having a good base of regular training / fitness, ticking over before you start a more structured cycle of training, geared towards a more specific goal is important. Build it up gradually and then there's less chance of injury. I've heard from many faster runners that the best way to improve the marathon goal time is higher mileage.
At the moment my training is neither structured nor "smarter" - it is what it is, and all i can do at the moment, but i've revaluated my goals for the year with the amount of niggles i've had so i'm grateful to just be there pounding the roads
my personal view is the LSR is needed although it's more about the time on feet than the distance. In a training plan you need a variation of easy runs, tempo runs, long runs, etc. shorter more runs won't improve your endurance like the long run does, they will improve your VO2 Max more than the long run. I like to do my long run at "natter" pace - which is where i am able to natter on to my co runner. If i'm not able to have a good long chat then i'm working too hard and then it becomes more of an aerobic workout which is not it's purpose. Running long (or medium long) intensly does train the body to be used to the target pace/mmaintaining the leg speed but one can also knacker oneself by over training.
This week my training plan contains more pacey and steady work and no LSR, last week it was more about the long run. I think we're all in a agreement that there is a lot of value with a good steady mid/long run once or preferably twice a week. It's been the bread and butter of my training for a long time.
KS - I've played around with the idea of joining a running club for a while. To this point other than meeting up with the good people from here on occasion I've done every single training run by myself.
Eggy, ive joined London Heathside at the beginning of the year, mainly for company on the long runs. Yesterday i was out with them again, i wanted 20 - but the rest didn't want more than 19 (???) and by 14 we were all death marching a bit really - but it was the first longy for all of us in a while and that last 5 miles was good banter, and keeping each other going, taking the lead and pulling people along or getting pulled along. I did the last mile running with a 4 pint bottle of milk in one hand and a pack of crumpets in the other. Strongly reccomend the club runs, but not for all workouts - as everyone is at a different level, and if you train with someone else you need to be with someone at the same level otherwise you end up getting it wrong