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The Ultimate Guide to Running Lingo

Everyone knows runners are a little, well, different. So it's no surprise they have a language all their own. Read on to learn the difference between a PR and a BQ, and just what the heck a fartlek is!
The Ultimate Guide to Running Lingo
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Want to walk the walk—or in this case, run the run? Then it’s time to learn how to talk the talk! Everyone knows runners are all a liiittle bit crazy, so it’s no surprise they have a language all their own. Think of this guide to runner’s slang as the helpful subtitles to “Sh!t Runners Say.” C’mon, it was only a matter of time before runners got in on the fun too.

Form: No one wants to be “that awkward runner,” which is why nailing proper form or running technique is key when lacing up. Try to keep the upper body tall yet relaxed and swing the arms forward and back at low 90-degree angles.

Foot Strike: There’s a right way and a wrong way to make every step count. A runner should strike the ground with their mid-foot, not the tippy-toes or heels. Try using light steps that land right under the hip for lower impact—aka fewer injuries! 

Pace: When runners talk about running “an 8-minute pace,” they are referring to the amount of time it takes to clock one mile. They also tend to express pace based on the type of run: “long run pace,” “marathon pace,” “5K pace,” etc. Calculate these adjustments with this nifty training tool!

Warm-Up: To increase heart rate and blood flow to the muscles and reduce the risk of injury, runners know to start each workout with a good warm-up. Getting loose for an everyday run can include five to 10 minutes of walking or jogging or some dynamic stretching (which we’ll explain below).

Cool-Down: Just as a warm-up preps the body, a cool-down transitions it back to a resting state. So before heading straight for the showers, slow down with a series of lighter activity and exercise post-workout. 

Static Stretching: Everyone ready to count? Static stretching, or holding major muscle groups in their most lengthened positions for at least 30 seconds, might bring it back to the middle school soccer days. While many still believe static stretches prior to running help prevent injuries, research now suggests stretching it out is more beneficial after breaking a sweat [1]. 

Dynamic Stretching: Add a little more boom, boom, pow to a warm-up with dynamic stretching, or controlled movements that increase flexibility, power, and range of motion. The best dynamic stretches for runners include lunges, squats, leg lifts, and butt-kicks.

Strides: These are simply the forward steps taken while running. Some “real runners” also use strides (or striders) to refer to a series of short sprints, usually between 50 and 200 meters.

Cadence: Also known as stride turnover, a runner’s cadence is the number of steps taken per minute while running. The fastest and most efficient runners have a cadence of around 180 steps per minute, so find a fast-paced jam on the iPod (like this 1999 one hit wonder) and keep to the beat!

Dreadmill: Treadmills get this pet name since they're an often-loathed piece of gym equipment for runners forced indoors due to weather or time constraints. There’s at least one perk though: Studies show it’s actually easier to go faster on a treadmill than out on the road!

Trail Running: On a trail (duh!) as opposed to a road or track, trail running offers a more natural setting, breaks up monotony, and can even work a whole different set of running muscles.

Barefoot Running: Many modern runners are ditching their sneaks and discovering proper running form thanks to the barefoot movement. Made especially trendy by the book Born to Run, it emphasizes running like our cavemen ancestors may also help prevent injuries and improve performance [2].

Marathon Runners

Newbie: A newbie, or beginner, often learns the basics of the sport by training for a short race, like a 5K. The “Couch-to-5K” training plan is a great place to start!

Streaker: Keeping their clothes on (usually!), a streaker is a runner who runs consecutively every day for an extended period of time. Streaking events (like this one) are fun ways to stay motivated while clocking those miles. 

Ultramarathoner: These totally badass runners, like Dean Karnazes, take on any distance longer than 26.2 miles. Ultramarathons are typically 50K, 100K, 50 miles, or 100 miles, but the most well-known ultra is the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. 

Elite: Yup, we’re talking about the pros. No matter the distance, elite runners are fast. Really, really fast.

Triathlete: These overachievers not only run, they swim and bike, too. (But seriously, we’ve got nothing but love for those who tri!)

Easy Run: These light runs are best done at a conversational pace. Meaning if you can’t run and recap last night’s episode of The Bachelor at the same time, you’re going too fast!

LSD: Excuse me?! No, not that LSD. In this case, the acronym stands for long slow distance, or the week’s longest run. The only kind of trippin’ runners might be doing out on the road is over their own shoelaces.

Recovery Run: Also lovingly referred to as “junk miles,” a recovery run is a short, slow run that takes place within a day after a long, harder run. This teaches the body how to work through a fatigued state—a dress rehearsal many runners will be thankful for at mile 19 of a marathon! 

Speedwork: Aimed at improving running speed, these types of workouts can include intervals, hill repeats, and tempo runs (all explained below). In addition to getting faster and increasing endurance, speedwork, well, usually hurts a lot, too! 

Interval Training: By alternating specific time periods of specific high and low intensity during a run, intervals are just one way to get faster, build strength, and see calories melt away.

Hill Repeats: Runners make like Jack and Jill and go up the hill (again and again) in this other cruel form of speedwork. Heading up at a 5K pace and recovering down at an easy jog or walk, the number of hill repeats per workout depends on experience and fitness levels. But the benefits from the pain? Speed, strength, and confidence!

Fartleks: A fartlek not only makes us giggle, it’s an easier form of speedwork for beginners. Meaning “speed play” in Swedish, fartleks are easy runs broken up by quick sprinting bursts. When changing speed though, the runner calls the shots (unlike more rigid intervals). So newbies can make it as fast and as hard as they can handle. That’s what she said. 

Tempo Run: Usually done just once a week, tempo runs are a tougher form of speed training. Runners challenge themselves to hold a “threshold” (or comfortably hard) pace for a 20-minute period during a run—along with a good warm-up and cool down, of course. 

Pick-Ups: Short, gentle increases in speed, or pick-ups, at the end of a run help aid recovery. Sorry, they unfortunately have nothing to do with these cheesy lines.

Strength Training: Runners need muscles too! Among its many other benefits, strength training, or exercises performed with or without weights (think push-ups, squats, and planks), helps runners become stronger and prevent injuries. Their bodies take quite a beating while hammering it out on the road, so they need all the help they can get.

Cross-Training: Runners should also squeeze in time for cross-training, or sports and exercises other than running that improve overall fitness and strength. Great examples of cross-training for runners include cycling, swimming, yoga, water running, and weight training 

Rest Day: Choosing the couch over the road at least one day a week allows a runner’s body to recover and repair muscles. We say rest days can still be all about marathons though—a Friday Night Lights marathon, perhaps?

Moisture-Wicking Clothing: Non-cotton running attire or technical apparel keeps sweat away from the body to prevent chafing (read more on how fun that can be below).

Garmin: Many runners rely on this brand or other GPS-enabled sports watches (often way too much) to track distance, pace, heart rate, and more.

Fuel: When going long, runners have to fill up their tank! Running nutrition comes in all kinds of forms, including energy gels (or GUs), chews, bars, and even jelly beans. Others prefer to chomp on pretzels or sugary candies like Swedish Fish! Just remember, it’s important to eat around 100 calories after an hour of running, followed by another 100 calories every 40-45 minutes to replace the glycogen being used.

FuelBelt: These super cool (read: super nerdy) Velcro-ed belts/fanny packs hold a runner’s snacks, phone, cash, water, Gatorade, and any other life-or-death accessories.

Running Tights: Especially during cold weather months, runners (even men!) squeeze into these spandex leggings or capris to keep warm. Warning: Running tights show off all your curves. And we mean all of them.

Compression Socks: Often a post-run tradition, runners don a pair of compression socks, or very snug, knee-high tube socks, to speed recovery. Some even wear them during the race itself, believing they get oxygen to the leg muscles at a faster rate.

Minimalist Shoes: These popular lightweight running “shoes” are for runners who want to try barefoot running, without taking it all off. The most well-known of the minimalist shoes are the funky-looking Vibram FiveFingers. Say that five times fast!

Singlets: Runners often wear these sleeveless tank tops while racing. Relax! Unlike a wrestling singlet, it’s just a shirt.

Pronation: This refers to the way the foot strikes the ground while running. If someone is an overpronator, their foot rolls inward while running (guilty!). If someone has excessive wear on the outside of their sneakers, they’re likely an underpronator. Getting fitted for a proper running shoe can help with correcting both.

BPM: The heart rate or beats per minute (BPM) is the number of heartbeats during a minute. Runners often have a target BPM to get the most out of each workout.

Endurance: Runners love to continuously see how much further and faster they can go, which is why they build up endurance, or the body’s ability to withstand stress and pain during an aerobic activity such as running.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: While both aerobic and anaerobic exercises burn glucose, there are some differences. Aerobic exercise is long in duration but low in intensity (like walking or jogging), while anaerobic exercise is short in duration but high in intensity (like sprinting or heavy lifting).

Glycogen: A runner’s body stores glucose in the form of glycogen to be used for energy. As long as it’s in good supply, they can keep on truckin’. But when the glycogen is gone, runners often “hit the wall” (more on that down below).

Lactic Acid: Formed when the body cannot generate energy using oxygen, lactic acid is produced anaerobically (especially during hard workouts).

Anaerobic Threshold: This is the point of exercise where the going gets tough, and lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. Despite popular belief that lactic acid is what's causing muscle fatigue, the body actually produces it as fuel to keep going. Still, it doesn't mean workouts, like tempo runs (see above), done at this threshold are a piece of cake!

VO2 Max: Also known as aerobic capacity, VO2 Max is the body’s maximum oxygen intake. Runners can increase their VO2 Max with harder training.

Chafing: Yikes. How do we put this gently? Sweat and fabric rub against the skin while distance running and can cause painful irritation and rashes. To prevent chafing (or worse, bloody nipples), coat up everywhere (and we mean everywhere) with Bodyglide or Vaseline before hitting the road.

Black Toenails: A runner’s badge of honor, or just plain gross? You decide. Discolored toenails on runners are a result of impact and pressure on the toe. Sometimes if you’re lucky, they fall completely off, too!

DOMS: Oww. The discomfort of DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness, can occur between 24 and 48 hours after running and can make walking up and down the stairs especially troublesome.

Foam Roller: The foam roller can be a sore muscle’s best friend or its worst enemy. This tube may look fun and can replace a deep massage in preventing and relieving muscle knots and pain, but it’s also been known to make even the toughest runners whimper.

Runner’s Knee: One of the most common overuse injuries among runners, runner’s knee is also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS). The pain is usually isolated on or around the kneecap and can feel like the knee is “giving out.”

Shin Splints: Another common running injury, shin splints refer to pain on or around the shinbones. Most cases can be treated with rest and ice, but could signal it’s time to whip out the credit card for some new running sneakers.

Plantar Fasciitis: Feel pain and stiffness in the heel? It might be plantar fasciitis or inflammation of the bottom of the foot due to overuse or overstretching. Sufferers can usually self-treat it with rest, ice, and stretching. 

ITBS: This painful injury to the IT band in the leg (which runs from the hip, down the thigh, across the knee, and through the shin) can leave many runners (myself included) sidelined. Before totally cursing IT Band Syndrome, massage, stretching, and strength training tend to help. Hey, ITBS, meet the foam roller!

Ice Baths: Fill ‘er up with ice! An ice bath is shocking to the senses, but can also reduce inflammation and aid in the post-long run recovery process. Just be sure to put on a hat and scarf and make a cup of tea first!

Overtraining: If the previous injuries didn’t clue you in, there is such a thing as running too much! Let’s refer back to what a “rest day” means, shall we?

Hitting the Wall: Also known as “bonking” during a race, runners will feel as if they can’t go one more step once they "hit the wall." For many marathoners, the wall shows up around mile 20, and not surprisingly, they usually don’t see it coming.

400 Meters: One lap around the track.

Mile:  5280 feet or about 1609 meters (four laps around the track). 

5K: 3.1 miles.

10K: 6.2 miles. 

Half-Marathon: 13.1 miles.

Marathon: 26.2 (grueling) miles.

Road Race: These public races (held on a road, not on a trail) have a clearly marked course and runners who register to participate—which will usually get them a free T-shirt, too.

Taper: A few weeks before a big race, a runner will decrease their total running mileage to store energy. Because the tapering process involves less running and more rest, runners tend to get very antsy (and hungry) during their taper!

Carbo-Loading: During a taper, runners can eat all the pasta, bread, and bagels they want. Well, not really. There’s a right way and a wrong way to get your carb on! 

Bib: Runners pick up this piece of paper with a designated number before the race and attach it to their shirts to wear during the run. Tip: Bring extra safety pins to smaller races. They sometimes run out!

Corral: Because of so many participants, big races often divide runners into groups (not unlike a corral of livestock), with start times based on their expected finishing times. The speedsters at the front; the slowpokes in the back.

Rabbit: No, not the cute and cuddly kind! Rabbits are runners who serve as pacemakers or pace-setters during a race, with the rest of the field chasing them down. And just like the Energizer Bunny, they keep going, and going, and going—all on pace.

Bandit: These cheaters make their way into a race without registering or paying an entrance fee. FYI, Bandits, runners are onto you!

Kick: This is the final push runners give at the end of a race to increase their speed to the finish line. See also: Giving it all you got. Leaving it all on the road. Separating the winners from the losers; the men from the boys. Get the point? 

Chip Time: Often measured by an electronic chip in the sneaker or bib, this is the actual time it takes a runner to get from the start line to the finish line.

Splits: A race’s total time divided into smaller parts (usually miles), is known as the splits. If a runner has an even split, it means they ran the same pace through the entire race. If it’s a negative split, they ran the second half faster than the first. And that’s a good thing!

DNS/DNF: DNS (did not start) or DNF (did not finish) is what will appear in the race results if a runner does not start or finish a race. What happened?! Did you fall into the Porta-Potty? Or get lost along the course?

PR/PB: These coveted letters stand for personal record and personal best. Good news: Run in just one race and it’s an automatic PR! 

BQ: If someone is trying to get a “BQ” or a Boston qualifier, they want to achieve a finish time that gets them entry into the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and the only one to require a strict qualifying time. In 2012, this means men ages 18-34 must have a marathon finish time of under 3:10:00. For women ages 18-34, it means under 3:40:00. For many runners, Boston is the ultimate goal.

Hardware: Wear these race medals with pride, then hang them in a place of honor.

Runner’s High: Most runners experience a state of euphoria and pure bliss known as “the runner’s high” either during or after a run [3]. It might just be the reason runners run—and maybe why they’re so crazy, too.

Did we miss any of your favorite running slang? Share it in the comments below!

Works Cited +

  1. A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Small, K., McNaughton, L., and Matthews, M. Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, University of Hull, Hull, England. Research in Sports Medicine, 2008; 16 (3): 213-31.
  2. Primitive running: A survey analysis of runners' interest, participation, and implementation. Rothschild, C.E. University of Central Florida. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Oct 12.
  3. The runner’s high: Opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Boecker, H., Sprenger, T., Spilker, M.E., et al. Technische Universität München, München, Germany. Cerebral Cortex, 2008 Nov; 18 (11):2523-31.

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