If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me ‘I have no idea what you just said’ I’d have about $20. That’s a decent amount of coffee. One of the cool things about any sub-culture is that it has its own language – but that’s also the kind of thing that can intimidate people from being part of it which is definitely not a good thing at all. The ultimate goal of any coach is to have as many people engaged in the sport for as long as possible. That’s pretty much it. You don’t want to be scaring people off by using words like ‘tempo’, or ‘anaerobic threshold’ to describe a type of run to new runners.  Because lets face it for the most part, to new runners, all runs feel EXACTLY the same, a bit like you are dying. Until you finish and then you are Queen of the universe.

So here it is a quick guide to runners jargon.


Running at an intensity that is easy enough for your respiratory and cardiovascular systems to deliver all or most of the oxygen required by your muscles and slow enough that lactic acid doesn’t build up. You will here people refer to it as a ‘conversational pace’. This means you should be able to hold a full conversation while running at this pace. It is supposed to be slow. If you have the endurance, you could run at this pace for a very long period of time.


Running at an intensity where your body can’t deliver the oxygen needed by your muscles and fast enough that lactic acid begins to build up. This can’t be sustained for very long.

Anaerobic Threshold

The transition between aerobic and anaerobic  running where your body is creating lactic acid but is still able to remove it. This type of running will teach your muscles to use the oxygen it does receive more efficiently.


Hitting the wall. When your glycogen stores become so depleted that you hit a wall of fatigue. Not an issue in short races but can be a a common experience in the marathon distance.


The number of steps per minute. Believe it or not, for efficient running you are looking at 180 steps per minute. Fast feet!

Chip Time

During most races your bib will have a chip to record when you cross the start line and when you cross the finish line to give you your chip time. This gives you an accurate time for your race. When you are reading results you’ll often see ‘gun time’ vs ‘net time’. Net time is the actual time, whereas gun time is from the start of the race. They can be several minutes apart, depending on how long it takes you to get to the start line!


Did not finish


Did not start


Delayed onset muscle soreness. This usually peaks around 48 hours after a high intensity effort, weight training or a long run.


Swedish word meaning ‘speed play’ –  a mixture of slow running, steady running and fast running.

Foot Strike

Describes the first part of the foot that hits the ground when running. Some people will be heel strikers because the heel hits the ground first. Others will be forefoot or midfoot strikers.


Intervals are typically shorter sprint distances (commonly 400m or 800m) followed by a period of recovery running. They build speed and endurance.


Typical abbreviation for the long run – long, slow distance.

Negative splits

Running the second half of a race faster than the first half.


Your time for each kilometre.


Short and fast accelerations to maximum speed, followed by a deceleration. A stride would generally be 50m-150m.


Runners reduce mileage (or taper) anywhere in between one day to three weeks depending on their race distance. This helps your body to recover to be at peak performance on race day.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are often described as a comfortably hard effort. In reality it’s about half way between your interval speed and your easy speed. You should be able to talk in short phrases on a tempo run. A tempo run is designed to get you comfortable sitting on your lactate threshold and should raise your lactate threshold so you can run faster.


This is a measure of aerobic fitness and is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption.

Any other words that we should add to the list?


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Zoey Dowling

Written by: operationmove

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  1. I'm not an entirely new runner as you know, but thank you for this Zoey. There are still so many running terms I don't really understand and this has demystified things for me. But over in snigger corner, is it just me that thinks bonk has an entirely different meaning EVERY SINGLE time I read it?

  2. LOL Jolly - no I do as well !!!! While I can read these and understand the words, I'm not very good at trying to put them into practice. Whenever I run, I just run as fast as I can at that moment and then, when I can't run anymore, I walk for a short while and then I run again once I have got my breath back. Clearly there is soooooooooo much for me to learn !! Thanks for these Zoey - it does help when you understand what people are talking about.