Popular running media has introduced hundreds of marathon plans over the decades. From run-walk "finish healthy" programs to the more intense "big PR performance packages," there isn't one perfect marathon plan. The duration of a marathon build-up should be based on a number of factors, not the least of which is the degree of conditioning in which you enter your build-up.
In part one of this article series, we discussed the "crash course," a marathon plan of only 8 to 9 weeks. This shorter duration build-up should only be implemented if your fitness is already at a fairly high level when you start marathon training. This article discusses the traditional three-month build-up.
As with the crash-course plan, a more traditional marathon build-up of 12 to 14 weeks still requires a basic level of marathon fitness when you begin the program. In other words, the marathon is a demanding event and excellence—whether your goal is 2:30 or 4:00—requires a fit individual; this program is for those looking to finish well, not simply cross the line. If you are wholeheartedly out of shape in an honest self-assessment, then I suggest reviewing next month's "long-term view" of 16 to 22 weeks to marathon excellence.
How to Begin the Traditional Marathon Training Plan
As with the crash course, the best way to begin any marathon program is with a healthy dose of controlled—under 85 percent of max heart rate—aerobic conditioning work. For the first four weeks of the three-month build-up, you'll work on building mileage and putting in simple healthy time on your feet. This period is designed to strengthen connective tissue as well as improve overall aerobic fitness. In other words, this period is the training-to-train segment of the marathon build-up rather than training to race.