Fast Follow-Up: Interview With Luke Humphrey

Luke Humphrey, shown here competing at the 2009 Boston Marathon, still competes and coaches as a member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. Photo: PhotoRun.net

In the fall of 2012, Luke Humphrey of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, along with the group’s coaches, Keith and Kevin Hanson, released their first book, the Hansons Marathon Method (HMM), which outlined the methodology behind the Hansons’ training philosophy and made it applicable for the age-group marathoner.

The book was such a success that they were asked to write a follow up, and just months after the release of the HMM, the idea for the Hansons Half-Marathon Method was born. The new book, which is nearly 300 pages and complete with training schedules, tables and illustrations, targets competitive runners aiming for a new 13.1-mile PR, as well as a Just Finish Program for new runners. The book, which is available now, was published this spring by VeloPress.

We caught up with Humphrey, a 2:14 marathoner, exercise scientist and head coach of Hanson’s Coaching Services, to learn more about the new book and the major differences between half-marathon and marathon training. 

RELATED: 5 Questions With Luke Humphrey

Your new book, Hansons Half-Marathon Method, a follow-up to the successful Hansons Marathon Method, was just released. Tell me a little bit about when the conversation for this second book started and how you approached this book differently than the first.

I would say [the conversation] started almost immediately. Casey [Blaine, VeloPress senior editor] asked me about it back in December of 2012 at The Running Event trade show. I have to admit, I was pretty hesitant because I don’t consider myself a writer at all. Part of it too, was I don’t think anybody knew how successful HMM would be. However, within a few weeks of the marathon version being out we started getting emails, “The book is great! Now, how do I adjust it for a half marathon?” At that point, we decided that a half book would probably be a good way to go.

From a coaching perspective, what are the main differences when you approach half-marathon training vs. marathon training?

The thing is, you are trying to make a program that will work for a large spectrum of people. You get those people at either side of the spectrum that certainly could tweak the main program. That’s were things get tough. For beginning runners, you may actually train them like they were going to run a marathon. For faster runners, there is almost a blend of 10K training mixed in with the half-marathon specific work.

If you had to emphasize, in order of importance, three key workouts for someone looking to improve their half-marathon personal best, what would those workouts be and why?

First, I would say general mileage. The more you can handle, the better. Plus, it sets you up for a marathon buildup if that’s the next step. Sorry, I know that’s not a singular workout, but I think it’s the most important. And, the Hansons philosophy simply won’t work if you are trying to follow it, but want to run 20 miles a week.

Second, the tempo runs. You are running [goal race] pace for a long time. By the time you get to the peak mileage, you cover a big chunk of mileage overall and at your goal half marathon pace. To me, that’s a bigger confidence boost than simply going out and running 10 miles on the weekend.

Third, the easy mileage. I can’t even read an article anymore when it refers to easy mileage as “junk mileage.” People read that and start skipping their easy days. Without easy days, you don’t have any type of foundation for the rest of your training to be linked to.

From a fueling/energy standpoint, how does the half marathon differ from the marathon? And how does this differ for runners running 1:30 or faster vs. those who will take 2 hours or longer to reach the finish line?

It’s a big difference. For a 2-hour half marathon runner, they should be approaching it like a marathon. Calories are going to play a major role in how well they can finish that last 5K. On the other hand, a sub 1:30 person can get away with very little calories, but still be OK.

A lot of new runners start with the half marathon, get comfortable with the distance and race 13.1 miles multiple times per year. Many of these runners eventually and inevitably hit a plateau. For the serial half-marathoner, how do you recommend getting out of this rut?

I would say the same thing as what we tell serial marathoners: train for something different. Maybe venture out and attempt a marathon. If that scares you, back down and focus on developing your true speed—even if you think your “fastest” days are behind you. Sometimes you just need to take a step away from what you are used to doing. It may not even matter what else you do, just do something different.

You hear runners say all the time, “I love the half marathon because I recover so much faster than after a marathon and I can do more of them.” From a recovery standpoint, what type of toll does a hard half-marathon effort take on the body and what do you recommend for recovery following the race?

Absolutely. I think most people don’t take themselves to the well like we do for marathons. A hard half marathon will certainly take its toll on you, but I don’t think you need two weeks off, like we suggest for the marathon. I will even have my experienced runners race a couple halves during a single segment. A week off, or even active recovery, can be enough for most people. On a side note, I still try to get my runners to take some kind of break, because most just don’t take breaks, unless they are hurt. It’s a hard sell to tell someone that a planned break is a lot better than a potential forced break from running.

A lot of runners run a half marathon as part of a marathon buildup, using the race as a tuneup 3-5 weeks before the race. Many of these runners, if they don’t run a PR, get discouraged. What do you say to these folks?

What’s even worse is when they do PR, but expected more! For a lot of people it’s the same thing though—you weren’t tapered, you are in the hardest part of your training, you are training for a race that’s twice the distance, and I make them start out slow on purpose! I warn them ahead of time, too. The goal of that tune-up isn’t to run your fastest, it’s simply to go through the motions, and emotions, of race day. The performance is secondary to finalizing your race day routine for the big day.

Want to learn more about the Hansons Half-Marathon Method? Check out a preview on VeloPress.com!

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