Couch To Half Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide and Training Plan

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!

In this post, I’ll take you through the building blocks of a good half marathon training schedule, including:

  • how to get started, even if you’re not a runner
  • the different running workouts that make up the couch to half marathon training plan
  • how cross-training and rest days play an important part in your running performance
  • the importance of getting the right gear for your half marathon training

And 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!

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

Let’s jump in!

COUCH TO HALF MARATHON training plan

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 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, then walk.  This way, you can gradually build up the ability to run continuously.

couch to half marathon training schedule building blocks

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 in a haphazard way – they go for a few training runs, they 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!

couch to half marathon training program

1. 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 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 book surprisingly fast times by taking planned walking breaks throughout the course, as their bodies aren’t under such intense load. See Our Guide To The Run Walk Marathon Training Method for more!

cocuh to half marathon guide

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 yourself a pair of good running shoes, a few pairs of socks, shorts, and a couple of shirts.

Buying Guide: How To Choose Running Shoes

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 also for tracking your pace as you run – something that’s especially important during your half marathon.

Read More: Best Running Vests

Read More: Best GPS Watches for Half Marathon Training

3. 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 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 distance, 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 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. 

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

couch to half marathon training plan extra

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 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 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.

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.

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!

couch to half marathon more tips

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 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.

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 plan.

couch to half marathon training success

The Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan – Get It Here

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 crop up.

Our Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan is structure 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 customise for free, scroll to the bottom!

Couch to 5k 

My couch to 5k training plan lasts 4 weeks; it starts off gentle 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

Couch To Half Marathon Training Plan

Download this 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.

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