fbpx

Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan + Ultimate Training Guide

A training plan for non-runners + info on how to get started, what the different training elements involve, why they matter, and how to get the right gear.

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 have positive effects throughout the rest of your life such as increased energy levels, weight loss, improved mood, and a fresh perspective.

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

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

At the end of the post, I share our couch to half marathon training plan – free to download and customise!

If the Half Marathon distance sounds a little daunting, jump in with our Couch To 10k Training Plan – you can always add on the Half Marathon goal at the end!

Not sure this is the plan for you? – Check out some of our other half-marathon training plans.

How Long Does It Take To Go From Couch To Half Marathon?

Using the training plan I share later in this post, you’ll see how there are certain milestones to reach – for example, running a 10k. If you follow the training plan consecutively with no breaks in-between, it’ll take around 15 weeks to get from couch to half marathon.

These 15 weeks give you time to build your running habit in a sustainable way – we gradually increase your weekly mileage and layer in more training as you go, letting your body adjust.

Ramping up your mileage too fast, or without structure, often leads to over-training injuries and burnout.

That’s why it’s so important to stick to a plan.

How Fit Should You Be Before Beginning Couch to Half Marathon?

It certainly helps for you to have some existing aerobic fitness, either from other sports or from simply being an active person.

Everyone starts marathon training from different backgrounds and ability levels, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

You should ideally already to run continuously for at least 5 minutes.  However, our training plan starts off with walk/run sessions, where you run for a little while and then walk. This way, you can gradually build up the ability to run continuously.

three people running over a bridge

The 7 Building Blocks Of Going From Your Couch To Half Marathon

The secret to going from sitting on your couch to the finish line of your half marathon is to be disciplined and structured; don’t bite off more than you can chew when you start off and increase your mileage and workout intensity gradually.

Many rookie runners start to run and approach their half marathon haphazardly – they go for a few training runs, get a few energy gels, and turn up to the start line.

While they might make it to the finish line, they’re much more likely to get injured, exhausted, or give up during the training.

If you want to get the most out of your half marathon experience, then you need to approach the training and preparation process correctly.

It means you’re much more likely to complete your half marathon without injury, without getting fed up with the process – and you’ll actually enjoy the journey!

Here are my 7 building blocks for a successful couch-to-half marathon training process.

4 people running along a road

1. Walk First, Then Run

If you are worried about your current running abilities or concerned that you can’t run very far right now, fear not.

When you start off your couch to half marathon journey, 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 couch to half marathon 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 at the bottom of this post includes run/walk workouts for the first 4 weeks, gradually getting you adjusted to running consistently.

Side note: some half and even full-marathon runners adopt a run/walk approach for their race. They can sometimes book surprisingly fast times by taking planned walking breaks throughout the course, as their bodies aren’t under such intense load.

lots of people in a race

2. Get The Right Gear

When you start from scratch with running, you want to get the right gear from day one.

Trying to run with worn-out shoes or improper gear doesn’t work. In fact, the wrong shoes can lead to injury and put a stop to your half-marathon journey just as you’re getting started.

So do yourself a favor and invest in some proper running gear. Go to a reputable running store and get a pair of good running shoes, a few pairs of socks, shorts, and a couple of shirts.

Related: Buying Guide: How To Choose Running Shoes

Related: Our Pick Of The Best Half Marathon Running Shoes

I also recommend that you invest in a decent running vest (to stash all your goodies when you’re out on your long runs) and – more importantly – a GPS device.

A good runner’s GPS watch – whether it’s a Garmin or your Apple Watch – is essential for logging your training runs and for tracking your pace as you run, something that’s especially important during your half marathon.

Read More: Best GPS Watches for Half Marathon Training

3. Focus On Form and Miles, not Speed

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

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

Read more: Our Guide To Proper Running Form

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.

Remember the following adage:

“First comes good running form, then distance second, then speed third”

In other words, if you focus on running well and gradually increasing your distances, speed will come naturally.

Once you’re an established runner you can begin to factor in speedwork like fartleks and interval training, but for now, focus on building longer distances, not speed. 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 focusing 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. You might call it a 3 or 4 out of 10 in terms of Perceived Exertion.

That way you should be able to keep going longer and longer, getting your body accustomed to running.

Check out our half marathon pace calculator to learn more.

a person running along a path in a park

4. In It For The Long Runs

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

These are designed to increase your endurance.

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

You want to do your longer 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 the 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.

Related: Half Marathon Long Run: How Long Should Your Longest Training Run Be?

5. Prioritize 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.

Top Recovery Tips:

  • Foam roll and stretch after each tough run workout
  • Eat 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
a person running next to a lake

6. 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.

Read more: 11 Great Carbohydrate Sources For Runners

For your weekly long runs, you want to have a larger snack, or breakfast, one hour or two hours before your run. This could include a bagel with peanut butter or an omelet 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 can find the latter harder to break down.

Related: What’s A Good Half Marathon Time? Average Times By Age + Sex

7. Peak, Then Taper

It might surprise you to learn that your half-marathon training should peak 2 weeks before your race.

In other words, your longest long run should be exactly 14 days before your race – after that, you gradually wind down your training.

This wind-down period is called the half marathon taper. The idea is that you should reduce the volume of your training while maintaining the same mileage.

Your taper gives your body some respite and allows micro-tears in your muscles to heal. This means that by race day, your body will be well-rested and primed, ready for success.

Already an experienced runner? Check out my quick 6-week half marathon training schedule.

people's feet running on a road

The Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan

The number one predictor of couch to 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 that crop up.

Our Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan is structured such that you can choose to complete it in 3 blocks:

  • Block #1: Couch to 5k
  • Block #2: 5k to 10k
  • Block #3: 10k to Half Marathon

My recommendation is to take the training plan one block at a time – once you complete a block, you can choose whether to progress directly to the next block or spend a few weeks consolidating your progress.

Here, I break the plan into the 3 blocks and explain each one.

If you want to download the entire plan in both PDF and Google Sheets (or MS Excel) format, which you can then customize for free, scroll to the bottom!

Couch to 5k 

My couch to 5k training plan lasts 4 weeks; it starts off gently and gets you ready to run 5k by the end of the month.

It’s a mixture of walk/run exercises, cross-training, and long runs.

Remember, once you complete your 5k, you can pause before proceeding to the next plan.

couch to marathon - couch to 5k training plan

5k to 10k

 In this training plan, there are no more walk/run workouts – only training runs, which you should be able to run without stopping.   If you are struggling, take a break and walk it off before starting to run again.

couch to marathon - 5k to 10k training plan

10k to Half Marathon

This training plan is all about building those miles; you’ll see they gradually increase.

Remember to take advantage of rest days, and don’t skip the long runs!

The taper kicks in at the end of week 13, after which you’ve got 2 weeks of winding down your training volume until race day.

And remember – you’ve got this.

couch to half marathon 10k to half marathon

Keep scrolling to access the plan for free in PDF, Printable, or customizable Google Sheets format.

Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan Download

Couch to Half Marathon Training Plan

Download The Training Plan Here

Enter your email, and I’ll send you this free training plan now, in PDF and Google Sheets formats (completely customizable), in both miles and kilometers.  

After entering your email, you’ll be prompted to create an account on the Grow platform we use to control access to the plans. It’s completely free – make sure to complete the process to gain access to the plan!

Previous visitor or not seeing where to sign up?

Head over to our half marathon training plan database for full access to all plans.

download the free training plan

FAQs

How Long Is A Half Marathon?

A half marathon is 13.1 miles, or 21.1 kilometers (13.1094 miles or 21.0975km to be exact!).

How Much Do You Need To Run To Train For A Half Marathon?

Most half marathon plans will see you running 3 to 5 times a week, depending on your fitness level, with first-timers running closer to 3 times a week and more experienced runners running closer to 5 times a week.

What Should I Do If I Get Injured When Training For A Half Marathon Race?

The most important point is to never run through your injury; you may worsen any damage done and then have to ditch your half marathon goals.

The good news is that most common running injuries can be diagnosed quickly and easily by a specialist, and often a rehab plan can be put in place that has minimal impact on your actual training plan.

Cross-training is something we’re huge advocates of – both for injury avoidance and performance, as well as adding volume to your training. All of our plans come with at least one cross-training day (though if you can squeeze in 2, even better).

In short, most injuries shouldn’t derail your race altogether as long as they are addressed early on.

As always – prevention is better than cure. Therefore, try a gentle 5-minute warm-up before starting your running workouts to reduce the chance of injury. This is particularly important for speed work or higher-intensity workouts that have a higher risk of injury.

Make sure to cool down for 5 minutes after every workout also to gradually return your heart rate to normal.

Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan + Ultimate Training Guide 1

What Kind Of Strength Training Should I Be Doing On Cross Training Days?

Cross training – and specifically strength training, or resistance training, is a huge tool in your half marathon training toolkit.

Not only does it help ward off weaknesses and imbalances that can lead to injury, but also makes you stronger, more powerful, and faster.

For the most bang for your buck, we recommend lifting weights. But, even if you just do bodyweight resistance workouts, you’ll notice a huge difference.

See Strength Training For Runners for our full guide on which specific muscles, exercises, and types of workout you should focus on.

What Shoes Should I Be Wearing?

Getting a good pair of running shoes is critical to half marathon success.

You don’t need the latest, carbon-plated, $300 performance shoes.

But equally, those old worn trainers in your closet probably aren’t ideal.

Here’s our complete guide on how to choose running shoes, and here are some recommended half marathon running shoes to check out.

Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan + Ultimate Training Guide 2

How To Customize This Half Marathon Training Plan

Our half marathon training plans are completely free and fully customizable.

Do other commitments mean that you can only train on certain days?  

Need to trim a couple of weeks off the time schedule?

No problem, edit the spreadsheet as you see fit.  

Our training plans come in both Google Sheets and PDF format; feel free to grab a copy of the Google Sheet, edit it, download it to Excel, print it – do whatever you want!

Furthermore, you can choose to download the plans formatted into either kilometers or miles – whichever you’re used to.

Who Has Designed This Half Marathon Training Plan?

Hi!

I’m Thomas, a UESCA-certified running coach and ultra-runner. 

I’ve worked with hundreds of runners and developed these training plans through ongoing research, my work with other marathon runners, and personal running experience.

We’ve shared our marathon training plans online for free since 2016.

We’re big believers in marginal gains and constantly improving what we do, so over the years we have continually revisited and refined each of these free half marathon training plans as our knowledge – and feedback from our runners – has improved.

We also have a dedicated Facebook group where runners discuss our plans, their personal challenges, and share their finish line photos!

An image of Thomas from Marathon Handbook
marathon handbook logo
UESCA badge

How Does This Plan Compare With Other Half Marathon Plans Available Online?

Alright, so you’ve probably googled ‘half marathon training plan‘ and seen there are many sites offering plans.

We’re big fans, and friends, with many of these coaches . . . for years before I became a coach, I followed Hal Higdon‘s training plans for each of my races, and credit Hal Higdon’s half marathon training plans for getting me through my first couple of halfs.

You’ll also find awesome plans from the likes of Runner’s World, Nike, Jeff Galloway, and major race organizers – I’d encourage you to check them out and compare them to our free plans before you commit to a specific plan. Always choose the plan that looks right for you.

Our plans differ from other plans you’ll find online in that they are:

a group of runners' legs on a road

#1. Customizable / Free To Edit

We’re big believers that there’s no one-size-fits-all training plan. You can grab a free copy of any plan and move things around to suit you using either Google Sheets, Excel, or similar software.

Want to cut off the first couple of weeks and jump in at week 3?

Need to move a weekly workout to suit your existing commitments or family?

Need to adjust things because of an illness, injury, or just feeling the need for a break?

That’s why a customizable, dynamic training plan is so important – your training plan should work for you, not the other way around.

They also come in free, handy half marathon training plan PDF files if you don’t need to make any changes!

#2. Include Extensive Guidance Notes

Each plan includes a page of notes that walk you through the rationale of the plan, and how to perform every single workout.

We tell you how hard to push it (either in terms of a specific pace or RPE), give you tips for how to do each workout, and walk you through how to train towards your race pace.

#3. We Follow Up With More Helpful Material (All Free)

We’ve been helping beginner runners as well as runners of all abilities train for the half marathon distance for many years now, so we know all the main sticking points and common problems that are faced.

So when anyone signs up for one of our plans, we stay in touch – after you get your plan, we’ll pepper your inbox every couple of days with training tips and training strategies specific to your marathon journey.

Not interested in extra material? Just unsubscribe at any time.

#4. We Want To Keep Getting Better

We’re constantly getting feedback from runners on our plans – everything from the workout frequency to the clarity of information to the suitability of the runner’s experience level. We also work hard on the plan format to ensure it’s clear, easy to follow, edit, and print off, and is best suited to the runner.

That’s why we’re constantly revisiting our plans; we did a major overhaul in 2023 and are constantly making small tweaks to improve them.

#5. We Are A Support Community

Through our in-house coaches and runners, our Facebook group of over 20,000 runners, and our Instagram community, we want to make sure you’ve got the support you need as you undertake your half marathon training journey.

Don’t You Have a Half Marathon Training App?

Actually, we do!

We’ve partnered with TrainingPeaks to offer all of our training plans through their app, where you get more in-depth information about each workout, you can follow along with target pace and exertion levels in real-time, and log your training directly in the app itself.

We do charge for these premium training plans – but it’s less than half the price of a pair of running shoes, so if you’re interested, check out our TrainingPeaks Half Marathon Training Plans.

marathon training plans trainingpeaks
a group of runners smiling as they run through a park

If All This Is Really Free, How Do You Folks Make Money?

We keep ourselves going by charging for a couple of premium products we’ve put out there: our TrainingPeaks Training Plans, and our Half Marathon Masterclass.

The Masterclass is designed for any runner who really wants to dive deep into their half marathon training: it includes over 6 hours of video tutorials on everything from injury prevention, nutrition, race day strategies, hydration, and more.

But – feel free to just grab a free training plan and be on your way!

Other Suggested Half Marathon Training Plans

Beginner + Novice Training Plans

Intermediate + Advanced Half Marathon Training Plans

Time-based Half Marathon Training Plans

Check out the Half Marathon Training Plans page for more.

How Do I Choose The Best Half Marathon Training Plan For Me?

Deciding which half marathon training program is right for you is a personal choice – it depends on what your current running ability is, how long you have until your half marathon, and what your half marathon goals are.  

If you’re looking for a half marathon training plan for beginners, check out our Couch To Half Marathon Plan (for people not currently active) or our 16 Week Half Marathon Plan listed above in the Training Plans For Beginners section.

Check out the notes alongside each half marathon training plan link to help you choose.

Photo of author
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 playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

13 thoughts on “Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan + Ultimate Training Guide”

  1. Thanks to you and your team! I ran quite a few marathons over the years, but really let myself go during the pandemic…this plan is EXACTLY what I needed to ease back into things. I am on Week 7 right now and feeling great about the progress.

    Sometimes I misjudge my planned route and hit the target distance 500m to 1km from my house…is it okay at this point to keep running if I feel up to it, or do you think it’s better to just walk the last few hundred meters home?

    Reply
    • Hey C.J., thanks for the kind words!

      A little bit extra running isn’t going to hurt as long as you’re feeling up to it at the end of your run – likewise for walking – it’s a nice way to cool down. So don’t stress too much if you’re going slightly over on the mileage, as long as you feel good when you finish.

      Thanks,

      Reply
  2. I just want to thank you so much for this guide. I ran my first half marathon after following your plan and I was a complete novice when it came to running before I found this. I liked how the plan allowed me to take my time with the training. I started 18 weeks before my half marathon and had a few weeks off for holidays. I felt super confident coming up to the run and all of the information here was so useful. I really recommend this plan for anyone!

    Reply
  3. Hi!

    I just scheduled a 1/2 marathon and downloaded this plan as a pdf. For the block that says 10k- half marathon some days say RPE 2-3. What does that mean?

    Thanks I’m super excited to start training!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.