For my past few marathons I've used the Hanson Brothers Marathon Method. For those who don't know about the Hanson Brothers, Keith and Kevin Hanson own several running stores in suburban Detroit, and they run the Brooks Hanson Distance Project, which has produced some top notch marathoners over the past few years, including Des Davila.
Their training philosophy is mainly noted for the lack of a super long run. Most marathon training programs have you going at least 30km several times in the training cycle, with distances of 32km to 35km being fairly common as well. I've done programs like that, and while I did okay with them, I never really felt like a had a breakthrough until I used the Hanson Method for the first time.
In a nutshell, their program has you run 6 times per week- 3 of what they call "Something of Substance" workouts- 1 intervals session, 1 marathon pace tempo session, and the long run, and 3 easy paced session. The long run however maxes out at 26km (16 miles), which doesn't seem like that much when you look at it in comparison to what a lot of other runners who are training for a marathon do, but with the way that they structure the workouts, 26km isn't exactly a walk in the park.
The really key factor with this program is that you are training your body to get used to running on tired legs (they say they're training you for the last 16 miles of a marathon, not the first 16 miles). The midweek workouts are tough- it seems that the workouts never relent, and my legs are almost always tired when I'm in the midst of a Hanson Training Program.
Here's what a typical week of training looks like for me:
Monday- Recovery Pace (55/60 sec/km slower than marathon pace)
Thursday- Marathon Pace Run
Friday- Recovery Pace
Saturday- Comfortable Pace (30-40 sec/km slower than marathon pace)
Sunday- Long Run- (25-30 sec/km slower than marathon pace)
The workout that really seemed key for me was the marathon pace run on Thursday. You always come into it still feeling your intervals session on Tuesday, so you definitely aren't fresh, but the whole point is to get your legs used to running at that pace when they're tired. I start out with 2.5km for a warm up (usually at least 1:30/km slower than marathon pace) and then get into at. For the first few of those workouts, you always think to yourself "I don't know how I can hold this pace for 42.2km" but that's the point- you build strength and endurance, and it becomes do-able.
When I first used the Hanson Method I was a bit worried that I'd get to the start line unprepared because of the lack of long runs, but I remember when I had a real "a ha!" moment. I was running down the road in pitch black darkness at 6am, 15km into my marathon pace run, feeling absolutely exhausted and a bit discouraged, and then I realized that even though my body was so tired, my legs just kept on turning over at the same speed, and I was holding my pace without even having to think about it! At that point I became a believer, and a few weeks later when I stepped up to the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon, I knew I was ready. I ended up knocking almost 9 minutes off my previous best marathon time, ran a 2+ minute negative split, qualified for the Boston Marathon, and most importantly, never hit the wall. In all of my previous marathons, best case was a 5km death march, and the worst case was an 11km death march. In Philadelphia I just kept on going, expecting that sooner or later I'd hit the wall, but it never happened. I've done 3 more marathons since then and have had the same experience- they weren't easy (running that far never is) but I never hit the wall.
I would highly recommend that Hanson Brothers Marathon Method to anyone. You can find examples of their program online (there's a table at the end of this article from Runner's World ( http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/new-year-new-you-way-renegades?page=single ) but it's worth picking up a copy of their book so you can really get into the nuts & bolts of their method and understand why you're doing what you're doing.
I'm looking forward to having a great race in Boston in April. I know that I'm going to put in a lot of long, hard miles on the pre-dawn roads on my small town, and for the next 4 months my legs are going to feel thrashed pretty much all the time, but I'm confident that this training method will give me the best chance I can get for running my best race.