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Go From Couch to Marathon with this 24-Week Training Plan

If you’ve never run before, 26.2 miles can feel like an impossible distance—but it’s more than doable with our zero to 5K to 10K to half to full marathon training plan.

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How much running experience do you need before you run a marathon? One year? Five years? Try a mere 24 weeks! As long as you are currently healthy, you can go from couch to marathon finisher in less than six months.

But it’s wise to do so in steps. Instead of going straight from zero to a 26.2-mile start line, we suggest you “climb the ladder” of standard road-race distances. Start with a 5K, move to a 10K, advance to a half marathon—and finally make the leap to the marathon.

A step-ladder approach will prevent you from taking on too much too soon and keep you motivated throughout.

What to Expect

The following four-part training plan will guide you along your journey. You’re ready to start when you can comfortably walk/jog for 20 minutes. If you’ve already completed a 5K, you can start with the 5K to 10K plan (likewise with other distances).

All four plans involve a three-zone intensity scheme. “Easy” is a slow jog that allows you to speak full sentences without losing your breath. “Moderate” is a pace at which you feel in control of your breathing, but if you went any faster you’d begin to strain. “Hard” is relative, but it means running almost as fast as you can (90 percent of your max). This means you will run faster for 30-second hard efforts versus 3-minute ones, but you should complete both workouts feeling as though you could have given only 10 percent more.

What’s My Marathon Pace?

Most runners don’t pace themselves very well in marathons. A 2013 study by Spanish researchers found that among 40 recreational runners who completed a marathon, 18 slowed down by more than 15 percent between the beginning and the end and the remaining 22 runners slowed by an average of 40 seconds per mile.

Even if your goal is just to finish, you’ll want to avoid this kind of deceleration, because it comes with a good deal of suffering. Your marathon experience will be much more enjoyable if you start at a pace you can sustain the whole way. Here is a three-step process you can use to pull off this feat:

STEP 1: Use your half marathon time as a predictor.

After you run a half marathon, enter your time into an online race-performance equivalence calculator such as this one. This will give you predicted times for races of other distances including the marathon. Note that these tools tend to predict marathon times that are a little too fast for beginners.

STEP 2: Avoid slowing down in your long runs.

Try to complete all of your long runs without slowing down at the end. If you are forced to slow down in one of these runs, start the next one at a slower pace. As your long runs get longer, the pace at which you run them will become more predictive of what you can do in a marathon.

STEP 3: Do a marathon simulator run.

In week five of the Half Marathon to Marathon Plan, this workout is scheduled. It comprises an 1-mile warm-up, plus 16.2 miles (exactly 10 miles less than a marathon) at your estimated race pace. Complete this run at your current goal pace for your upcoming marathon, basing this goal on both Step 1 and Step 2. After you finish, use the result of the simulator to refine your objective. If you really struggle to sustain a goal pace of 10:45 per mile, for example, you might want to change your goal to 11:00 per mile. But if you still have a little left in the tank, leave your goal unchanged. In making such assessments, keep in mind that you will be three weeks fitter and also more rested when you run your marathon.

RELATED: Weekly Tempo Runs Will Build Your Capacity at Marathon Pace

The 24-Week Couch to Marathon Training Plan

Follow along with the bite-sized plans below, or download the full plan to get through the 24-weeks without skipping a beat.

Zero to 5K Plan

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Rest Walk/Run Easy 

10x(Walk 2 min/ Run Easy 1 min)

Rest Walk/Run Easy

10x (Walk 2 min/ Run Easy 1 min)

Rest Walk/Run Easy 13x (Walk 2 min/ Run Easy 1 min) Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

2 Rest Walk/Run Easy

15x(Walk 1 min/ Run easy 1 min)

Rest Walk/Run Easy 15x (Walk 1 min/Run Easy 1 min) Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Walk/Run Easy 

20x (Walk 1 min/ Run Easy 1 min)

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

3 Rest Walk/Run Easy

15x (Walk 30 sec/Run Easy 1.5 min)

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Walk/Run Easy

15x (Walk 30 sec/ Run Easy 1 min)

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Run Easy

30 min

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

4 Rest Walk/Run Easy

15x(Walk 30 sec

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Run Easy

25 min

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Rest 5K Race

RELATED: Get to Know the 5K, the Most Approachable Distance in Running

5K to 10K Plan

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Rest Run Easy

30 min

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy

30 min

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Run Easy 

40 min

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 30 min
2 Rest Speed Play

35 min Easy with 4×30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Fast Finish

30 min Easy + 5 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

3 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 4×30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Fast Finish

30 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy

1 hour

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 30 min
4 Rest Speed Play

35 min Easy with 4×30 second Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Fast Finish

30 min Easy + 5 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Rest 10K Race

10K to Half Marathon Plan

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 4×30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Fast Finish 

30 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

6 miles Easy

2 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 6×30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 30 min Fast Finish

35 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Run Easy or Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Long Run

7 miles

Easy

3 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 8×30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 30 min Fast Finish

40 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

8 miles

Easy

4 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 4 x 30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Fast Finish

30 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

5 miles

Easy

5 Rest Hill Reps

10 min Easy + 7x(1 min Hard uphill/2 min Easy) + 10 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 15 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

10 miles

Easy

6 Rest Hill Reps

10 min Easy + 7x(1 min Hard uphill/2 min Easy) + 10 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Tempo Run 

15 min Easy + 18 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

12 miles

Easy

7 Rest Hill Reps 

10 min Easy + 7x(1 min Hard uphill/2 min Easy) + 10 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 20 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

8 miles

Easy

8 Rest Speed Play 

40 min Easy with 8×30 sec Hard sprinkled in

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Fast Finish

40 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Rest Half Marathon

Half Marathon to Marathon Plan

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 4×1 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 20 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Run Easy

or Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Long Run

12 miles

Easy

2 Rest Speed Play

45 min Easy with 4×2 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio 

35 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 22 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio 

30 min

Run Easy or Non-impact Cardio 

30 min

Long Run

14 miles

Easy

3 Rest Speed Play

50 min Easy with 4×3 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

40 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 24 min Moderate +15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Long Run

16 miles 

Easy

4 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 4×1 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio 30 min Fast Finish

30 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio 30 min Long Run

10 miles

Easy

5 Rest Speed Play

55 min Easy with 4×4 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

45 min

Temp Run

15 min Easy + 26 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy

or Non-Impact Cardio 45 min

Marathon Simulator Run

1 mile Easy + 16.2 miles at marathon goal pace

6 Rest Speed Play

1 hour Easy with 4×5 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio 

50 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 28 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

50 min

Long Run

20 miles

Easy

7 Rest Speed Play

45 min Easy with 4×3 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

45 min

Tempo Run

15 min Easy + 30 min Moderate + 15 min Easy

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

45 min

Long Run

10 miles

Easy

8 Rest Speed Play

40 min Easy with 4×1 min Hard sprinkled in

Run Easy or Non-Impact Cardio

30 min

Fast Finish

20 min Easy + 10 min Moderate

Optional Non-Impact Cardio

20-30 min

Rest Marathon

RELATED: Fight the “Post-Marathon Plague” with Probiotics, Says New Study