From Couch Potato to Distance Runner

By Derek Turner

This guide is intended for use by someone with no running experience. It should see an individual progress slowly and safely to being able to run all distances up to a marathon within six months. It is possible to train for a marathon in a shorter time span and examples are given in other schedules and articles. This one is deliberately cautious giving plenty of time for an individual to develop their potential. Marathon training is not everyone's cup of tea, and you may decide to restrict your running to shorter distances.

The main principle used with this particular method is listening to your own body, whilst slowly increasing the demands that you place upon it. To use an electrical analogy it is a bit like an amplifier the output signal being fed back to the input signal to boost the output. The ideas are not truly original and many similar ones have appeared in running magazines and training books. It has similarities to the way that a coach, if you had one, would behave setting you a schedule then modifying it on the basis of performance.

Where to begin?

Our Beginner's Guide to Running here on the website contains a lot of useful information about footwear, kit, training logs, goals, nutrition and so on, as well as guidance on consulting your doctor.

Stage 1 – Starting Running

The first week

DAY 1 The starting point is going for a 10 minute jog. This could be from your house or the car park of a park. Just commence with a slow jog. If after just a few metres you feel that you are forced to stop. Listen to your body and stop, walk ten metres and then commence to jog again. Don’t worry if this happens time and time again what really matters is that you are out there getting fitter and are working towards your goal. After 5 minutes no matter whether you are jogging comfortably or jog/stop/walking, turn around and jog back to your starting point. Whether you found this difficult or a breeze is not particularly important what is the important think is that you did it. Reward yourself by heaping praise upon yourself. Do remember to enter today’s run in your training log.

DAY 2 Rest Day. Today you will be doing no running. It is important to realise from an early stage that rest is as important for athletes as training. Trying to run when tired does not lead to improvements, and is likely to lead to injury.

DAY 3 Repeat day 1 i.e. go for a 10 minute jog. If you stopped, the first time you tried, see if you can manage to run more. However stop if your body tells you to do so, and remember that you will soon get to a position where a 10 minutes jog will be a doddle.

DAY 4 Repeat day 2. That is have a rest day. Be patient if you are finding things a little to easy at this stage.

DAY 5 Repeat day 1 (10 minute jog).

DAY 6 Rest day.

DAY 7 Repeat day1 (10 minute jog).

After 7 days we will have managed 4 days of running. We now will be looking at gradually increasing our running but still listening to our bodies. Some of you will have done all four runs with out having to halt for a recovery if this applies to you , you can move straight to Stage 2. If you have had to stop at all on the runs then delay going to stage 2 until you can manage 4 of the runs (with a rest day in between) without stopping. It does not matter whether it takes a number of weeks before you are running on alternate days without a breather, the importance is that you are doing it and are developing your running ability.

Stage 2 – Building up to be able to jog 10 minutes each day

The day after the 4th run (without stops) on alternate days, ask yourself the question "am I feeling tired from yesterday’s run?"

If the answer is yes take a rest day, then run (10 mins jog) the day after that, and then on the following day ask the question again.

Eventually the time will come (for some on the first occasion of asking) when the answer will be "NO I feel as fresh as a daisy". When you can say this you will go out for a 10 minute jog, and by so doing have established two consecutive days of running.

The day after two consecutive days running ask the basic question "Am I still tired from yesterday's running"? If the answer is yes then it will be a rest day (and then 10 minutes jog the day after) if No then it will be a 10 minutes jog. In this manner the number of runs a week should start to increase but with the body dictating when rest days should occur.

Eventually we will reach the stage where you have run 6 days in a row. No matter what your body says take a rest. Remember running can be addictive and that rest is essential if you are going to improve.

Stage 3 – Jogging two miles on one day, 10 minutes the next

We are now going to shift from time run to distance run. The first thing to do is to work out a two mile route (using map and string or similar).

DAY 1 go out and jog the two mile loop

DAY 2 do your 10 minute jog

DAY 3 Ask the basic question am I feeling tired?

  • Yes? Then do 10 mins jogging. The next day ask the familiar question.
  • No? Then go for your two mile jog

Continue to increase the amount you are running in a similar way, ie:

  • the day after a two mile jog go for a 10 minute jog
  • the day after a 10 minute jog, ask yourself if you feel tired
  • if you do feel tired, go for a 10 minute jog
  • if you do not feel tired, go for a two mile jog

However we must have our rest so after completing 6 consecutive days of running take a rest day. We soon will achieve a week of two miles jog, alternating with 10 minutes jogging, and finishing with a rest day. The rate of progression will depend on the level of fitness that you came to running with.

Stage 4 – To run 2 miles each day

We will again use the same scheme as before.

DAY 1 jog 2 miles

DAYS 2-6, ask yourself if you are tired.

  • If you are tired, then go for 10 minutes jog
  • If you are not tired, then go for a 2 mile jog

DAY 7 is a rest day

On day 8 If you did not jog the 2 miles each day go back to day1 of this stage and repeat the week until you are able to do so. Once you can manage 6 consecutive days of 2 miles, progress on to Stage 5.

If you had difficulty reaching this point take heart as you have over come the main barriers and from here on the business of getting fitter will become easier.

Remember that not everybody will be able to progress at the same rate. It may pay you, at this stage to look at your training diary log and see how much you have accomplished since you started.

Stage 5 – Increasing weekly mileage

All we are trying to do from here on is to increase the weekly mileage. I do not normally advise my runners to increase their running by more than 2 miles in total a week. Normally I do this by adding 1 mile on to runs. This is what is done in this programme. It is in some ways harder for beginners as the percentage increase is much more (i.e. 30% on your two mile run). However having got over the initial bits of the training schedule your running capabilities are now increasing rapidly. Provided that you listen to your body and do not exceed the suggested schedules you should not come to harm.

DAY 1 go for a 3 mile jog

DAY 2 ask the question if you feel tired.

  • if you feel tired, then jog 10 minutes then finish the week with two mile Runs, and 7th day rest day. Then repeat the week until you can say No on day 2
  • if you feel fresh, then run 2 miles on days 2,3,4,5, and 3 miles on day 6

Beyond Stage 5 – Further increases in mileage

The schedule below shows how you could further increase your weekly mileage. What you should do is apply the basic principles we have been using in the initial phases. When you have completed a week move to the next week, and attempt to do the schedule. However if you are tired the day after a session (and you have kept to the guidelines and have only been jogging/easy running) then reduce the next day's training by one mile and complete the week at the previous week's level. If you are unable to complete the desired level then the next go back to the previous week's schedule repeat this before moving up again.

By listening to your body you should be able to progress at a pace which is suitable for yourself.

From jogging to marathon training schedule

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Mileage
Wk 1 10 mins
REST 10 mins
REST 10 mins
REST 10 mins
40 mins
Wk 2 10 mins
10 mins
10 mins
10 mins
10 mins
10 mins
REST 60 mins
Wk 3 2 miles 10 mins
2 miles 10 mins
2 miles 10 mins
REST 6 miles
+ 30 mins jog
Wk 4 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles REST 12 miles
Wk 5 3 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles 3 miles REST 14 miles

Wk 6

3 miles 2 miles 3 miles 2 miles 3 miles 3 miles REST 16 miles
Wk 7 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles REST 3 miles 18 miles
Wk 8 4 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles REST 4 miles 20 miles
Wk 9 5 miles 3 miles 4 miles 3 miles 3 miles REST 4 miles 22 miles
Wk 10 6 miles 3 miles 4 miles 4 miles 3 miles REST 4 miles 24 miles
Wk 11 7 miles 3 miles 4 miles 4 miles 4 miles REST 4 miles 26 miles
Wk 12 8 miles 4 miles 4 miles 4 miles 4 miles REST 4 miles 28 miles
Wk 13 9 miles 4 miles 4 miles 4 miles 5 miles REST 4 miles 30 miles
Wk 14 10 miles 4 miles 5 miles 4 miles 5 miles REST 4 miles 32 miles
Wk 15 11 miles 4 miles 5 miles 5 miles 5 miles REST 4 miles 34 miles
Wk 16 12 miles 4 miles 5 miles 5 miles 5 miles REST 5 miles 36 miles
Wk 17 13 miles 5 miles 5 miles 5 miles 5 miles REST 5 miles 38 miles
Wk 18 14 miles 5 miles 5 miles 6 miles 5 miles REST 5 miles 40 miles
Wk 19 15 miles 5 miles 6 miles 5 miles 6 miles REST 5 miles 42 miles
Wk 20 16 miles 5 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 5 miles 44 miles
Wk 21 17 miles 5 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 6 miles 46 miles
Wk 22 18 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 6 miles 48 miles
Wk 23 19 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 6 miles 50 miles
Wk 24 20 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 7 miles 52 miles
Wk 25 20 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 7 miles 54 miles
Wk 26 20 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles 6 miles REST 8 miles 56 miles

The schedule above could be used to build up to a marathon. However this may not be your goal, and you may wish to halt at about 13 /14 miles (or less) as your longest runs, and gradually increase other runs during the week to fit in with the longer runs on your clubs training nights. For example, Serpentine Running Club’s club runs are on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings and there is an option of an 8 miles (approximately) run. So if we were halting our long run at 15 miles we could modify the schedule from week 19 to look like the example below.

Week Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Mileage
19 15 5 6 5 6 rest 5 42
20 15 5 6 6 6 rest 6 44
21 15 5 6 7 6 rest 7 46
22 15 5 6 8 6 rest 8 48
23 15 5 6 8 6 rest 8 48

Others of you who want to use running to keep fit might wish to curtail the amount of training at a lower mileage. Running for 30 to 40 minutes 4 days and 60 minutes on two other days of the week can keep you quite fit. So this modification would be to the schedule is to build up to about week 10 (depending on your pace) and then maintain this level of running. This again fits in with the Serpentine Running club club runs of 4 miles on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Week Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Mileage
X 6 miles 3 miles 4 miles 4 miles 3 miles rest 4 miles 24 miles

Running pace

The start of this schedule is jogging. However as your fitness level improves you will no doubt feel an urge to speed up. This is fine however you do not want to be running flat out or find yourself gasping for breath getting into oxygen debt. The pace that you should gradually work towards running is a pace at which you can still talk comfortably. This, will be just slightly slower than your marathon pace. If you find however that this is too slow for your taste please read the articles on improving your running. Bear in mind that a day’s hard training should be followed by a recovery day (training at slower than marathon pace).

Running clubs

I hope that having read the article that you now feel able to embark on a lifetime of running. If you are not already a member of a running club think of joining one. The main benefits are on the social side, and include;

  • finding people to run with at your pace,
  • being able to attend organised training sessions
  • participating in events in club colours (whether as a fun runner or serious competitor)
  • obtaining support, encouragement, advice from other runners and coaches.

Good luck with your running, I hope that you attain your goals.

Derek Turner