12-Week Foolproof Couch To Runner Plan!

This beginner running programme has stood the test of time. We’re giving it to you in full, with caveats for COVID-19.


Sarah Lorge Butler |

Is this a good time to start running?

Right now, health experts are encouraging outside exercise between 6am-9am, for physical and psychological well-being. And assuming government authorities still allow people to get outside to exercise individually or with family members in the near future, we say, yes – now is a good time to start a running program.

The below beginner training plan was developed in 2011 by Budd Coates and published in the Runner’s World book Run Your Butt Off! It has helped thousands of beginners get started running since it was first published nine years ago.

Here’s what you should know about the program in the days of COVID-19.

1. Don’t attempt a new exercise program if you’re not feeling well.

If you’re ill, this is not the time to introduce even small amounts of running into your routine. Get well first.

RELATED: 6 Beginner Running Tips To Help You Get Started!

2. You have to do this alone, or with someone you’ve been living with.

No friends at this time.

3. Progress at your own pace.

This is a gentle progression from 30 minutes of walking to 30 minutes of running in 12 different stages. Yes, you can do it in 12 weeks. But you can also slow it down to take as long as you need, spending two weeks or longer on certain stages until you feel comfortable at each level.

The opposite is also true: You can skip stages or combine them and get through the program in fewer than 12 weeks if you’ve been a runner at some point in your recent past. But most people will need longer than 12 weeks, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

4. Make sure you can walk for 30 minutes at a time before trying to run.

If you haven’t been walking regularly and you attempt to go straight from a sedentary lifestyle to running, skipping the walking parts, you’ll increase your risk of injury. And the last thing you want to do during this pandemic is inflict an injury upon yourself by doing too much, too soon. So please, err on the side of caution. When in doubt, walk. And if you feel any pain, stop. You’re learning to run to make yourself healthier, not to cause harm.

DOWNLOAD THE TRAINING PLAN HERE!

5. Run slowly at first.

This part of the program has not changed in the decade since it was developed. During your first days of running, your running pace should be only slightly faster—or exactly the same speed—as your walking pace. The number one thing that derails people who are hoping to be runners is the feeling of not having enough air. It’s not a pleasant sensation. And if you’re running too fast, you’ll likely find yourself gasping for breath.

So take it slow, especially at first, as your legs and lungs are building up to running. Don’t worry at all about speed or distance covered. It simply doesn’t matter. You should be able to talk, at least a little, while you’re walking and running. If you can’t, you’re going too fast. (If there’s no one to talk to, well, that’s another issue of these times, but we give you permission to talk to yourself.)

As you build on your experience, after several weeks or months, you can start thinking about pace and distance and signing up for your first 5K race. For the early days, just moving for 30 minutes at a time is the name of the game. Besides, most races have been cancelled, so there’s no rush.

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6. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it.

Consistency matters, and especially now, in the days when schedules have suddenly been upended and it seems we have a lot more time. But it’s easy for the days to get away from us.

Take a little time each evening to plan when you’ll walk or run the next day, or the day after that. You shouldn’t go more than a day without a workout – if the gap increases to two or three days or longer, you’ll in essence be starting over each time you get out the door. When I used to give talks about Run Your Butt Off! to beginner running groups, I’d ask participants to tell me when their next workout was going to be. And there were only two correct answers: the next day or the day after that.

Ready? Great. Here’s the programme. Enjoy it!

half marathon training programme BEGINNER
Image by Casey Crafford

12 Stages of Running for Beginners

Repeat each workout at least three or four times in a week before moving on to the next stage.

Download The Full 12-Week Schedule

Stage 1

Build up to 30 minutes of nonstop walking.

Stage 2

Walk for 4 minutes. Run for 1 minute.
Repeat that sequence four more times. End with 4 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 29 minutes, 5 of which are running.

Stage 3

Walk for 4 minutes. Run for 2 minutes.
Repeat that sequence four more times. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 10 of which are running.

Stage 4

Walk for 3 minutes. Run for 3 minutes.
Repeat that sequence four more times. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 15 of which are running.

Stage 5

Walk for 2 minutes 30 seconds. Run for 5 minutes.
Repeat that sequence three more times. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 20 of which are running.

Stage 6

Walk for 3 minutes. Run for 7 minutes.
Repeat that sequence two more times. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 21 of which are running.

Stage 7

Walk for 2 minutes. Run for 8 minutes.
Repeat that sequence two more times. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 24 of which are running.

Stage 8

Walk for 2 minutes. Run for 9 minutes.
Repeat that sequence one more time. Then walk for 2 minutes, run for 8 minutes.
End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 35 minutes, 26 of which are running.

Stage 9

Walk for 1 minute. Run for 9 minutes.
Repeat that sequence two more times. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 27 of which are running.

Stage 10

Walk for 2 minutes. Run for 13 minutes.
Repeat that sequence one more time. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 33 minutes, 26 of which are running.

Stage 11

Walk for 2 minutes. Run for 14 minutes.
Then walk for 1 minute, run for 14 minutes. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 34 minutes, 28 of which are running.

Stage 12

Walk for 3 minutes (or until you’re good and ready).
Then run for 30 minutes nonstop. End with 3 minutes of walking.
Total workout time: 36 minutes, 30 of which are running.

DOWNLOAD THE TRAINING PLAN HERE!

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