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Method Man: 5 Questions With Luke Humphrey

We caught up with the author of the Hansons Marathon Method recently to talk about his new book.

Luke Humphrey has been a member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project since 2004 and currently serves as the owner and head coach of Hanson’s Coaching Services, based in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Humphrey, who holds a Masters in exercise science, is a two-time Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier with a personal best of 2:14:39, set at the 2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon, where he finished fifth.

Humphrey, along with coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson, will release their first book, The Hansons Marathon Method, on October 1. We caught up with Humphrey recently to learn a little more about the book, as well as the methodology behind the Hansons marathon-training philosophy.

PREVIEW: Read an excerpt from the book here!

The Hansons Marathon Method, which you wrote along with coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson, is your first book. When did the idea for it first come about and why did you feel it was important to write it?

Luke Humphrey: The idea for a book has been something I have thought about for some time now, probably since Kevin and Keith encouraged me to take over their annual marathon clinics and start Hanson’s Coaching Services back in 2006. You know how it goes, you get tied up in other stuff and other ideas get put on the back burner. Last summer, Keith was sent an email from Velopress and they were exploring ideas for new books. Kevin and Keith are already so busy, so basically said that if I wanted to move forward with the project then go ahead. So, a lot of it was timing, in the sense that I was in the right place at the right time!

The book places a large emphasis on moderately high-mileage weeks for age-group runners. How do you respond to an aspiring marathoner who says, “I can’t run more than 3 or 4 days per week?”

Oh man, I get that a lot! I try to sort out information from them before I say anything. I coach a lot of business people who travel every week, so I understand why they are pressed for time. More often though, I find that they just have a severely misguided training logic. The majority of the time, if we simply restructure the week, take our time, and run easy on the easy days, these runners are amazed at what they can run. Some of those business guys are running 6-7 days a week and hitting 60-80 miles per week. More importantly, they feel good and not like they are run into the ground. They get very creative in getting workouts in. We might have to be patient and build your days up slowly, but if you really understand why you are doing something, it makes it easier to believe in a philosophy.

What do you see as amongst the biggest mistakes age-group marathoners make in their training?

I think they put way too much emphasis their easy days. Not in the sense that they shouldn’t do them, but that they will take them out in favor of cross-training or trying to recover for their next big workout. Marathon training should leave you fatigued. For one, it is a self-imposed speed limit. If you are tired, you’re not going to hammer your workouts too fast and then need three days to recover before your long run on the weekend. I think people see workouts as where they get the majority of their aerobic adaptations and see the easy mileage as non productive. So, I guess [the answer to the question] would be taking out easy days and running workouts way too fast for what they are trying to accomplish. Even as I say this, I can guarantee that people are thinking that I am telling them to plod along at a fast walk. That’s far from the case. I am saying to run what is appropriate for what you are looking to accomplish.

Much has been made about the 16-mile long run being the longest run in a Hansons-designed training program. Briefly, what’s the philosophy behind that?

Oh yeah, that’s such a big topic and something that all critics focus on without looking at the big picture of the program. First, Kevin and Keith will both say that it’s not about a 16-mile run being a magic number, just as 20 miles isn’t a magic number. The thought is that the long run should be appropriate based on the amount of weekly volume that the person is running. The idea is that you are fatigued going into the long run. If you follow the program, you have a significant run on Thursday (6-10 mile tempo run), then a shorter day on Friday, then a fairly significant distance run on Saturday, followed up with the long run of 16 on Sunday. As you can see, we don’t back off training in order to accommodate a long run. The body is fatigued and forces the long run to be run on tired legs, much more simulating the later parts of a marathon. Kevin and Keith’s argument is that you can back off slightly on the long run, and incorporate much more balanced work during the week. Otherwise, you have to cut out work that is just as important for marathon performance in order to accommodate a long run that ends up being 50%, or more, of the weekly volume. At that point, you aren’t really training, you are simply trying to be recovered enough to get through the next 20 miler.

As an athlete yourself, you’ve made significant improvements since first joining the Hansons group since 2004. To which factors do you most attribute your own success?

It’s actually a lot of what we discussed already. Patience was the big lesson that I have learned. So many times, we have a good performance and then try to hit a home run the next time out. Desi [Davila] and Brian [Sell] are great examples of that patience and steady improvement. They both made Olympic teams and that’s what people see. They don’t see the years leading up to it where they just got a little better each time they raced.

In college, I was hurt a fair amount. We did a lot of track work and fast everyday running. Once I backed off and picked and chose the days where I could let it go, then I really saw bigger longterm growth and improvement. In a couple years, I went from feeling wiped out at 120 miles a week to really feeling pretty comfortable at sustaining 120-130 miles a week for an entire training segment — and the workouts are just as fast or faster as they were in college.

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