How to go from couch potato to half-marathon in 52 days

Between Zach being born at the end of December 2019 and the end of April 2020, I did zero cardio. I went to the gym once or twice before lockdown but that was just to do some weights. I caught Covid in March, and, throughout April, I did zero exercise.

Come the 1st of May, I decided to get running again. Little runs, regularly, with a few longer runs rolled in.

52 days later, I did a half-marathon (13.1 miles), admittedly not very quickly at all (2hrs 26min) but still a half-mara.

Running east past Mortlake, South-West London

If you haven’t run in ages, here’s how you can do the same. You can do it!

Get the Strava app

Strava is free with a paid-for premium option. The free option is good enough for most people and you simply use it to track your runs. Lace up, hit record on the app, and get moving. Don’t forget to turn stop recording at the end of your run (annoying if you don’t as it messes up your data) and watch as the miles add up.

You can get the Premium tier for around £40/year and this allows you to set weekly running mileage goals. I set mine to 16 miles a week. The app tells you how many miles you’ve got left to hit your goal that week and it’s surprisingly motivating. It’ll get to Sunday and I know I’ve still got 3.5 miles to do and I’ll lace up and do it.

There’s also a great social aspect to Strava. You can follow your friends on it and they can follow you. You can see their runs and they can see yours. It’s motivating to see your friends have been on a good run and you can give each other encouragement.

Start off little and often

Don’t worry about stopping and walking during your runs. I did it all the time and I still do it during a run. Over time, the stopping becomes shorter and less frequent. If you can’t run at all, just aim for a 2 miles, or even 1 mile. But do this 5 times a week.

Find a good 3 mile route and stick to it

You might think that 3 miles isn’t long enough but it’s long enough to feel like a proper run and it’s short enough that you won’t be too put off going for a run when you don’t feel like it. It should only take between 28 and 35 mins.

The beauty of doing the same route as your bread and butter is that you don’t even have to think about it or spend time finding a new route. That would sap mental energy and might give you the excuse to not go for a run that day.

Add a longer run each week

See if you can do a 5 miler, then a 10k (6.2 miles). Then do an 8 miler, then a 9 miler. 9 miles was the longest that I did before doing the half-marathon. Don’t worry if you need to stop and walk; you’re just looking to build up the mileage in your legs. It also builds the confidence in your mind – you know that you can do longer runs. We’re looking to get to 9 or 10 miles as the longest preparation run for tackling the 13.1 run goal.

Find a good route for the half-marathon

You don’t want to be running along lots of busy roads, having to wait at traffic lights, dodging cars, breathing in exhaust fumes. I found a river route that reached Chiswick Bridge as the halfway point. I recommend quiet routes with not that many people around so that you can just run.

On the half-marathon itself

Eat a good meal beforehand. Don’t set off at too quick a pace. Try to run the first few miles slightly slower than your normal pace. You’ve got to leave something in the tank for the final few miles. If you need to stop and walk, just stop and walk for a bit. Don’t beat yourself up for this! The goal is just to finish the overall run.

Hopefully, this shows what’s possible even from a standing start. I’m not in the best shape. Far from it. I’m probably 2 stones overweight, but if I can do a half-marathon in 52 days following a period of time where I did no cardio at all, then you can certainly do it!

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