Dreaming about your finish isn't nearly as important as planning your start.

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Finishing a marathon or completing a challenging alpine hike is a landmark achievement for most of us. But according to expert coaches, dreaming about your finish isn’t nearly as important as planning your start. And the right start is a realistic and flexible training plan.

Ryan Hill, official coach for the November 25 Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon, says a good plan has you training consistently. “It doesn’t work to do three hard workouts a week, but then take four days off,” he says. “If you want to run your best, you have to run every day.”

Hill coaches runners by phone and online through HillRunner.com, where his online tools help runners analyze their training progress.

Seattle outdoor coach Courtenay Schurman reinforces the message of making a plan and sticking to it. She’s the author of “The Outdoor Athlete,” and her Seattle company, Body Results, trains people for outdoor activities from running and river rafting to summiting Mount Everest.

For Schurman, an essential training formula is tackling an additional 10 percent of the goal each week. “If you want to hike 30 miles, and you’re starting at five, the second week you’d hike eight miles,” she says. So if you’re aiming to hike steep trails, start with perhaps 1,200 feet of gain (she recommends the hike at Little Si, in the North Bend area) and move on to nearby Rattlesnake Ridge (1,400 feet) the next week.

“Don’t increase everything at once,” Schurman advises. “If you’re aiming for a higher elevation, maybe drop your pack weight until you have mastered that.”

Run to run, hike to hike — you get the idea

Hill recommends that in designing your training plan for a marathon, you focus on long runs. He calls this “specificity.”

“Cross-training helps, but as a runner you want to focus on endurance and speed — in other words, on running itself,” he says. “Do as much running as you can — it strengthens the knees rather than damaging them. Keep in mind that your long runs need be about 18 miles for you to be able to finish that marathon.”

The mix of short and long runs should add up to at least 35 miles a week. “If you want to mix it up once a week, switch a short run for a biking workout to keep building your aerobic fitness.”

Gillian Gagne, senior account manager at Amica Insurance in Seattle, ran the Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon in 2017. She started training the previous July and began running four to five miles per day, with a day or two of cross training each week, as well as a rest day. Once she felt comfortable with her base level of training, she added a “long run” day to each week, increasing each week in one-mile increments until she hit 20 miles. Then she tapered down in the weeks leading up to the marathon.

“The most challenging thing about training for an event like this is finding the time and motivation to fit in a run each day, especially when the weather does not cooperate,” Gagne says. “One great tip for staying motivated is to run with a buddy; that way you can feed off of each other’s energy and keep each other focused.”

For hikers, Schurman mixes in strength training. “Get with a personal trainer and ask for exercises that strengthen the quadriceps, the calves and the glutes,” she says. “If you aren’t hiking, train on the treadmill, the Stairmaster, the elliptical machine — or do stairs and walk up hills.”

She notes that starting a training program is a good opportunity to re-evaluate what you eat — your fuel. “When possible, eat organic and eat colorful food,” she says.

Plan for setbacks and travel

Even the most well-structured training plan can be affected by the unexpected: illness, injury, or family or work crises.

Schurman recalls a client who missed a European climbing adventure after a twisted ankle interrupted her training schedule. “If you want to do that big hike in July, start training in February — don’t wait until April,” she suggests. “Build in a cushion.”

Hill tells his runners to incorporate their training into any travel plans. “Pack your shoes and shorts,” he says. “Find nearby runs on a website like Map My Run.”

Equipment and support

Hiking and running don’t require much in the way of special equipment, but Hill is passionate about the importance of good running shoes. “You can use a $10 watch,” he says, “but quality shoes are essential. No brand of shoe is right for everybody, so go to the specialty store in your area and get matched to the right shoe.”

Training with a partner or a group is a sure-fire way to encourage yourself to stick with your plan. Seattle offers several running groups (including those listed on the Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon website). Seattle-area hikers can find group hikes at all levels of experience through The Mountaineers.

“Running with other people made a night-and-day difference for me,” says Grace Martinez, who founded PNW Ladies Running Group three years ago. Martinez struggled through a marathon 10 years ago. This year she’s on track to compete in Chicago and Seattle after doing Seattle’s half marathon in 2017.

Will Maloney, account manager at Amica Insurance in Seattle, ran the Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon in 2017. Finding a training routine that worked for all areas of his life was a challenge. “Training while working a full-time job and being able to have time for non-work/running activities” was a balancing act, he says. Training with a friend was helpful, he adds, as they held each other accountable.

Friends help and you’ll want your family on board with your training plan. Hill is currently coaching a runner whose wife hops on a bicycle and trains along with him. “That’s exceptional, of course,” he says, “but you really do need understanding. You’re going after a big goal, and the support of your family makes a difference.”

Amica Insurance is proud to support the Seattle community on Nov. 25 as the title sponsor of the Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon for the 11th straight year. Amica Insurance offers outstanding service and coverage you can count on.

The content herein is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement by Amica Insurance. Amica Insurance makes no warranties, express or implied, as to the content.