Couch to 10K: Training Plan and Foolproof Running Guide

Going from Couch to 10k is an awesome personal challenge to take on: and I’m here to guide you through the whole process!

My Couch to 10k guide below builds on our popular Couch To 5k program, walking you through every step of the way to the ultimate goal of running 10k continuously.

This means you’ll be running without stopping for an hour or more, which is an impressive indicator of cardiovascular fitness.

I’ve developed two Couch To 10k training plans, depending on your starting level:

  • Our 12 Week Couch To 10k Plan is for people with little to no running background,
  • Our 8 Week Couch To 10k Plan is good if you’re an active person or a ‘lapsed runner’.

In this article, I’m going to go through everything you might want to know about Couch To 10K, including:

  • Why and How To Aim for 10k, Instead of stopping after Couch To 5k.
  • The 10k Benchmark – Why It’s Such a Significant Distance.
  • “Am I fit enough to start Couch To 10K?”
  • The structure behind the Couch To 10k plan.
  • Our 12-Week Couch To 10K Training Plan (For Newbies).
  • Our 8-Week Couch To 10K Training Plan (For Active Non-Runners).
  • 6 Tips + Advice For Your Couch To 10K Training!
  • What To Do After Couch To 10k . . .

Ready to get immersed in training for your 10k?

Awesome, let’s jump in!

couch to 10k training plan

Why Aim For Couch To 10k: 3 Reasons To Push Yourself

We’ve all heard of “Couch To 5K” – often abbreviated to C25K – it’s a free-to-use running plan that takes people from being a non-runner sat on their sofa to their first-ever 5k event.

The original plan took 9 weeks, although we adapted it into 4-week and 8-week versions.

It was developed waay back in the day by a guy called Josh Clark for his website Kick!, and got spread around the internet pretty quickly – it’s estimated that it’s been used by over 5 million runners!

So, why should you choose Couch To 10k over Couch to 5k?

1. For Some People, 5k Is Low-Hanging Fruit

Many people who are interested in taking up running actually have a surprising amount of latent fitness.

Maybe you were an athlete back in college, or played sports regularly until middle age.

Maybe you just spend a lot of time on their feet, either in your job or running errands.

Either way, as a coach I’m always surprised by the number of new runners who tell me they went and spontaneously ran a 5k, just to see if they could.

While it’s important that your training is structured and gradual so that you avoid injuries as you increase your mileage, many new runners find that it doesn’t take them much training to build up the cardiovascular fitness to run 5k continuously – which usually takes around 30-40 minutes when you’re getting started.

So hitting the 5k mark is an easier goal for some to hit than others

2. Setting Bigger Goals Motivates and Excites

Sure, running 5k is a great goal.

But hitting 10k is double that. You’re into double digits.

You’re going to be running continuously for somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes.

Other runners give you serious respect – you haven’t turned up and fluked a short run, you’ve put in the training miles and hit an impressive target.

It’s been well-known for decades that setting audacious goals is more motivating than setting easily attainable ones.

Penn Jillette sums it up pretty well for me:

Couch to 10K: Training Plan and Foolproof Running Guide 1
image source: 1

No one brags about walking up the little grassy slope. They brag about climbing Everest. Decide it’s going to be hard and do it like the other things that are hard in your life.

3. Running 10k Is A Gateway To A Long, Positive Running Career

If you can complete a 10k, it opens up a world of possibilities for where you can go next.

You’ve improved your cardiovascular fitness, built up some running muscle, and probably lost some weight along the way – as well as probably noticed a few other positive lifestyle changes too!

After your 10k, you can transfer these newfound abilities to other pursuits, such as:

  • Work on running fast short distances (like aiming for a 30 minute 5k).
  • Switch up your activity to something completely different, like swimming or yoga.

The 10k Benchmark: Why It’s Such A Big Milestone

As you can probably figure out, I’m a huge fan of the 10k distance and love to encourage runners to aim for it!

Hitting 10k means you’re not just a short-distance runner – you’ve run continuously for a serious length of time, and that has massive effects on your life.

How long is 10k exactly?

10 kilometers is 6.214 miles.

10k is also the equivalent of 25 laps of a standard 400m outdoor track.

How long does it take to run 10k?

A recent study showed that the average 10k time is between 58 and 66 minutes: however, a beginner can expect to take 70 – 90 minutes.

As you improve and continue to train, you’ll get faster and can aim for that 1-hr 10k benchmark.

Running 10k Has Health Benefits (Obvs..)

Hitting that 10k mark proves that you:

  • have the cardiovascular endurance to keep going,
  • have built up the required musculature and strength in your body to keep running,
  • have managed to train consistently while avoiding injury,

Running a 10k is essentially a springboard into a world of activities and opportunities – it’s good for your whole body (and your brain)

How long does it take to complete Couch to 10K? 

Most people can go from couch to 10k in 2 to 4 months.

Our 2 plans are 8 weeks and 12 weeks: the important thing to not when using the plan is that no plan is one size fits all.

That’s why I recommend the following: don’t be afraid to repeat weeks.

If you feel the training is getting too intense at any point, and if the following week looks daunting, repeat the current week rather than progressing and increasing the intensity.

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How Does The Couch To 10K Plan Work?

The first phase of the Couch to 10k plans is based on our popular Couch to 5k training method, which is all about interval training.

This means that workouts are not done at a constant pace – they involve a mixture of walking and running intervals.

Interval training using this run/walk method is awesome because:

  • the variety in effort forces your lungs and heart to adapt quicker, training them better than a constant-pace run would.
  • by adopting a run/walk method approach, you can go for longer than if the plan expected you to run constantly. Those walking breaks give you time to recover a little.

As the plan progresses, the running intervals get longer and the walking intervals get shorter until you hit the 5k mark.

The 2nd phase of both plans lasts 4 weeks, and maps out the ramp up from 5k to 10k.

During this phase we move away from interval-based training, and move to distance training.

Why?

Ideally, when it comes to that 5k milestone you should be able to run that distance continuously.

So the 2nd phase of the training plan builds on this, and encourages you to do distance-based goals.

As every runner goes at their own running pace when reaching their 10k goal, running based on time makes less sense: it’s time to switch over to distance.

couch to 10k training plan 5

“Will I lose weight doing Couch To 10K?”

Loads of people start the Couch To 5K or Couch To 10k plan thinking that it’ll help them shed a few pounds.

Doing Couch To 10K . . .

  • WILL help you run a 10K,
  • WILL improve your general fitness (cardiovascular and muscular endurance),
  • MIGHT help you lose some weight,
  • MIGHT lead to longer term weight loss and a healthier lifestyle,
  • WON’T be a silver bullet that cures all ills and gives you a six-pack.

Doesn’t running burn fat? Yes, it does – but running on it’s own isn’t enough.

If you want to lose excess weight, you should be pairing the training plan with lifestyle and diet changes.

Exercise alone is often not enough to lose weight.

To really shed the pounds, you’ve got to combine exercise with fixing your diet.

Cut out sugar and overly-processed foods, stick to high quality wholefoods and be mindful of portion control.

couch to 10k training plan 4

Am I fit enough to start Couch To 10K?

A common roadblock for people is that they start to talk themselves out of beginning the training schedule by convincing themselves that they’re not fit enough to begin with.

Here’s what I recommend you do:

Just start.

The Couch To 10k Plan starts off simply following the same steps as the Couch to 5k Plan – so you’re really starting off slow.

The first workouts have you running for just little 60 second bites!

And when we say “run”, it doesn’t have to be graceful!

A jog or even a powerwalk is fine – anything that gets you moving quicker and more vigorously than your regular walking pace!

The caveat I’ll share here is for very overweight and obese readers – the extra weight you’re carrying could lead to injury when you start the running intervals.

For that reason, I generally advise that you follow the plan but replace ‘running’ with a fast march or powerwalk – you’ll still get 80% of the benefits of the plan and make huge inroads to your overall heath!

Then after you’ve dropped some of the extra weight, you can introduce running proper.

couch to 10k training plan 3

My 12-Week Couch To 10K Training Plan (For Total Newbies)

Here’s my 12 Week Couch To 10k Training Plan, designed for people who don’t run!

Couch to 10K: Training Plan and Foolproof Running Guide 2

Notes on the 12 week Couch To 10K Training Plan:

  • This plan is designed specifically for non-runners. If you’ve go no running experience, or haven’t run for years and years . . . this is the plan for you!
  • Start off every workout with 5 minutes of brisk walking and preferably some dynamic stretching.
  • Don’t worry AT ALL about your running speed. Even if you’re just shuffling forward, the important thing is to keep going for the assigned time interval – just keep going!
  • If you’re feeling burned out or feeling aches and pains, take a day off – and if you want to, repeat a week instead of cranking up the intensity.

If this 12-week plan seems a bit too easy for you, check out my 8 week plan below!

My 8-Week Couch To 10K Training Plan (For Active Non-Runners)

For many people, 12 weeks is frankly too much time to spend getting to 10k.

Perhaps you’ve got some underlying fitness from another sport or activity, or you used to run, or maybe you’ve got an active job where you’re on your feet all day.

If this sounds like you – and if the above plan looks a little too easy – then you may wish to try out my 8 Week Couch To 10K Training Plan.

Check out my notes below the plan!

couch to 10k training plan - 8 week version

Notes on the 8 Week Couch To 10K Training Plan:

  • The structure of this one is slightly different – instead of 3 similar runs per week, there are 2 interval training runs and one long run at the weekend (akin to a distance training plan like a half marathon plan).
  • The long runs should be done at a very slow and comfortable pace – your goal is to try and run for the whole time – although if you must, walking breaks are OK.
  • Start off every workout with 5 minutes of brisk walking and preferably some dynamic stretching
  • Don’t worry AT ALL about your running speed. Even if you’re just shuffling forward, the important thing is to keep going for the assigned time interval – just keep going!
  • If you’re feeling burned out or feeling aches and pains, take a day off – and if you want to, repeat a week instead of cranking up the intensity.
  • Try to get in 3 short cross-training sessions per week: ideally weightlifting for runners, yoga, or some form of strength/mobility work!

If you start off this plan and you feel like it’s ramping up too quickly, head back to the 12 week plan above!!

couch to 10k training plan 8

6 ‘Couch To 10K’ Training Tips From Our Coaches

Here are some of our top tips for nailing your Couch To 10K training !

1. Here’s Your To-do List

Before you can begin your Couch to 10K program, you’ll need to do a few things first:

  • Buy some good running shoes: it’s okay to spend a little extra here, especially if you plan on running regularly after your training plan is completed. Here’s our guide on how to pick the right running shoes to help you out!

    If you have a running shop in your town or city, consider visiting in person to get a gait assessment and personalized shoe recommendations.
  • Buy some running clothing items (you don’t have to get crazy here, buy some shorts or leggings, running bra, socks, and running and running top). We have tips on how to pick the right clothes a bit later in this post!
  • Schedule time for your running workouts in your calendar.
  • Ask a friend or accountability partner to join you: things are more fun when you can do them with a friend!
  • Put your training program on the fridge or somewhere it’s visible so you can see it daily
  • Create a reward for reaching your goal! It’s always great to set a reward for reaching your goals, it could be something as small as a new water bottle or something as nice as a spa day. You pick!

2. How to begin and end your running workout

Every running workout should begin with a good warm-up that includes some gentle jogging and ideally takes you through active stretches for the muscles you’ll use most during your running workout. We share in another post how to set up your running warm-up and the best exercises to include.

After your run, make sure to take time for cooling down, stretching, and foam rolling if you are familiar with myofascial release (I highly recommend it!).

Cooling down is important since it helps to gradually reduce your heart rate. So instead of suddenly stopping your run and sitting down and stretching, ease into your post-workout routine by walking for a few minutes first.

Follow your lower intensity cool down with foam rolling (if you don’t already do this before your workout) and static stretching to keep your muscles lengthened, reduce muscle adhesions, and improve flexibility and mobility.

Here are a few other things you can add to your recovery program to ease muscle soreness and improve recovery:

  • Epsom salt baths
  • Percussion massagers
  • Cupping

3. What if I am hurt when I run (or after I run)?

If you are following a good warm-up, stretching, and recovery routine but you’re noticing some chronic aches and pains popping up, stop running for a few days to assess your pain.

If it’s just sore muscles, that may take a few days to go away, but any joint aches or pain that won’t go away when the muscle soreness goes away should be treated with ice, compression, elevation, and a trip to the doctor or physical therapist if it persists.

Remember not to push through pain when you’re exercising.

It’s important to note that muscle fatigue is normal, but pain is not and if you experience pain with running, stop and assess it.

Often new runners who are carrying extra weight suffer from pain in the joints (hips, knees, and ankles) due to the impact stress of running.

If you’re in this camp, then don’t worry – your Couch to 10K dreams aren’t necessarily over!

Instead of running, adopt a quick walk strategy – basically power walking – which is slightly slower (but not much) and much less impactful on your joints!

You should see the weight begin to fall off, and once you’ve lost some excess pounds you can try running again!

couch to 10k training plan 9

4. What kind of clothing should I wear for running?

When you are starting your couch to 10K program, you don’t need to wear anything fancy for running.

But if you commit more time running, you’ll definitely want to add more running-specific clothing items to your wardrobe.

Don’t worry about breaking the bank on running clothing. Places like Walmart, Marshall’s, or Target have affordable clothing made for fitness and running.

But be aware that more expensive fitness clothing often performs better, so if you’re planning on getting into longer races and spending more time running, consider investing in some high quality running pieces.

Here are some things to look for when you buy clothing for running:

  • Flat, smooth, and non-chafing seams
  • Breathable fabric
  • Soft, non-chafing fabric
  • 4-way stretch
  • Good hem lengths in shorts (and shirts!) so they don’t ride up or bunch while you’re running. If you struggle with thigh chafing, consider changing the length of your shorts or pick lightweight capris or leggings.

5. Make time for cross training

Running is a wonderful workout, but it’s also great to add in other types of workouts into your running routine as well, especially when you’re new to running and just starting a couch to 5K program.

The principal of training specificity means that if you want to get good at running, running should be your primary workout, but cross training is essential to prevent injury and to strengthen your body to run better.

“Cross training” means training or working out in multiple ways or disciplines, so if you are primarily a runner, you might cross train with workouts like cycling, yoga, strength training, etc.

Doing something like cycling will give your body a break from high-impact running while still training your cardiovascular system and neurological system for endurance exercise.

Strength training is a must in any well-rounded running program, so don’t skip it! Even if you don’t do other types of cross training workouts, don’t skip strength training.

Strengthening your muscles throughout your entire body (especially your glutes, core, and calf muscles) can help prevent injuries and helps to prevent muscle imbalances from doing one activity, like running, for the majority of your workouts.

Here is our guide to weightlifting for runners.

6. What to eat after your run

Just like with your fitness clothing, what to eat after your run doesn’t have to get complicated and you don’t have to spend a lot on expensive recovery drinks.

Just follow a few simple guidelines to make the most of your post-run recovery snacks and meals.

Try to eat something within 3 hours of your workout.

The old rule of thumb was to eat a snack within 45 minutes of your workout, then follow it up with your normal meal. Following this doesn’t hurt at all, research isn’t definitive for this “window of opportunity” rule and refuel timing is actually more flexible.

A study in the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends not giving more than 3-4 hours between pre and post workout meals. Of course this is geared more towards anabolic/muscle building athletes, but the concept of muscle rebuilding and repair still applies to runners, too.

I still recommend to people that they eat something soon after their workouts if they are hungry and they don’t want to wait till their next meal. If you’re not very hungry, eat a snack and then your regularly scheduled meal.

As long as it’s not unhealthy food, there is nothing wrong with refueling immediately after your workout as long as it doesn’t bother your stomach!

couch to 10k training plan 2

What Should I Do After Couch To 10K?

Completing Couch To 10k is an awesome achievement – the feeling of crossing that finishing line is unbeatable (and WARNING – can be addictive).

So once you’ve completed the plan, you’ve got a few options in front of you in terms of where you can move things.

#1: Get Faster

Now you’ve bagged your first 10k, why not see if you can step on the gas a little?

By doing some more running training – and perhaps including some HIIT style work like running intervals, fartleks, or hill running – you can make big inroads in your running speed, and chase down a faster 5k time.

If you’re looking to get faster, an excellent way to do this is to join a running club. The club setting will give your running some structure and motivate you to push yourself.

Weightlifting for runners is actually a pretty effective way of getting faster. After all, stronger equals faster (and more injury-proof).

Here are some guides to getting faster at the 5K distance:

How To Run 5K in 30 Minutes (or Faster)

How To Run 5K in 20 Minutes

And guides for the 10K distance:

How To Run 10K in 60 Minutes

How To Run 10k in 45 Minutes

How To Run 10k in 40 Minutes

#2: Go Longer

It feels awesome to cover 10 kilometers in running, right?

Suddenly it opens up a world of possibilities – the area around where you live becomes your running playground!

If you’re interested in going longer, then the Couch to 10k is a great foundation.

#3: Change Focus

Once you’ve nailed a 10K, you’ve shown yourself that you can set a fitness goal, work hard, and achieve it.

Perhaps you want to take a rest from running and pursue something else – why not try yoga, or bodyweight training?

I’m a big believer in mixing up your training every few months, and being multi-disciplinary. Running is a cornerstone of my own fitness journey, but it’s not the only type of training I do.

#4: 10k To Couch

Finally, many people complete Couch to 10k . . . then go on the reverse journey, letting their training slide, losing their fitness, and ending up back on the couch.

Don’t let this be you!

Set a new path and begin moving towards it!!!

couch to 10k training program

Image credits:

1:

Penn Jillette by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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