Going all the way from being on the couch to half marathon ready is a huge journey, and requires an investment of a lot of time, effort, and exercise!

The good news is that it’s not all hard work!

Training for a half marathon can be a lot of fun, and can has positive effects throughout the rest of your life – such as increased energy levels, losing excess weight, improved mood and a fresh perspective.

What’s more, it’s a journey that you can break up into several smaller chunks – there’s no need to treat it as one huge challenge.

Instead, I’ll show you how to break up your training into distinct milestones – 5k10k, then the half marathon itself!

Ready to learn how to go from couch to half marathon?

Let’s jump in!

Walk First, Then Run

Worried about your current running abilities?

Concerned that you can’t run very far right now?

Fear not!

When you start off, you can use a run / walk method to get the required miles in.

This is a combination of running intervals interspersed with walking breaks, so you don’t get too tired.

The trick is to find a balance of running and walking to suit your ability level.   It should be challenging, but sustainable.

For example, in a 30 minute running workout you might want to consider running for 2 minutes, then walking for 1 minute. Repeating this pattern 10 times will get you to your 30 minutes.   

As your training progresses, you should aim to increase the amount of time spent running, and decrease the walking – until you’re running continuously.

Our training plan includes run/walk workouts for the first 4 weeks, gradually getting you adjusted to running consistently.

Focus On Form and Miles, not Speed

When you’re starting off on your running journey, don’t think about speed.

It’s simply too early for you – your body has to adjust to the physical movement of running, and the mileage you’re adding, before even thinking about speed.

And with the volume of physical training you’re undertaking, your body is under a good level of stress already. No need to push it harder – and risk injury – by trying to go fast.

Getting caught up with target finishing times and trying to race friends isn’t worth it – not for your first half marathon, at least. Leave your ambitions for the next race.

So, how fast should you be running?

Instead of focussing on speed, think about running based on feel.

You want to be running at a sustainable, conversational pace – in other words, a speed at which you could hold a conversation with a friend without getting out of breath. 

In It For The Long Run

The most important training run of your week will be the Long Run.

These are designed to increase your endurance, and how far you can run at once.

Each week, your long runs should get progressively longer, maxing out at around 11 miles.

You want to do your long runs at a nice and slow, relaxed pace.  Don’t even think about speed – think about it is as a jog or plod, where your goal is simply to keep going – not worrying about speed at all.

If your schedule gets a bit crazy, feel free to drop other training runs – but try to keep your Long Run in the mix – it’s undoubtedly the most important run you’ll do each week on your couch to half marathon journey.

Prioritise Your R&R

A good runner knows how important it is to focus on recovery – especially when following a busy training plan.

When you’re squeezing in several run workouts per week, you want to do everything you can to recover quickly – otherwise, you’ll soon be running on tired legs, and the tiredness can compound, leading to burnout and injury.

Some of our top recovery tips include:

– foam roll and stretch after each tough run workout

– each a carbohydrate and protein-rich meal within 45 minutes of finishing your run

– don’t overtrain – if you have sore legs for two days in a row, take a break from training

– compression gear and ice baths are popular tools many athletes swear by for recovery

– get plenty of sleep!

Fuel Like An Athlete

All that running needs to be fuelled – especially once your mileage grows.

Remember to eat a carb-rich snack some 45-60 minutes before each workout – even if it’s just a banana – to ensure you’ve got easy-to-access energy ready for your run.

For your weekly long runs, you want to have a larger snack, or breakfast, one hour before your run.  This could include a bagel with peanut butter, or an omelette with some veg and cheese.

Once you are running for over 60-75 minutes, you also want to start fuelling during your run to ensure you don’t bonk. Experiment with energy gels and other snacks like Clif Bloks or trail mix, nut butters, and fruit.  It’s important to keep those carbohydrate stores loaded!

In terms of diet, you may wish to consider sticking to whole foods, and avoiding overly-processed prepared foods – as the body find the latter harder to break down.

Stick To The Plan!

The number one predictor of half marathon success (in my humble opinion, as a coach to thousands of runners) is how well you follow your training plan.

I see time and time again that runners who are disciplined and follow through on their training plan are much more likely to complete their training and have success on race day.

Runners who neglect their training are much more likely to drop out – and if they do make it to their race, there’s a big chance they’ll crash and burn.

Bear in mind that it’s totally fine to take breaks from the training plan, or switch it up to suit your life – after all, we all get injuries, illnesses, and have other commitments crop up.

Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan

Check out our free, downloadable Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan

This plan is designed to get you ready in as little as 15 weeks – though you can use it to go at your own pace, as described in the training plan page.

This training plan – like all the half marathon training plans we offer – are free, and can be downloaded in PDF or Google Sheets / Excel formats, so you can edit them. They also come in both miles and kilometers!

The plan doesn’t have a speed or pace focus at all – the objective is to get the required mileage in.   It includes 3 mid-week runs, to be performed at a comfortable pace, and one long-slow run each weekend to build your max mileage.   The plan includes one cross-training day per week and two rest days.

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.