You used to run X miles a week, and now, you’re lucky if it’s 0.5X. I get it. And summer is around the corner, and you want to go from the couch to a half marathon. I get that, too. Maybe you aren’t a couch potato, but you haven’t been putting in the solid training you used to. Don’t feel guilty—get going. As working professionals, our priorities and focus sometimes drift from running shoes to running a deck. This is unfortunate but also acceptable. Guilt creeps in because we’re highly competitive in nature—we want to win in every endeavor—and what sometimes happens during a hectic quarter is that more success in the boardroom can mean dwindling digits on the training calendar. It’s not always like that; it’s simply that occasionally the work schedule can overpower the training schedule.
So here you are, crushing it at work but feeling like a blob on the couch. Don’t fret; I can get you from the couch to a half marathon in no time. This is not a training plan. This is a motivation plan: you already know the importance of weekly long runs and tempo work; you need a training partner to help get you out the door.
The key to your success will be adopting high-end training methodologies and strategies that align with your time constraints and high-performance mindset. I’m a fan of renowned running coaches Brad Hudson² and Jack Daniels³, so I’ll leverage their insights occasionally. However, this article centrally focuses on how business professionals can integrate high-quality training into a busy schedule. Lace up your running shoes, and let’s dive into your couch to half marathon journey.
The Foundation: Setting Appropriate Goals
We must set ourselves up for success to get from the couch to a half marathon. Perhaps you’re super competitive and impatient and want to race a PR in the next month. You may, but as with any new venture, it’s vital to take stock of our baseline and set realistic goals so that the new venture is successful. Specifically, consider your current fitness and time availability, and then make a realistic target to shoot for based on this. Research shows that having ownership over specific and challenging goals leads to a higher likelihood of achieving them.¹ Below is a rough checklist for setting solid goals.
- Assess your current fitness level—write out your current:
- Weekly mileage/kilometers
- Average pace
- Number of running workouts and their respective paces
- Frequency of runs (e.g., M/W/Sa)
- Approximate your vDOT for some objective data
- Consider your work commitments.
- Days where you’re booked solid and can’t train
- Days where you could get a solid long workout in (1-2 hours)
- Days where you could do some aerobic maintenance mileage and/or cross-training for at least 30 minutes
- Establish a goal that challenges you while being attainable within your schedule.
Consider your PR and where you think your fitness is currently. You’ll know your capabilities and what you can achieve with 12-16 weeks of training—it’s okay to shoot for the stars—but it’s vital to start your new training plan based on current fitness and to be realistic with improvement milestones. For instance, if your PR is 1:30 and you’ve been training inconsistently and haven’t hit your PR pace during training in quite a while, perhaps a realistic goal is to get within 15 minutes of your PR. If you like using vDOT, you can expect your number to move up a notch every eight weeks if everything is perfect. Going from the couch to a half marathon and running a PR may mean 2-3 races, which is totally acceptable.
Consider your schedule and what you can accomplish with the time available. A half marathon is an aerobic-dominated event, and the pace is brisk (right around threshold pace), so you’ll need to heavily emphasize longer workouts that take 1-2 hours. If your goal is to race (not just jog) a half marathon, you’ll need two of these long workouts per week.
The Framework: Adaptive Planning
So you’ve got your foundation for success written out. Hopefully, you’re feeling motivated to lace up the sneaks and bounce out the door. With myself, I find that once I have a rough plan in place, it’s a lot easier to get out and train. What I do find, though, is that the everyday can creep in and erode my training, and then I’m back where I started. So here are some specific planning strategies for overcoming barriers that will affect your couch to half marathon ideals.
- Mentally prioritize your training: Treat your training as an essential commitment and prioritize it alongside your work and other responsibilities. Recognize the value of investing time in your health and fitness. It helps to have a vision board or cue where you can regularly see it, and it helps to hold you accountable.
- Put training sessions in the calendar: Plan your training sessions and add them to your calendar. Treat them as non-negotiable appointments with yourself and stick to them as much as possible. Set specific times for your workouts and make them a regular part of your routine.
- Utilize your lunch break: If you have a flexible schedule or a longer lunch break, consider using that time for a workout. It could be a quick run, a gym session, or a cycling class. Look for nearby fitness facilities or outdoor spaces where you can squeeze in a workout and have a snack ready for after.
- Multitask: Consider the run commute if you’ve got a shower at work. Not ideal, but it can be great for squeezing in an easy aerobic run when otherwise you couldn’t. Also, podcasts and audiobooks: get your professional development in while you train. A big chunk of my Master’s dissertation necessitated listening to panel discussions and interviews with China scholars, and I swear I did at least 30% of my research literally on the run.
- Training partners: this one is obvious, but having some accountability from a training buddy (or a coach) can help keep you on track. The rule is to run with people faster than you on workout days and people slower than you on recovery days.
- Be flexible and adaptable: Recognize that life can be unpredictable, and there may be occasions when you can’t stick to your planned training schedule. Stay flexible and be willing to adjust your training sessions when necessary without feeling discouraged. Move a workout back a day if you need to, or take a day off if you aren’t feeling it. I’ve heard Jack Daniels say that if you are stuck deciding between an easy day and a hard day, take the easy one. In other words, listen to your body and mind and be flexible when needed.
The Timber: The Hard Work
There’s a plethora of half marathon training plans out there—Jack Daniels’ Running Formula is a classic that never fails, and Brad Hudson’s Run Faster applies a Canovean approach to western runners—but you’re already an accomplished runner and know what works best for you. I won’t waste your time.
As a busy professional with a competitive mindset, your couch to half marathon journey requires a strategic approach that integrates high-quality training into your demanding schedule. By setting realistic and challenging goals that you own and are committed to and being adaptable, you can achieve your couch to half marathon goal while managing your professional commitments. Remember, you’re already a successful runner; we need to set things up so you can unleash it. Happy training
1 Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717
2 Hudson, B., & Fitzgerald, M. (2015). Run Faster: How to Be Your Own Best Coach. Broadway Books.
3 Daniels, J. (2005). Daniels’ Running Formula. Human Kinetics.
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