Jargon Watch: The Language Of Running

Like any other group united by a common purpose, runners have created their own language to talk about what they do.
Two teen boys jogging along the water to represent running terms.

Running has lots of benefits for the average person, but one of the biggest reasons for its popularity is that it has a very low bar to entry. You don’t have to go and buy weights, rackets, clubs, balls or even a gym membership. All you really need is comfortable clothes, a place to run and the right vocabulary. Like any other hobby, running has its own language that you’ll need to learn. Learning the most common running terms in advance will give you a head start, whether you’ve decided to take up running yourself or just watch the runners at a nearby marathon.

We’ve assembled a list of the basic running terms you’ll probably…run into. You may have heard of some of them before, while others you might raise an eyebrow at. Hopefully it’ll save you from having to run to the dictionary in the future.

Running Terms You Should Know

5K and 10K — the most common distances for a shorter race, they’re 5 kilometers and 10 kilometers, respectively.

aid station — any stop along a race route where a runner can pick up water or some other form of aid.

bandit — a runner who isn’t officially registered in a race. A disputed practice in running communities, many organizations discourage bandit running because it can be unfair to the official runners (and also unfair to the organization that collects registration fees). Some big marathons have security to stop bandits in their tracks.

barefoot running — this is exactly what it sounds like. While some runners have started getting very into maximalist footwear — running shoes are a huge industry — others have stuck with their bare feet (or very light shoes). The reason is that while running shoes are great for avoiding cuts and other foot injuries, they can also lead to other running injuries because they go against the natural evolution of the foot.

beer mile — a kind of fun run where runners have to do four laps around a track and, after each one, drink a beer. It’s not the healthiest kind of running, but hey, whatever it takes for you to get motivated.

bib — each runner is given a number, which is put on their bib. It helps identify each runner.

black toes — running long distances can do a lot of damage to your feet, especially if you’re not careful. Marathon runners often have toenails that turn black or even fall off. Usually, they’ll heal by themselves after a while. If it is turning into a problem, though, figure out if your shoes are too small (or just see a podiatrist).

BQ — Boston Qualifying (Time). The oldest marathon in the world, the Boston Marathon was first held in 1897. There are now marathons pretty much everywhere, but the Boston Marathon is still considered the gold standard. The actual qualifying time changes from year to year, and it also takes into account the gender and age of the runner.

DNF — did not finish. There’s no shame in not being able to finish a race all the time.

fun runs — a fun run is any run that is more about entertainment than racing. They can be as short as a single mile, and they’re used for any number of purposes: giving children something to do, raising money for a charity or simply having fun (as the name implies).

half-marathon — a race that goes for 13.1 miles. Check out marathon for more context. 

hitting the wall — when you’ve been doing something difficult for a while, you will eventually reach a point where you feel you can’t go on. Runners call this hitting the wall, though it can happen to anyone (even language learners hit the wall!).

interval training — one of the more popular forms of training, interval training switches off between short bursts of intense exercise with slightly longer periods of more relaxed exercise (alternating between sprinting and jogging, for example).

jogging — jogging is a form of running, but usually a bit slower. You might think it’s a very old term, but it actually dates back to the 1970s, when jogging became a fitness fad (that never really faded).

marathon — the most common event for long-distance running, a marathon is a race that goes for 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers). Why such an arbitrary number? It’s based on a story from 490 BCE, when a Greek messenger ran roughly 40 kilometers from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to deliver news of victory, and then collapsed and died. The marathon event wasn’t invented until thousands of years later, when the revived Olympics were held in 1896. At that point, a marathon was an even 40 kilometers, but it was extended slightly to accommodate the British royal family at the 1908 Olympics, who wanted the race to go from Windsor Castle to the royal box. Since then, it’s been consistently 26.2 miles.

out and back — a route that involves running to a certain point and then running back to where you started.

pace — one of the most common running terms is “pace,” which refers to how quickly someone is running. Usually, someone will break down their pace into minutes-per-mile.

PR — personal record. For most runners, the main person they’re competing against is themselves. Having a personal record for fastest or furthest run is a good way to keep track of your athletic progress.

road race — a race on a road. Simple.

runner’s high — the euphoria a runner reaches after intense exercise. If you’ve never run regularly before, you may wonder why someone would endure the pain and discomfort. Many runners say the runner’s high can make the whole experience feel worthwhile.

shin splints — one of the most common runner injuries, shin splints cause pain around the shins. If you start to feel them, you should rest and figure out why you’re getting them right away to avoid getting a worse injury.

splits — the breakdown of a long race into shorter sections. You might break down a 10-mile run into 10 splits, for example, so you can see how your pace changed over the course of the entire run. An “even split” means you ran roughly the same speed the entire time. A “negative split” is when you get faster in the second half of the run.

sprints — short races, the longest of which is usually 400 meters (the standard length of a racetrack). While sprints and marathons are both essentially about running the fastest, they’re very different skills.

talk test — an “easy run” is when you’re able to hold a conversation while running. A “talk test,” then, is a way to check if you’re pushing yourself harder than you mean to. The more you run, the easier it’ll be to talk while running, so don’t get discouraged if even a mild jog has you failing the talk test at first.

trail runs — a run or race that is generally on a trail through the wilderness. They can be a bit more treacherous because of the unevenness of trails, but are worth it because they’re far more scenic than road races

turkey trots — one of the most popular days for races in the United States is Thanksgiving, when cities around the country hold a “turkey trot.” They can extend anywhere from a 5K to a half-marathon, and they tend to be a bit more casual than other races. This running term also differs depending on where you are. You might hear of Christmas turkey trots in the United Kingdom, because that’s the holiday when turkey is most often consumed in the country.

ultramarathon — unlike the regular marathon, an ultramarathon has no set distance. It is simply any race that extends more than 26.2 miles. They tend to choose nice, round numbers, so most ultramarathons are 50 kilometers, 100 kilometers, 50 miles or 100 miles. There are also 24-hour races, in which the competition is to see who can run the farthest in a single day.

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