Running Lingo 101: What Did She Say?

Are you a new runner, or have you recently engaged in a conversation with a runner that left you scratching your head? Here are a few definitions of common running terms and acronyms to help you make sense of running lingo.

January 14, 2016
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Like many other largely established subcultures, we runners have our own language. Bonk. BQ. DOMS. The terminology included in many pre-written workouts is often running-specific and unfamiliar to race novices, but the added slang and “runner lingo” that comes up in everyday running conversation is enough to leave a beginner (or non-runner) utterly confused.

Are you a new runner, or have you recently engaged in a conversation with a runner that left you scratching your head? Here are just a few definitions of common running terms and acronyms to help you make sense of running lingo:

Marathon: 26.2 miles. Runners will give you the side eye if you ever refer to that 5K your cousin ran as a “marathon.”

5K: 3.1 miles

10K: 6.2 miles

Ultra: Any race distance that is longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Typically ultra races start at the 50K mark (31.07 miles), but other popular distances include the 50 miler, 100K (62.14 miles), and 100-mile races. Yes, people willingly run 100 miles for fun. Some run even further.

BQ: “Boston Qualifier.” Many non-runners don’t realize that in order to officially run the Boston Marathon, you must gain entry by either a charity slot or running a qualifying time at another race. Boston qualifying standards are moderately difficult for the average runner, and thus achieving a “BQ” is a great honor and source of pride (and frustration when you are mere minutes or seconds away) for many. (See the full Boston Qualifying Standard-Times here.)See the full Boston Qualifying Standard-Times here.)

Bandit: A bandit is one who runs an official road race without registering for the event or paying registration fees. Bandits are frequently found at large races that sell out fast and are generally frowned upon by the running community. While banditing may appear innocent at first, a bandit may actually end up taking resources from registered runners–from water to race medals and even the attention of emergency medical staff.

Bonk: Similar to “The Wall” (see below), but a “bonk” can happen at any time, during any race. When an athlete goes from seemingly strong and well trained to an utterly exhausted mess, they have “bonked.” A bonk is often related to poor nutrition and low blood sugar and can sometimes be overcome mid-race with the right snacks and a second wind.

Carb Loading: The act of building up glycogen stores in muscle prior to a big race. Technically carb loading is an intricate process that involves carb depletion followed by a few days of loading, but most runners simply use the excuse of “carb loading” to eat massive quantities of pasta the night before a race.

Clock Time: During a race, the clock starts at the time the official “gun” goes off. Your clock time is the amount of time it took you to finish the race from the moment the race started to the moment you cross the finish line.

Chip Time: Some races are large, and because of the crowds it may take a few minutes or more to cross the start line after the official clock time starts. In many races runners are given a timing chip that attaches to their shoe or race bib. The chip starts the second the runner crosses the starting line, and stops the second the runner crosses the finish line. Chip times are far more accurate to the runner’s actual race time than clock times.

C25K: Acronym for Couch to 5K, a beginner training plan to take non-runners from “the couch” to running their first 5K.

DNF: “Did Not Finish.” This can be due to pulling yourself out of a race or simply not finishing in a designated course time.

DNS: “Did Not Start.” If you registered for a race, but for whatever reason didn’t show up to the start line, then you are a “DNS.”

DOMS: Acronym for “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.” DOMS is what happens when you run 20+ miles one day then can’t walk up–or worse, down–the stairs the next day. There are many theories about this, but scientists are still baffled by exactly what causes DOMS. Most runners have a sadistic love/hate relationship with DOMS.

Dreadmill: Derogatory term for a treadmill. (The treadmill is not that bad, you guys…)

Gait: Simply put, running gait is the manner in which a person runs. Many runners will have their gait analyzed by a professional to help them determine any biomechanical deficiencies that can be corrected by running shoes or even physically changing running form.

Garmin: A GPS watch designed to keep track of overall pace, distance, split time, etc. There are many brands of GPS watches, but Garmin tends to be the most recognized and therefore most used name (even if your watch isn’t made by Garmin).

LSD: Acronym for “Long Slow Distance.” LSD is a long-distance training run that is performed at a pace significantly slower than expected race pace. Typically, an LSD is programmed once a week into a race training plan, both to train your muscles to cover the distance and to train the body to effectively utilize varying fuel sources (stored fats, muscle glycogen, etc.)

Negative Splits: This refers to running the second half of a race or a training run faster than you ran the first half.

PR: Short for “personal record.” This can be both in distance (farthest ever run) and time (fastest ever run for a specified distance).

Runner’s High: The coveted euphoria that stems from a particularly good–or even sometimes bad–run. Scientifically speaking, a runner’s high stems from the secretion of norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and arguably endorphins, all of which can have a positive effect on mood. Realistically speaking, a good runner’s high is worth a thousand bad runs and might be one of the main culprits for the addiction to this sport.

Speed Intervals/Speed Work: Also referred to as “repeats” or a “track workout,” speed intervals are short bursts of fast running, usually done on a 400-meter track. A speed interval workout will traditionally prescribe a certain number of various distance sprints or hard runs–such as 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, and sometimes even 1,600 meters–with walking or slow jogging recovery intervals.

Tempo Run: A tempo run is typically run at your 10K race pace, or about 80-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Unlike speed intervals, a tempo run is typically sustained for a longer period of time or distance, usually around 20-30 minutes or a specified number of miles. Tempo runs should be performed at a challenging yet manageable pace. The goals of a tempo run are to help develop and increase your anaerobic or lactate threshold and to increase speed.

The Wall: A not-so-magical place that typically exists between mile 19 and 26 of a marathon. You’ll be running along, feeling on top of the world, when bam! a switch is thrown. Everything hurts, you feel physically and emotionally drained, and for a few minutes, you wonder why on earth you decided running a marathon would be a good idea. There might even be tears. You have hit “the wall.”

Again, these are just a few of the commonly used terms in the running community. Next time you hear something that sounds unfamiliar, don’t be afraid to ask! If there is one thing runners love almost as much as running, it’s talking about running!

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