A Beginner’s Guide to Runners’ Terminology

A Beginner’s Guide to Runners’ Terminology
Photo: It for you, Shutterstock

Starting to actually like running is a surprising, exciting, and strangely addicting experience. Trying to understand all the lingo and terminology, however, can be disheartening, especially for beginners. We’ve collected a list of the most common running-related words that could confuse beginners, so read on to learn what you might be missing.

Basic running terms

Form: How you position and hold your body while running. Good form is essential to avoiding injuries and getting faster. The basic tenets are all about “running tall:” Keep your head up, shoulders down, lean slightly forward, and keep your feet under your body (rather than over-striding).

Pace: How fast you’re running, usually expressed in terms of minutes per mile (or kilometers). When you’re just starting out, don’t get too caught up in the numbers; just know that your pace on different runs is a helpful indicator of your effort on those runs.

Cadence: The number of steps you take per minute while running. Several things can influence this, such as height, weight, stride, and experience. Frequent runners typically take around 160-170 steps a minute, while elite runners take it up to 180.

Stride: The name for the steps you take while running.

Strides: Alternatively, “strides” might specifically refer to a series of short sprints.

Foot strike: How your foot hits the ground. Aim to strike the ground with the middle of your foot, using light steps that fall directly under your hips.

Training terms for runners

Dynamic stretching: Active (read: not static) stretching. Dynamic stretching is when you move into and out of a stretch — you can think of it as actively moving through a range of motion.

Warmups and cooldowns: Don’t sprint straight out the door to start your run, or straight into the shower to end it. All of your runs should start with a warmup to prepare your muscles, and end with a cooldown to help promote recovery.

Cross-training: Workouts that aren’t running, like swimming or rowing.

Rest days: Give your body a chance to recover and help prevent injury by taking a break from exercise once every week or so. Don’t run on your rest days.

Easy run: Around 80-90% of all your training should be made up of easy runs. How to know if you’re running slow enough? If you can’t hold a conversation while doing one of these, you’re going too fast.

Junk miles: Some people use “junk miles” a little differently, but generally, they refer to “wasteful” extra running outside of what your training plan recommends. You’ll hear about these after learning to run your easy days easy and your hard days hard; junk miles are the in-between, always-moderate training that don’t reap as many rewards.

Speed-work: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like: runs that are focused on improving your speed. Think different kinds of sprint workouts and tempo runs.

Intervals: Runs that alternate between high and low intensity (speeds).

Fartleks: A fartlek translates to “speed play” in Swedish. Fartleks are beginner-friendly interval runs that are mostly an easy pace broken up by quick bursts of sprinting.

Tempo run: These are a tougher form of speed training. Runners challenge themselves to hold a “threshold” (or comfortably difficult) pace for a certain period of time in the middle of their run.

Hill work/repeats/sprints: Hell. Good hell. These drills have you running at a hard effort (think 5k race pace) up a hill, and then recovering on the run down. Over and over and over.

Pick-ups: Quick bursts of increased speed in an existing run.

Racing terms

Bib: This is the number tag that you fasten to the front of your shirt on race day. The timing device is usually built into the bib, so you’ll be instructed not to tamper or mess around with your bib too much.

Corrals: Also known as waves. Runners are grouped by pace when lining up for the start of the race. The idea is to reduce congestion and make sure runners aren’t weaving around each other (an unpleasant experience for all involved).

Expo: This is the pre-race event that is probably required for your bib pick-up, but could also feature local vendors, free samples, and deals on running gear.

Taper: The art of reducing exercise in the days or weeks before a big race.

400 meters: One lap around a track.

5K: 5 km.

10K: 10 km.

Half-marathon: 21 km.

Marathon: 26.2 (life-changing) miles.

Splits: The time it takes to complete a specific distance. Even splits refer to running the whole race at the same pace. A negative split means you ran the second half faster than the first. Depending on the layout of the course, a negative split is a goal for many runners.

Finish time: The race officially starts when the gun goes off. Your gun/clock time is the time on the official race clock from the moment the race officially started to when you personally crossed over the finish line. Your net/chip time is the time from when you personally cross the starting line to the finish.

Hardware: Those sweet, sweet medals.

Gu: Once you start ramping up your mileage, you need to start fuelling your runs. Fuel isn’t going to make or break a race under ten miles, but you’ll need a fuel source five or six times during a marathon. Gu is just one of the many popular brands for a drinkable, portable source of easily-digestible carbohydrates, electrolytes, and amino acids.

Types of runs and runners

Barefoot running: Believed by many to help humans get back to their roots and improve natural running form. You’ll save money on shoes, at least.

Streakers: Sadly not what it sounds like. It’s someone who runs on consecutive days for a set period, aka a streak.

Elite: The professionals. If you’ve ever wondered who actually stands a chance of breaking the ribbon at the finish line, it’s the elites.

Ultramarathoner: Because marathons aren’t challenging enough. These endurance runners get together for hours and take on races clocking in at 80 km, 161 km, 50K, or even 100K.

Trail runs: A run done on a trail, rather than a treadmill or track. The hilly, uneven terrain offers a particular challenge, so don’t expect to maintain your treadmill paces on trail runs. Just lean in and enjoy the scenery.

Road race: Just as it sounds, these races are held on public roads. An established, well-organised race should have taken all the necessary steps to block off the roads from traffic.

Running acronyms

BPM: Beats per minute, or heart rate. Runners will often have a target BPM for a workout. Here’s how to find your target heart rate zones.

BQ: Boston Qualifier. If someone is a BQ or “BQ-ed,” that means they achieved a race time that grants them entry to the Boston Marathon. It’s simply THE goal race for marathoners. Currently, the qualifying standards for men are between 3:05:00 and 4:55:00. For women, the times range from 3:35:00 to 5:25:00 (both depending on age).

CR: Course record, or a runner’s fastest time on a given course.

PR: Personal record, or one’s fastest time for a given distance.

PB: Personal best. Or peanut butter. Use context.

DNS/DNF: Did not start/did not finish. Either will appear in race results when a runner did not start or finish the race.

DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. If you struggle walking down stairs the days after an intense run, blame DOMS. Bring out the Epsom salts and foam rollers.

ITBS: Iliotibial Band Syndrome. This injury occurs when your connective tissue rubs against your thighbone. Try stretching, massaging, and foam rolling.

LSD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This kind of “LSD” stands for “long slow distance.”

MUT: Mountain/ultra/trail-runner.

Running gear and equipment

Dreadmill: A nickname for the treadmill. Here’s how to curb some of the dread when you need to run on one.

Minimalist shoes: Lightweight shoes with little structure or support.

Maximalist shoes: Shoes with a lot of support and cushioning.

Compression socks (or sox): Tight knee-high socks help speed up recovery by increasing blood flow to your feet and legs. Some runners wear them during runs, but they’re mostly recommended for post-run recovery.

Running tights: Spandex leggings that help you stay safe and warm on cold runs.

Moisture-wicking clothing: A necessity if you’re planning on working up a sweat. These are non-cotton pieces of clothing that help you not get bogged down by rain, snow, or sweat.

Foam roller: A foam cylinder tool used pre- or post-workout to increase flexibility, speed up recovery, and increase circulation.

Fuel belt: Sort of like a fanny pack, these are stretchy belts with pockets that can hold water, snacks, phone, and your wallet.

Running terms about your body

Endurance: The body’s ability to sustain running for long periods of time. Endurance training is how you gradually increase distance and speed. This is about building up your physical stamina, as well as mental strength.

Lactic acid: Formed when your body can’t generate energy using oxygen, lactic acid is produced anaerobically. The more intense the run, the more lactic acid we create. Despite its reputation as the culprit for soreness and slowing down, lactic acid itself isn’t responsible for your muscle fatigue.

Anaerobic threshold: Also known as the lactate inflection point, this is the point in intensity where lactic acid begins to build up in your muscles and bloodstream. Running here should be a challenge, but not uncomfortable.

VO2 max: Also known as aerobic capacity, this is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise. As your aerobic capacity increases, you will be able to run faster and further.

Hypoxic: Hypoxic is a condition in which you’re starved of oxygen at the tissue level. You’ll feel like this if you immediately start sprinting without any kind of warmup; your lungs haven’t caught up with the rest of you yet.

Pronation: If you’ve ever been fitted for a running shoe, you’ve probably heard about your pronation. It refers to the way the foot strikes the ground while running. If someone is an “overpronator,” their foot rolls inward while running. Landing on the outer edge of your foot might mean you’re an “underpronator.” Check your shoes for where exactly they’ve worn down in order to determine how your foot strikes the ground.

Chafing: Break out the Vaseline or Bodyglide to avoid chafing.

Shin splints: Pain on or around your shinbones. Don’t ignore shin splints: Treat with ice and rest, and maybe consider buying some new running shoes.

Plantar fasciitis: Self-diagnosed by many a runner with pain and stiffness around the heel. Not just reserved for runners, this is inflammation of the bottom of the foot due to overuse. It can usually be treated with rest, ice, and stretching; unfortunately, most runners will tell you that they’re simply keeping it under control and that there’s no one “cure.”

Runner’s knee: This is pain isolated on or around the kneecap. Also called Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), this feels like the knee is “giving out.”

Black toenails: Discolored toenails on runners are a result of impact and pressure on the toe. This is assuming they hang on and don’t fall off the foot altogether.

Ice baths: Somewhat controversial, some athletes believe ice baths may reduce inflammation and promote recovery. (Other research suggests that it’s not any more effective than active recovery).

Common running phrases

The hay’s in the barn: A comforting phrase to remind you that even when you’re tapering or having an off day, you’ve already put in the work. The more you run, the more you learn about delayed gratification. Whatever training was or wasn’t done, it’s behind you now. Trust the process.

Hitting the wall: Also known as “bonking.” This is the point in the race where your legs don’t listen to your brain and it feels like you can’t go on. It can also feel like it came about all at once or out of nowhere, hence “the wall.”

Kick: When the finish line is in sight, this is the last push where you give your run all you got.

Mantras: We all need a little something that gets us to lace up in the first place. I’m a fan of “run the mile you’re in,” which helps me stay present during a run. Try to think about the reason you’re running, and how a mantra can help you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Runner’s high: Why we put ourselves through all of this.

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