Couch To Marathon – The Ultimate Training Guide (+ Training Plan)

Going from ‘couch to marathon‘ is an epic undertaking – and a huge adventure!

In this post, I’m going to walk through our proven ‘couch to marathon‘ method, outline the main training principles to follow, and share training plans for each phase!

We’ll look at:

  • How long it takes to go from couch to marathon
  • What your starting fitness level should be (and how to get there if you’re not ready)
  • What your training will look like
  • Marathon goals, strategies, and tricks
  • What to do when you encounter problems
  • Breaking down the phases of training into smaller goals
  • And training plans!

(just looking for the training plan?  Scroll to the bottom to grab a copy!)

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

couch to marathon training plan

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

Assuming you’re already an active person, you can go from couch to marathon in as little as six months.

Using the training plans I share later in this post, you’ll see how there are certain milestones to reach – for example, running a 10k.   If you follow each of the training plans consecutively with no breaks in-between, it’ll take you 6 months to get marathon-ready.

The key is simply in ramping up your endurance – the amount of time you can continuously run for.

We want to do this as efficiently but also as safely as possible; that’s why it’s important to follow a training plan with a good structure, like ours.   It will guide you through every training run while gradually adding the mileage in a sustainable way.

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 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 5-10 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.

How to know if you’re ready to start?

There are three sets to figuring out if you’re ready:

1. Check out the first week of the training plan below

2. Put on your running shoes

3. Get started! 

There’s no time like the present, and remember you can always mix walking and running

6 Ways To Nail Your Couch To Marathon Journey

Here are our six top tips for getting your Couch to Marathon training right!

1. Get The Right Gear

One of the first things you need to get right is your running gear – and that starts with the shoes.

Don’t assume your old trainers will be suitable – if you’re in training for a marathon, it’s worth making the investment in a new pair of runners that are up to the job.

Check out our Marathon Shoe Guide, complete with the latest shoe model recommendations!

You also want to ensure you have proper socks, shirt, and shorts for running – as well as a running bra and cold weather gear, as necessary.

2. Stay Motivated

While everyone starts their marathon journey filled with enthusiasm and vigour, the long months and long miles can slowly wear you down.  

Keep yourself motivated with some of our top marathon motivation tips.

3. Cross Train and Rest for Injury Prevention

Marathon training isn’t all about running.

You also need to incorporate cross training, and rest.

Cross training allows you to work on some of the muscles which running weakens, helping you to become a stronger and less injury-prone runner.  It also gives your legs a bit of a break while still allowing you to do exercise.   

I recommend yoga, gym work (think high reps, low weights), and swimming!

Rest is equally important!  You’ll see that from the amount of rest days I’ve included in the training plans I’ve included.

Rest not only lets your legs recover, but allows your whole body to recuperate and your energy levels refill.   Don’t skip it, and if you begin to feel overly drained, take a day off!

4. Don’t Go Too Fast!

A huge mistake that first time marathon runners make is going too fast on their long runs.

Remember, as you’re training for a marathon on a tight window, you shouldn’t worry about speed.

Your body will naturally gravitate towards a pace that it’s comfortable running at.

Pushing your body to run at an uncomfortable pace will mean you’re putting more stress on it, which takes longer to recover from – and you don’t have oodles of recovery time to take advantage of.

What will happen is you’ll get run down, burned out, and either injured or physically exhausted.

Be conservative – run at a nice, easy conversational pace – and enjoy it!

5. Get Your Nutrition Right

Marathon training consumes buckets of energy, so you need to be focussed on consuming plenty of carbs.

You also need to get plenty of protein to help your body recover efficiently.

I generally recommend sticking to healthy, whole foods meals as much as possible when in marathon training.  

Processed foods take longer to break down, and contain loads of weird stuff which might not be optimal.

Looking for marathon nutrition ideas?

Check out our FREE Marathon Training Meal Plans (both regular and vegetarian!)

6. Stick To The Plan!

This is actually my no.1 piece of advice for anyone training for a marathon.

When you’re deep in marathon training, it can be easy to deviate from your plan.  Either you:

i) rationalise that things are going well so you can skip certain workouts, or

ii) are feeling good so begin to run farther and faster than the plan requires, adding miles.

Both of these are bad ideas for different reasons.

It’s a bad idea to skip runs without a good reason such as illness or injury – your training will lose it’s momentum.   You have to prioritise your marathon training.

Equally, it’s a bad idea to ramp up your mileage faster than the plan outlines.  While it can feel good to throw down a couple extra miles, you’re adding unnecessary stress to your body – and can easily find yourself suffering from burnout, injury, or illness.

Stick to the marathon training plan.

couch to marathon the essential guide and training plan

Couch To Marathon – Training Runs Explained

The Couch to Marathon training plan is split into 4 distinct sections below:

  • couch to 5k
  • 5k to 10k
  • 10k to half marathon
  • half marathon to marathon

Each of these is a separate stage, and should be treated as such.

Feel free to pause between training plans.

For example, if you do the ‘Couch to 5k’ training plan, you don’t immediately have to jump straight into the ‘5k to 10k’ training plan. 

You can spend a few weeks consolidating your fitness before moving forward – simply keep repeating the last week of that plan until you’re ready to push to the next stage.

This way, you can manage the plan to suit your personal progress. 

Don’t jump from one plan to the next too quickly if you’re not feeling ready; take the time to rest, and consolidate your new running fitness, before moving forward.

Walk / Run Workouts

These exercises are designed to get you used to running continuously, by mixing up walking and running.

For example, the very first workout is 10 x 2 min walk, 1 min run.

This means you walk for 2 minutes, then run at a comfortable pace for 1 mile.

Repeat this 10 times – in total it should take you 30 minutes.

As the plan progresses, you’ll see that the ratio of walking to running gradually reduces, encouraging you to run continuously.

Cross Training

Cross training can be any form of complimentary exercise which doesn’t involve running.

I recommend yoga, strength training (nothing too intense though), pilates, and swimming.  Try and avoid contact sports, or anything which involves running.

Long Runs

These are long, slow runs which you’ll do at the weekend. 

Their purpose is to help you build up your endurance base – the amount of time you can run for without stopping.

These are designed to be done at a slow, easy pace – slower than your other training runs.  So don’t even think about pace – just think about building up that time on your feet.

Training Runs

A training run is simply a classic run – the kind you might do before work, or in the evening.  They vary in length from 1.5 miles to 7 miles, and are designed to add mileage to your training week and get your body adapted to running.

Your training run pace should be comfortable and sustainable if you’re going from Couch to Marathon in 6 months.   Just let your body find a nice speed you can maintain, and follow that.

Couch to Marathon Training PlansGet a free, customisable and downloadable version of our Couch to Marathontraining plan here (in both PDF and Google Sheets formats).

The Phases of Couch To Marathon – Training Plans

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!

couch to marathon - 10k to half marathon

Half Marathon to Marathon 

 The big finish! This is easily the most intense segment of the plans, with your long runs maxing out at 20 miles!

The mileage increases have been strategically planned to be as gradual as possible, so try and stick closely to the plan.

And remember…you’ve got this!

half marathon to marathon training plan

Download the Training Plan

Looking for a complete version of this plan in one document, along with further advice on how to execute the run workouts?

All my training plans are free to download (click here to access), and come in PDF and Google Sheets format – meaning you’re welcome to mix it up and change things around to suit your own schedule

Check Out The Premium Version of The Couch To Marathon Training Plan . . .

We’ve teamed with TrainingPeaks to offer a premium version of the Couch To Marathon Training Plan:

Access the plan via the TrainingPeaks website and app, track your workouts in real-time against the plan, and get performance data analysis on your progress.

Check out the premium couch to marathon training plan here!

Couch To Marathon - The Ultimate Training Guide (+ Training Plan) 1
trainingpeaks training plan
couch to marathon training plan

Check out the Couch To Marathon Training Plan page!

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.

8 thoughts on “Couch To Marathon – The Ultimate Training Guide (+ Training Plan)”

  1. Hi Thomas! You said “as the plan progresses, you’ll see that the ratio of walking to running gradually reduces, encouraging you to run continuously,” but on week four of the couch to 5k it goes back to a two minute walk/one minute run. Is that right or should it be one minute walk/two minute run? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Stephen, absolutely you’re right – thanks for picking this up! I had those ratios the wrong way round…now I’ve fixed it all 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hi Thomas! Quick question, week 12 and 20 seems to be shorter distance runs than the previous weeks. Is this by design? Thanks for the advice and the download!

    Reply
    • Hey Wade,
      Good spot!
      Yes – these are called ‘step-back weeks’ – they are weeks in which your overall mileage intentionally doesn’t increase, in order to give your body a slight break to consolidate the gains made over the prior weeks. Enjoy them!
      Thanks,
      Thomas

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Day One of my Journey – Austin Erb Blog
  4. Hi, I’m looking to start training but am not really at “couch” status. I already run regularly (5 days a week) and always run for at least 30-60 continuously. Where in your couch to Marathon plan should I pick up my training?
    Thanks!

    Reply

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