Running a personal best at a given race is all about peaking at the right time. Just like the football, athletics has a season as well, actually two main seasons. Winters for me tend to involve logging plenty of miles, running cross-countries, and always running in the dark. The summer is centred around the track season, with guys running very fast track times, using all the strength they developed over the winter months. There is a saying that goes something like: "Winter miles equals summer smiles". You do the tough work in the winter, and you'll be rewarded in the summer with a shiny new PB. That's the theory anyway.
Select your marathon carefully
Marathon running is a little bit different as there are plenty of marathons around the world, and therefore there isn't really a set season per se. April is obviously the Virgin Money London Marathon, and around that time you also have Boston, Paris and Hamburg.
Choosing to target one of these marathons means the majority of your training is going to be done in January, February and March. A fall marathon such as Berlin, New York or Chicago means for many of you that you get the summer to train, more daylight hours and better weather.
And that's the first thing to consider when selecting which race to target and peak for. When are your quieter months at work? When can you devote more time to training?
Adapt your marathon training to the season
You might hear athletes talk about 'building a base' during the winter. This basically means they are getting strong by running a lot of miles. They probably won't be the quickest miles ever, but they'll be a lot of them. They are getting the body ready, building a strong base and will introduce speed work and faster training on top of that. The speed work is a lot more intensive and therefore can't be sustained for months on end, hence the track season is quite short and the winter seems to drag on for ages!
Prepare for your marathon by working backwards
Once you have selected a race you need to work backwards from that date and plan your training and race schedule accordingly. If you are choosing to run the Virgin Money London Marathon in April, you will probably be looking to start the main bulk of your marathon training around the middle of January, giving you three months until the race.
You might want to race a couple of times before the marathon, to serve as a little fitness tester and also to break up the monotony of training. The middle of February is usually a good time to find a local 10km race, although perhaps not on Valentine’s Day if your significant other isn't into running! You may also want to find a half marathon to take part in.
I can't stress enough how important it is to have a plan before you start your training. It's always easier to train knowing WHAT you are training for. This will help you peak at the right time as well. You are not going to have the same fitness all year round, no one does, not even the elite athletes. Like I mentioned before, in the winter people are generally running a lot more miles and will be strong, but not necessarily quick. They are not going to run a mile PB in the depths of winter, but a half marathon PB might be on the cards.
Decide your own seasons
I've used the winter and summer as the two main seasons in athletics, but you can decide when your two seasons are. You just need to plan when your races are going to be. If you want to be fast in the winter and are looking to target a 10km then go for it, although bear in mind you may struggle to find track 10k's around that time though.
Recovery is important
Recovery is also important when it comes to peaking at the right time. A couple of weeks off in between seasons is a good thing and helps the body absorb the training already completed and prepare for the next onslaught. The different seasons will incorporate slightly different training and this will help keep you in good shape for the range of distances you might race.
Remember, select the races you want to run and work backwards from that date. Plan the training, plan the races and most importantly of all, plan to peak at the right time to get that PB!