Training & Racing

Overcoming Trail Snail Syndrome

Overcoming Trail Snail Syndrome

Most of us that love to run trails don’t spend a lot of time on the road or track. If you’re really averse to the road then you probably don’t run many road races either, especially short distance stuff under the half-marathon. When I first transcended from the road to the trail I left the track behind. My road speed proved very beneficial on the trail for a couple of years until I gradually slowed down. Besides age, a lot of the slowdown was due to the shorter leg stride used on trail as well as a lot of slower running and walking up hills. I realized I had developed TSS – Trail Snail Syndrome and now must overcome it by spending time each week working on leg turnover.

I started with 8 x 100 meter striders at the end of a 4-6 mile run. After a couple of weeks I moved to 6 x 200 meter sprints. Don’t get discouraged in the beginning by worrying about your speed; it’s the effort and consistency that counts. Build up to 12 x 200 before moving onto 400 meter intervals. If you have a GPS watch then take advantage of it in absence of a high school track or measured distance on a road. I set mine for the number of reps I intend to run and the rest time and/or distance I plan to take and then listen to the alarm prompts. It’s kind of robotic; the less thinking, the better.

If you don’t like speed work then don’t make it a full-time thing. Throw in 6 weeks of a progressive plan like the one outlined below every few months. If you don’t know what your current two-mile time is then do a test run. Then test yourself again at the middle and end of the 6 weeks and see your progression. If you choose to build on after the initial 6 weeks you can move up to half and full mile intervals which will really help develop your pacing ability. If you are determined to stay off of the track and on the trail and still want to get faster then run fartlek or speed play sessions once a week. In the desert I alternate between saguaros. Also, hill repetitions although slower, will bust your lungs and burn your legs. The strength and power developed from the push-off and knee-lift will translate to faster times on the flats.

As a Master Fitness Trainer I get asked for advice from soldiers a lot about how to get faster on the 2-mile run which is part of the bi-annual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Believe it or not the Army actually has a manual for everything including how to do speed work. I have tailored their quarter-mile interval workout into a usable plan which can be adapted to anyone’s level of current fitness or goal time they would like to achieve. This is the exact plan I prescribe to the soldier trying to attain a high maximum score on the run. Most soldiers I know don’t run more than three days a week, in fact most of them only run 4 miles a year, so the plan’s total distance is not intense. Also, I always recommend a 4-week base build-up of mileage prior to running intervals; 3 days a week, 2-3 miles building to 3-4 miles per run should be good enough.

Current 2 mile run time = 13:00

Goal 2 mile run time = 12:00

Method: Bi-weekly interval training consisting of 200s and 400s

Week Monday or Tuesday Thursday or Friday

6×200 with 200 jog/walk rest 40-45 seconds (1.5 M) 4×400 w/400 jog/walk rest 1:30-1:35 (2 M)
2. 8×200 @ 40-45 seconds (2 M) 5×400 @ 1:27-1:32 (2.5 M)
3. 8×200 @ 38-43 seconds (2 M) 6×400 @ 1:25-1:30 (3 M)

2 Mile time trial
(Goal – sub 12:30 = 1:34 1/4s)
6×400 @ 1:23-1:28 (3 M)


6×400 @ 1:21-1:26 (3 M)

7×400 @ 1:24-1:29 w/1 minute
Jog/walk rest (2.5M)
6. 8×400 @ 1:20-1:25 (4 M) 8×200 @ 36-41 seconds (2M)
7. APFT 2 mile goal = sub 12:00 = 1:30 1/4s


- Prior to all speed workouts, ensure that you do a warm-up jog of at least 10 minutes followed by light stretching of quads, hamstrings, calves and groin. I also suggest running 2-4 wind sprints – short pick-ups starting easy and building to full speed and then decelerating over a total distance of 100 meters each.

- Each speed session should be followed by a cool-down jog after the last recovery jog/walk. The cool-down should be 5-10 minutes of easy jogging. The purpose of the cool-down is to flush lactic acid build-up from the fast twitch muscle fibers. This will decrease the amount of soreness and recovery time.

- I placed the distance of each workout in parentheses (2 M). This includes the rest interval distance which is equal to the repetition distance unless stated otherwise. With a proper warm-up and cool-down you can add about 2 miles to these distances (a mile for the warm-up and another mile for the cool-down). Most speed days will range from 4-5 miles.

- The goal on each repetition is to stay within the 5 second time block through the entire workout. Starting out too fast and finishing too slow defeats the purpose of the workout. If the workout is extremely difficult after the second repetition then adjust the time block. After the workout is finished and you don’t feel tired then you may be ahead of schedule and will need to speed up on the next workout. Another option is to cut the recovery in half but keep in mind that the recovery is longer in order for you to run faster on each repetition.

- Week 5 has two days of 400 meter repeats. The first day is faster reps with longer rest. The second day is slower reps with shorter rest to mimic a more continuous effort.

- I recommend running a third day easy each week at a minimum usually in between the speed days to loosen your legs and build your base.



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This post was written by:

- who has written 3 posts on Trail Running Club.

I moved to Arizona from Minnesota in 1994. I live southeast of Tucson near the 800+ mile Arizona Trail. I have served over 27 years in the military and have a BS in Management. I am currently in the Army National Guard at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Three. My wife Trish and I have been married 16 years and own a fitness franchise called SNAP 24/7 Fitness. We plan to open in 2013 in Vail, Arizona.

Some of my professional and running career highlights are:
• Certified Army Master Fitness Trainer - I evaluate soldiers who cannot meet physical fitness and/or weight standards, provide a personal training schedule, and monitor their progress. I have overmaxed the Army Physical Fitness Test for the last 23 years with a best 2-mile run time of 9 minutes and 36 seconds.

Event Management and Competition:
• Arizona National Guard Marathon Team Coordinator
• Former Biathlon Coach and Athlete (Cross Country Skiing and Rifle Shooting)
• Captain of 2011 9-person relay team - Placed 4th of 150 teams at Texas Independence 204-mile relay
• Trail running and racing since 1991
• 17-time selection to the All-National Guard Marathon Team
• 34 sub 3-hour marathons
• 2:33 marathon / 1:10 half-marathon personal bests
• Completed over 70-ultra distance trail events

Masters Race Highlights

• 2012 and 2009 Pemberton Trail 50K Master's Champion
• 2011 Tucson Marathon 1st place Age Group 40-44
• 2010 Run Against Breast Cancer 1/2 Marathon - Master's Champion

Trail Highlights:
• Finished 5 100-mile trail races - Western States, Wasatch, Javalina, Bear, Angeles Crest
• 5 time winner of Mica Mountain Trail Marathon (27 mile), 6000 feet ascent/descent
• Previous Crown King 50K and 50-Mile Champion
• Course record holder on multiple Tucson Trail Runs

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