, this is the SOS days. When we abandon a certain training pace, or load up on a certain workout, several things happen.

  • Running the same paces all the time, or better yet, running hard (or easy) just makes you stale over time.
  • Excuse to skip out of certain training components. The biggest example here is only running hard days and leaving out easy days. this can be by choise or necessity because we ran too hard on the workout day!
  • Miss out on valuable training adaptations that occur throughout the spectrum of paces.
  • Cut ourselves short of developing “balanced” over the long term. Say you only do certain things during the marathon training. That’s great, you’ll probably be ok for that training block. However, now you want to run a series of 5k’s and 10k’s over the summer, but you can’t race yourbest because now you have to focus on building what you neglected during the marathon training. Keeping that balance can shorten your time needed for training blocks because you never skip out on one thing to make more room for another. 

So, in making these points, I realize that so many things I talked about in this section overlap into the following sections. Without one pillar, the structure starts to collapse. In starting with balance, I think it naturally leads into the next component, which is moderate to high weekly mileage.

Without a doubt, I firmly believe in running moderate to high mileage, especially for the marathon. There are many people who will read this and scoff at it because they have had success with 3 days/week programs. That is great and there is certainly more than one way to accomplish your goal, but our program just believes that with what we are trying to get you accomplish, appropriate mileage is a necessity. Think of it this way, say yourun 20 miles/week for 5k training. This is 4x the distance you are going to race. Running 30 miles per week is barely 1x greater than your race distance. Further the workouts youdo for a 5k can fit in that amount of mileage and be appropriate for what you are racing. When you move from a 5k to a marathon, or a race that is 8x longer, you quickly run out of mileage to fit everything in that you need. With that said:

  • when you keep the balance in your training, you automatically will run more mileage, especially as the race distance increases
  • Moderate mileage, rather, I guess I should say appropriate mileage, is part of cumulative fatigue and this means running nearly every day. Without it, recovery is nearly complete before the next workout. This directly dictates with cumulative fatigue.

Now, it certainly takes time to develop the ability to handle more mileage. When trying to build up your mileage, the first thing to do is look at all the variables. From my experience, it’s the cliche, too much too soon. Problems usually arise when runners try to run too hard on every run, or they try to jump their mileage before their structural system is ready to handle. In short, usually it’s not the mileage that’s the culprit to injury, but how we got to that mileage.

Ok, so this is getting pretty long, so let’s pick it up another day with the last two components of the Hanson marathon philosophy.

Hanson Marathon Method- Book Preview

Have you pre-ordered a copy of Hansons Marathon Method?  Are you wondering what’s inside? Thinking about ordering a copy? Well, here is an awesome sample of what the book holds. Check it out: HMM Sample