Running a marathon is no easy feat. It takes months of training, dedication, and discipline to cross the finish line. 

But what if you’re starting from scratch? What if you’ve never run more than a few miles in your life? Is it possible to train for a marathon in just one year? 

The short answer is yes! With the right mindset, tools, and support, anyone can go from couch to Cape Town marathon in just 12 months.

I know one year may seem like a long time, but it’s just enough time to get you from the couch to the finish line of the Cape Town Marathon, one of the most beautiful marathons in the world. 

In this blog post, we’ll give you the ultimate guide for going from an inexperienced runner to a marathoner who can complete the Cape Town Marathon.

Let’s get started…

Step 1: Set Realistic Goals

When getting ready for a marathon, the first and most important thing is to set realistic goals. Going from being someone who’s not very active to running a marathon isn’t something that happens overnight. 

So, it’s very important not to set your goals too high right at the beginning. Instead, go for small goals that you can reach, step by step.

Start by adding short runs to your routine, and slowly make them longer both in terms of distance and time. You can break your marathon prep into different stages, each with its own goals and timeline. 

These stages usually include milestones like 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), a half marathon (21K/13.1 miles), and finally, the full marathon distance (42.2 km/26.2 miles).

Think of each stage as its own goal, so you can focus on what you’re doing. As you go along, don’t be afraid to adjust your time goals based on how you’re doing and how your body handles all this running.

Every four weeks or so, you can test yourself with time trials to see how you’re progressing. But don’t forget to listen to your body along the way. If you need a break, take one. You can do other activities like walking, hiking, or cross-training to keep your fitness up and give your body a chance to rest.

One important thing to remember is not to rush through your training plans if you’re not feeling ready. Take your time, rest when you need to, and make sure you’re comfortable with your running fitness before you move forward. 

If something starts to hurt during your training, pay attention to it. Pushing through pain can lead to bigger injuries.

It’s also really important to set goals that match where you are right now. Sure, you might dream of running a marathon in a certain time, but it’s essential to know where you’re starting from. 

Training too hard or too fast can be risky, leading to injuries and not getting you where you want to be. 

So, start where you are, take your time, and work your way up to that marathon goal step by step.

To ensure you’re well-prepared and maximize your chances of success, consider following a structured training plan.

A training plan provides a roadmap for your training, ensuring you’re gradually building your endurance, incorporating essential strength and conditioning exercises, and allowing adequate rest and recovery.

Beyond the structure, following a guided plan offers a supportive community of like-minded individuals, encouraging motivation and shared experiences. You’ll have the opportunity to connect with fellow runners, exchange tips, and share progress.

The Coach Parry training plans also provide access to experienced coaches and experts who can address your questions, provide personalized guidance, and help you navigate any challenges that arise along the way. With a team of experts at your fingertips, you can train with confidence and optimize your performance.

Grab your Cape Town Marathon Training Plan Here.

Step 2: Start Easily

When you’re ready to start running, it’s important to take things slow and steady. 

Begin with short, easy runs, and gradually increase your distance and speed over time. The key is to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard. 

Easy runs play a fundamental role in your training plan, serving as a building block for gradually increasing your weekly running volume. 

The key to mastering these runs lies in maintaining a relaxed and conversational pace—one at which you could comfortably chat with a running partner.

Aim to run three to four times a week and take rest days to allow your body to recover.

These easy runs serve several important purposes within your training regimen. 

First and foremost, easy runs are crucial for building your aerobic base, enhancing cardiovascular fitness, and boosting endurance. 

Moreover, they aid in recovery, especially after demanding or intense workouts. They effectively help your body cool down and flush out any waste buildup, promoting overall recovery.

They achieve these benefits through various mechanisms:

1. Mitochondrial Growth: Easy runs stimulate the growth of mitochondria, often referred to as energy factories within your cells. With more mitochondria, your muscles become more proficient at generating energy, which is vital for sustained running performance.

2. Capillary Growth: These runs also contribute to the growth of tiny blood vessels known as capillaries. Capillaries play a crucial role in transporting oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. An increased capillary network ensures that your muscles receive an ample supply of oxygen, enhancing their efficiency and endurance.

3. Improved Oxygen Utilization: Easy runs help your body utilize oxygen more efficiently. This improvement is particularly valuable for endurance activities, as it allows you to use oxygen effectively, extending your running duration and bolstering your overall stamina.

In essence, easy runs may seem simple, but they are an indispensable component of your training plan. 

They not only lay the foundation for improved endurance and overall running performance by enhancing energy production, oxygen delivery, and oxygen utilization within your body. Easy runs also aid in recovery.

Step 3:  Build Up Your Endurance

Endurance is the key to marathon running. Long runs are specifically designed to build endurance—your ability to keep going over long distances. 

Long runs form the cornerstone of your marathon training plan, and although they may seem daunting, they offer a multitude of advantages. 

These extended runs involve covering a significantly greater distance compared to your regular easy run.

The primary objective of long runs is to enhance your endurance and teach your muscles how to efficiently access energy stores for distances ranging from 5K (3.1 miles) races to full marathons. 

Long runs also play a pivotal role in improving your running economy over extended distances, making each stride more efficient and less fatiguing.

Beyond the physical benefits, long runs are instrumental in preparing you both mentally and physiologically for the challenges of the marathon distance. 

They provide a valuable testing ground for experimenting with different nutrition and hydration strategies, helping you identify what works best for race day.

One of the most significant milestones in your marathon training journey is the longest run, typically scheduled 3 to 4 weeks before the race itself.

This critical run serves as a litmus test for your readiness to tackle the full marathon distance, boosting your confidence and solidifying your race-day strategy.

However, it’s essential to be aware of some common mistakes that many amateur runners make during their long runs to ensure a smooth and successful training journey:

1. Running Too Fast: Long runs are primarily about building endurance, not speed. It’s crucial to maintain a comfortable and manageable pace throughout these extended sessions to avoid early fatigue.

2. Rapidly Increasing Mileage: Avoid the temptation to rapidly increase the distance you run every week. Progressing too quickly can lead to overtraining and increase the risk of injuries. Instead, follow a gradual and safe progression plan tailored to your fitness level.

3. Taking Too Many Breaks: Frequent and extended breaks during long runs can disrupt your average pace and create a false sense of ease. Try to maintain a steady momentum throughout the run to simulate race conditions more accurately.

Step 4: Cross-Train for Injury Prevention

To prevent injury and build strength, it’s important to incorporate cross-training into your routine. 

Cross-training means mixing up your workouts with activities other than just running. This can include activities like yoga, weight training, or Pilates. 

Cross-training will help strengthen your muscles and prevent overuse injuries that can occur from running alone.

Step 5: Focus On Strength Training

Running a marathon is not only about endurance. You need strength too, especially for the hills, strength for race day, and injury prevention in peak weeks. 

Building up your strength through resistance training is crucial. The best exercises for marathon runners are squats, deadlifts, lunges, and calf raises. You don’t need to go to the gym to do these exercises; you can do them at home with just a few weights and resistance bands.

At Coach Parry, we’re strong believers in the benefits of strength training. That’s why we’ve incorporated our Strength and Conditioning (S&C) plans into our training programs.

Now, you might be thinking, “I can get strength training plans easily online.” And you’re right; you can find workout plans all over the internet. But here’s the thing: it’s not just about having a plan; it’s about doing the right kind of training that complements your running and doing it the right way.

Technique is super important, and we put a lot of focus on that in our S&C classes. 

Strength training isn’t just about bulking up; it’s about targeting those smaller muscles that help you stay balanced and protect your joints. 

These muscles are crucial for maintaining the right running form and technique. When you have good form, it reduces the risk of injuries, which is especially awesome if you’ve had injuries before or if you’re getting a bit older.

But wait, there’s more! 

Strength training can also make your running more efficient, by 4% to 6%. That means you can run more smoothly and with less effort. And that’s a big win for your overall running performance.

Making sure you do the correct strength training is important. The good news is we’ve created a free strength training plan for runners that you can download by clicking here.

Step 6: Get Your Nutrition Right

When you’re training for a marathon, your body needs a ton of energy. That’s why it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates. They’re like your body’s fuel for those runs. 

But it’s not just about carbs. Protein is important too because it helps your body recover properly after all that training.

Here’s a tip: during marathon training, I usually recommend sticking to whole, nutritious foods for most of your meals. These are foods that aren’t processed and are packed with the good stuff your body needs. 

A well-balanced diet includes a variety of whole grains, fruits, veggies, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and the necessary micro and macronutrients.

Processed foods are high in sugars and simple carbohydrates which are easily digested, very calorie-dense, and do not leave you with a feeling of fullness, making it very easy to overeat…

So, think about filling your plate with fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods will give you the energy and nutrients you need to power through your training and come out stronger on the other side.

Check out our marathon nutrition guide for more details on what to eat before a marathon.

Also, stay hydrated – that’s a big deal when you’re training for a marathon. Water is your ally during this journey. It keeps your body running smoothly and helps you perform at your best.

Skip the sugary drinks and junk food. They might taste good, but they can mess up your performance. Sugar crashes and unhealthy snacks won’t do you any favors when you’re working hard to get marathon-ready.

Step 7: Rest And Recovery

Rest days are like gold in your marathon training. They’re not just days off; they’re super important for your body to recover and get stronger.

Here’s a thing lots of runners forget: the magic of your training doesn’t happen while you’re running. It happens during your downtime. That’s when your body adapts and grows stronger.

In our training plans, we’ve got rest days built right in. They’re not there just for fun; they’re there to help you recover better. It’s all about finding the right balance between training and resting.

Consistency isn’t only about the days you’re out there running or doing strength workouts. It’s also about how you treat your rest days. They’re just as vital as your active days.

So, start giving your rest days the respect they deserve. They’re the secret sauce that lets you come back to your training feeling ready to rock it!

The Training Plans You Need To Go From Couch To Cape Town Marathon

These training plans are your roadmap to success on your journey from couch to the Cape Town Marathon. They’ve got you covered from start to finish, with everything you need:

Daily Training Sessions

Each training session is laid out for you in detail. You’ll know exactly what to do, and we even provide pacing guidelines so you can nail each run. Our coaches are there for you with instructional videos to make sure you’re on track. 

Plus, we’ve got recovery days built in to keep you balanced and prevent overtraining.

Strength Training

These plans are designed for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned athlete. We’re all about the proper technique to keep you injury-free and targeting the right muscles. And guess what? You don’t need a fancy gym – you can do it all at home.

Big Picture Planning

Get the full picture of how each training session fits into your journey to the Cape Town Marathon. And we’ve got tools to help you track your progress and see how you’re responding to the plan.

Remember, what you do leading up to the Cape Town Marathon matters a lot, and these plans are here to make sure you’re set up for success.

View all of our training plans here!

Staying motivated throughout a full year of marathon training can be a real challenge, but it’s super important for your success. Here are some practical tips to help you stay on track…

How To Stay Motivated For An Entire Year Of Training

  • Run With a Friend or Join a Club: Training with a buddy or being part of a running group can make your workouts more fun and help you stick to your plan. The support and camaraderie from others can be a huge motivator.
  • Reconnect With Your Why: Think about why you started this marathon journey in the first place. Whether it’s for personal achievement, better health, or a cause you believe in, keeping your reasons in mind can be a powerful motivator, especially on tough days.
  • Visualize Your Goal: Close your eyes and imagine yourself crossing that marathon finish line. Visualization can help you stay focused and motivated, especially during those really hard training sessions.
  • Mix It Up: Keep your training exciting. Change your routes, explore new paths, and try different workouts or cross-training activities to keep things fresh and interesting.
  • Keep a Training Journal: Write down your progress, the good days, and the tough ones, in a training journal. Seeing how far you’ve come can be super motivating and keep you going.
  • Reward Yourself: Break your year-long training into smaller goals and treat yourself when you achieve them. It could be new running gear, your favorite treat, or a relaxing massage. These little rewards can be powerful incentives.
  • Stay Flexible: While being consistent is super important, it’s also crucial to stay flexible. Life can throw unexpected stuff your way. Be open to adjusting your plan instead of getting discouraged by setbacks.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: You don’t have to wait until marathon day to celebrate. Recognize and celebrate your little victories along the way. Each milestone gets you a step closer to your big goal.
  • Seek Inspiration: Get inspired by other runners’ stories, read uplifting stuff, or watch motivational videos. Sometimes, seeing others overcome challenges can reignite your motivation.
  • Remember It’s Okay to Rest: Don’t push yourself too hard without giving your body and mind a break. Rest is a crucial part of effective training. Embrace it, and you’ll come back even stronger.

Couch To Cape Town Marathon Tips

Once you’ve picked out a marathon training plan that fits you, think about weaving in these extra marathon training tips as you progress from being a couch potato to a marathon runner:

#1: Do All Of The Little Things

While your marathon training plan may primarily consist of running workouts, it’s crucial to recognize the significance of cross-training and strength training. 

Cross-training enables you to enhance your aerobic fitness while minimizing the impact on your body and engaging different muscle groups. 

Strength training plays a vital role in injury prevention by strengthening your musculoskeletal system and addressing muscle imbalances.

Moreover, research suggests that incorporating strength training into your regimen can enhance your aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and endurance performance, thanks to the neuromuscular adaptations it fosters. 

However, remember that marathon training extends beyond workouts alone. 

Factors like ample sleep, a balanced diet tailored to support your training, rest days, foam rolling, mobility, and overall recovery are just as integral to your success as running sessions.

#2: Get the Right Shoes

Your running journey starts with the right shoes. They should be comfortable and support your feet. If you’re not sure, there are resources to help you find the perfect pair.

#3: Stick To Your Plan

Consistency is your key to success. Stick to your training plan as faithfully as you can. Think of it as laying the groundwork for your marathon achievement, step by step.

#4: Slow Down Your Long Runs

One common error many first-time marathon runners make when training is running their long runs too quickly. 

You don’t need to aim for race pace or anything close during your long runs to achieve your goals. Pushing too hard can raise the risk of injury, overtraining, and lengthen recovery times.

Instead, maintaining a slow, comfortable pace during your long runs achieves the same objectives while safeguarding your body from overtraining and exhaustion. 

This approach reduces the strain on your body and helps you avoid burnout.

#5: Consider Using a Watch

GPS running watches are like your training sidekick. They help you track and adjust your workouts, making your training smarter and more effective. With so many options available, you’re sure to find one that suits you.

#6: Consider Running for Charity

Running for a cause can give you that extra motivation to stick with your training. It’s a win-win – you achieve your marathon goal, and you support a good cause.

Training for a marathon in just one year is a challenging but achievable goal. By building a strong foundation, starting slow and steady, incorporating cross-training, following a structured training plan, and joining a running community, you can go from the couch to the Cape Town marathon finish line. 

Always remember to listen to your body, be patient with yourself, and stay committed to your goal. Good luck!


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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