Desiree Davila was a collegiate who blossomed into an Olympic caliber marathoner—just like 2008 Olympian Brian Sell and 2004 Olympic alternate Trent Briney. All three have been coached by Kevin and Keith Hanson, of the Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. "We don't start with national champions," Kevin Hanson says, "so we have to work smarter."
Here are four key concepts the Hansons use to turn mortals into marathon greats. For ultimate training results, pair your training with these 10 Golden Rules of Race Success.
According to the Hansons' philosophy, feeling fresh in training is overrated. Success at 26.2 miles requires "teaching your body to run fast on tired legs," says Hanson. Starting each workout with residual fatigue prepares runners for the physical and mental challenges of a marathon's final miles. Treat each session as equally important so you won't be tempted to take it too easy the day before a long run or hard workout.
Push the Recovery
Hanson runners train as a group on a nine-day, hard-easy-easy cycle: two recovery days after tempo runs, interval sessions and long runs. But easy isn't all that easy. "Someone is always pushing the pace," Davila says.
Their pace drops to 6:00 or 6:30 per mile, or 30 seconds to a minute slower than marathon pace. The exact pace is less important than achieving the proper level of fatigue. The test is simple, says Davila—if you cruise through a hard workout, your preceding recovery runs weren't quick enough. If those workouts get steadily worse, you're going too hard. To avoid further injury, every runner should follow the Tips to Recover The Right Way.
The progression of Davila's 26.2 times leading up to this year's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston (where she finished second and earned a spot on the Olympic team) was 2:44, 2:37, 2:31, 2:27, 2:26, 2:22. "That's not a coincidence," Hanson says. "Desi learned from every marathon, and that helped her get to where she is now." Could Davila have run faster earlier on? Maybe—but she would have risked a demoralizing blow-up.
Have a long-term plan (and fight excuses that stall your training) so you don't get greedy and try to make too big a leap in one race. If it's your first 26.2, use a performance calculator to predict your finishing time based on shorter distances—and don't try to beat the prediction by more than five minutes.
The Trials course in Houston was one 2.2-mile loop followed by three eight-mile loops. The Hansons' simulation course was one 2.2K loop and then three 8K loops, and incorporated similar terrain. They'll do the same for the London Olympic Marathon course. Thanks to cumulative fatigue, the simulation will feel like the last 16 miles of the marathon. The goal—to prep your body and mind for race day.
A Week in the Life
The point is not to take it too easy in this Hansons-inspired marathon build-up week.
Sunday: 16-mile long run, including 3 miles at faster than marathon pace
Monday: Six miles steady
Tuesday: Long intervals
Wednesday: 6 to 8 miles steady
Thursday: 10-mile tempo run
Friday: 4 to 6 miles easy
Saturday: 6 to 8 miles steadyrace.