Demystify the Lingo
If you’ve ever found yourself on the edge of a conversation, making all the right noises and pretending like you know whats going on, but really thinking ‘man, I hope they don’t ask me what those words mean’! Then breath easy, this list is here to help.
We’ve compiled this list of sometimes familiar, but often down-right confusing terms to help you develop a fuller understanding of runners lingo. The deeper you get into the world of running, the more you will find yourself running in to these concepts, so to speak. Some are fairly complex and will be expanded upon down the line in dedicated articles, some such as ‘DFL’ are pretty straight forward and will be experienced by some at one point or another.
As our journey to ultra distance unfolds we will explore these concepts and throw them around in conversation like we always knew what they meant, but rest assured we didn’t, and we, like you, have learnt along the way.
Aerobic – Is a nice easy rate of exertion. Running nice and easy can generally be defined as being able to breath comfortably, and hold a conversation without any trouble whilst running. This type of training builds a solid fitness base which you can develop further with more specified and ‘anaerobic’ training. The by-product of aerobic training is carbon dioxide and water which can be expelled simply by breathing.
Aid Station – A point, or points in a race which supply food and drink, sometimes first aid or other necessary assistance.
Anaerobic – When training in an ‘anaerobic’ state your body cannot process enough oxygen to satisfy the demands of your muscles. Think of sprinting or running at a pace which you can’t sustain for long periods of time. You start to get ‘heavy’ legs, your breathing becomes rapid, and talking while running becomes difficult punctuated with many deep breaths. As well as carbon dioxide there are also more complex by-products of this rate of exertion which contribute to increased and more rapid fatigue. Anaerobic workouts are important, and incorporating them into your training helps you to be able to run harder for longer.
Anaerobic Threshold – Also known as lactate threshold. Very simply put, anaerobic threshold is the point of exertion at which ‘lactic acid’ or ‘lactate’ builds up faster than your body can process and clear it, resulting in fatigue and a feeling of burning muscles. This is different for everyone, but with a higher anaerobic threshold, you can run harder and for longer. Good running economy combined with a high anaerobic (lactate) threshold and a high Vo2 max will mean you have great potential as an endurance runner
Bonk – Also known as ‘hitting the wall’, Bonking is that time on your run when ‘out of nowhere’, ‘unexpectedly’, or ‘all of a sudden’, you just start to feel really shit. This is due to the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, or in layman’s terms, your body runs out of sugar to burn as fuel. This tends to happen to people around 32km into a marathon as this is about how far the average person can run on their glycogen muscle stores. The ‘bonk’ can be overcome by eating or drinking some sugary goodness, but it is no walk in the park (well it might literally end up with you walking in the park), but you get what I mean
Buff – Commonly refers to a piece of multi-purpose head-wear which resembles a tube of material open at both ends. It can be used as a neck warmer/shade, headband, various forms of hat, hair-tie, face-mask etc.
Cadence – Is how many steps you take per minute. It has been suggested that the optimum cadence for distance running is 180 steps per minute
DFL – Dead F**K’n Last
DNF – Did Not Finish
Double track – Width of a trail wide enough for two people side by side. See also ‘Single track’ and ‘Fire trail’
Fartlek Run – A Fartlek run is different to ‘tempo’ or ‘interval training’ in that is it generally unstructured. This can mean an easy running pace for a period of time and then sprinting ‘to that tree’, or running hard ‘to the next corner’. An easy run interspersed with speed work. It is up to you how hard or for how long you keep up the increased intensity.
Fire trail / Fire road – Width of a track or trail which is wide enough for a 4 wheel drive vehicle to pass. See also ‘single’ and ‘double track’
FKT – Fastest Known Time
Form – Running form is the overall posture of your body as you run, from the tilt of your head, through the angle of your shoulders and hips, to the movement of your arms and legs, and how you plant you foot.
Gain (elevation gain) – This is the cumulative elevation gain on a given trail. For example if the trail climbs 100m, descends 50m, then climbs another 300m the ‘gain’ of that trail is 400m
Gait – A persons ‘gait’ is a specific aspect of their ‘form’, and refers to the leg movement and how the feet impact, and push off from the ground. This is where you will hear people talking about heel strike, mid-foot strike, and fore-foot strike, also, ‘pronation’.
Gels – Otherwise known as an energy gels, these little packets of gooey carbohydrates are taken as fuel in endurance events. They are often used as an alternative to actual food as they are easy on the stomach, easily absorbed, and are very compact.
Glycogen – The Technical term for the sugar stored in your liver and muscles which is bound into large chains. This is one of the fuel sources our body burns when we exercise.
Gu – A brand of energy gel
Half Marathon – 21km
Heart-rate training – A method of training where particular focus is given to training within specific heart-rate zones or ranges. Often it is said that when people go for an ‘easy run’ they end up running too hard and their heart rate goes too high, and when they go for a ‘hard run’ they don’t train hard enough. In both cases they don’t maximise the benefits of their training. Heart-rate training uses different heart rate zones to focus on specific intensities to yield specific gains, for example endurance and speed gains, and recovery.
Heart-rate Zone – As above, this is the specific range of heartbeats per minute that are used in ‘heart-rate training’. A given zone may be from 130 – 145 bpm (beats per minute) for example
Hill Repeats – Just as it sounds, this form of training requires running up a hill, walking or running back down, then repeating. Hill repeats are a great way of improving endurance, speed, power, running economy, and overall strength.
Hitting the Wall – See ‘Bonk’
IT Band – Short for Iliotibial Band. The IT band is a muscle / fibrous band which runs from the hip, down the outside of the leg, across the outside of the knee, finishing at the shin. IT band syndrome is not uncommon with runners, and is due in part to tightness and inflammation of the IT band. Common symptoms are pain and swelling about the outside of the knee.
Lactic Acid (Lactate) – Sometimes referred to as lactate, both lactic acid and lactate are terms which can be mistakenly generalised and confused. To accurately define the terms would warrant a full article but loosely speaking lactate and lactic acid are produced by your muscles when you exercise. During anaerobic workouts lactic acid is produced at a more rapid pace and can accumulate in muscles (if your body systems can’t keep up with processing it). It contributes to a feeling of ‘burning muscles’ and fatigue. Lactic acid, lactate, lactate threshold, aerobic, anaerobic, and anaerobic threshold are all terms concerned with the science of exercise physiology and how your body performs operating at different intensities.
Lactate Threshold – Same as Anaerobic Threshold
Loop Track – A track or trail which starts and finishes at the same point, but doesn’t require you to turn around and return over the same ground you have just passed
Marathon – 42km
Negative Split – Running the second half of a race faster than the first half
Nutrition – The technical term referring to food and drink
Out and Back – A track or trail which requires running to a point, turning around, and coming back along the same track to your original starting point
Pace – A measurement of speed, pace is usually measured in minutes per km, or minutes per mile
Pacer – Usually used in middle to long distance races, a pacer is generally an experienced runner who runs at a steady speed and will finish in a given time e.g. 4 hour pacer runs a steady pace to finish at 4 hours. Thus if you want to finish in around 4 hours you can gauge your pace from the pacer. In an ultra marathon pacers usually aren’t allowed to join you until the 50 mile mark and are employed to keep you on course (particularly at night), remind you to eat and drink, help replenish supplies at aid stations, and generally help with morale. They are not allowed to carry your supplies or physically assist you in running.
Point to Point – A track or trail which is run in the same direction from one point to another. You’ll need to organise transport to get back to your start point
PR/PB – Personal Record / Personal Best
Pronation (over or under) – Pronation is the way a persons foot is when running, walking, or standing. ‘Over-pronation’ means that the foot is rolling inwards too much, ‘under-pronation’ or ‘supernation’ (same thing) is when the foot doesn’t roll in enough.
Running Economy – The human version of car fuel economy. Economy is how efficiently your body’s systems work to utilise available fuel as you run at different speeds. Good running economy combined with a high lactate threshold and a high Vo2 max will mean you have great potential as an endurance runner
Single track – Refers to the width of a trail or track. Single track is generally quite narrow, about wide enough for a bike or person to run in single file. Other widths are known as ‘double track’ or ‘Fire trails’.
Splits – These are timings (elapsed time (how long it has taken)), usually measured every km or mile, but can be measured at any point of a run, such as the half way point. See also ‘Negative Split’
Taper – This is the end of a training block, usually a couple of weeks before an event where you should wind back the training. You can still go for the occasional easy run or walk, but avoid over-exertion. This allows the body to more fully recover and be in a ‘fresh’ state for the event. Taper is said to be essential for peak performance.
Target Heart-Rate – When ‘heart-rate training’ the target heart rate is the specific heart-rate or ‘zone’ that you are trying to stay within
Tempo Run – A training run which requires a steady pace, for a prolonged period of time. Often a tempo run might be the ‘fastest speed’ you can sustain for an hour, or 10kms for example, just below your ‘lactate threshold’. It is important to not that your pace should be consistent, not slowing, if it is getting slower you are running too hard and likely running above your ‘lactate threshold’
Ultra Distance – Officially an ultra distance is any footrace longer than a marathon (42km). There is discussion within the ultra community that anything 50km or above is considered an ultra, but its a pretty subjective topic.
Vo2 Max – Is the maximum volume of oxygen your body can consume per minute. A high Vo2 max combined with a high lactate threshold and a good running economy will mean you have great potential as an endurance runner