The New Runner's Dictionary

A group of runners sit around chatting after a run.

Running, like other sports, has all kinds of weird jargon. If you’re new to the scene, you may have no idea what people are talking about.

To save you from confusion on your next group run, we present to you The New Runner’s Dictionary.

Training Terminology

A man and a woman run together.

Fartlek: This is a Swedish word that means “speed play.” Fartleks are runs in which you alternate easy running with moderate to hard efforts. They are typically unstructured runs that are intended to switch things up, raise your heart rate. Because they aren't tethered to any specific pace or time goal, these are fun runs to do in a group or a good way to keep things interesting on a solo run.

Tempo: This is kind of like a workout sandwich, and it’s similar to a fartlek but with more structure. A tempo run sandwiches harder running (the meat) between a warm up and cool down (the bread).

The “meat” of the tempo run is at, or slightly above, your anaerobic threshold—the effort level just above your comfort zone. The pace should feel challenging enough that you cannot have a comfortable conversation while running, but you can get a few words in without gasping for breath. You may have a specific pace to shoot for or simply go by feel and effort.

Workout: A session of vigorous effort or training that's typically used to describe a speed workout or a hill workout. This is where you might work in those intervals or fartleks. This can also be used to describe anything more than a regular easy run.

Easy run: Easy runs are performed at a comfortable, conversational pace, making them a great choice for group runs. Easy runs can help you recover from any of the above workouts by increasing blood flow to your tired muscles. They also help your body develop aerobically, which is why they're a staple in any marathon training program.

Splits: Splits refer to the time it takes to complete a certain distance in running. They are most commonly noted in laps around the track, or miles in a race or workout. You’ll also hear “negative splits,” which is when your splits get continuously faster as you run.

Strides: Strides are short bursts of quick running that are typically completed at the end of a run, before a workout or before starting a race. They help elevate your heart rate and transition your body from running slower to running faster and more efficiently.

Dreadmill: A not-so-fond name for a treadmill. Most of us would prefer to exercise in the great outdoors. So if the ground is covered in snow, you might end up putting the miles in on the dumb old dreadmill.

LSD: Long slow distance training includes a long run at a constant pace of low to moderate intensity. For this type of training, the focus is on the length of the run, rather than a fast pace.

Two runners run down a street together.


Pronation: This is part of the natural movement of the human body and refers to the way your foot rolls inward upon landing. Understanding your pronation type can help you choose the right running shoe. Some runners will find that they over-pronate, which may suggest they need some extra support in their running shoes. However, pronation itself is natural movement and not a bad thing.

Supination: Supination occurs when weight is placed on the outside of the foot while walking or running. Excessive supination can cause problems with the body's alignment and lead to pain in the feet, knees, hips and back. Again, having the right shoes is important if you find that you’re a supinator.

Cadence: Running cadence is often defined as the total number of steps you take per minute. It means the same thing as “turnover,” another word you’ll frequently hear runners use. Highly efficient runners have a high cadence or turnover—around 180 steps per minute.

Strike: You’ll usually hear about this in terms of the way a runner’s foot first “strikes” the ground—with the heel, midfoot or forefoot. Most efficient runners tend to land on their mid or forefoot, but new runners shouldn't worry too much about their foot strike. Instead, just run naturally. A lot of new runners get caught up in trying to control their form, but you’ll naturally become more efficient as you run more.

Feelin' It

Two runners high-five.

Runner’s High: The feeling of euphoria experienced after a long bout of aerobic exercise. Some people even report reduced anxiety and pain. For a long time, it was attributed to endorphins, but German researchers have shown the brain’s endocannabinoid system—the same one affected by marijuana’s THC—may also play a role in producing runner’s high.

Anaerobic threshold: The effort level when your body is working hard enough that it shifts to using more glycogen for energy. You can raise your anaerobic threshold with short, intense intervals with a full recovery in between.

Bonk: When you maintain an effort level at or above your anaerobic threshold, you eventually run out of glycogen. Your body recognizes that it’s in danger and starts to slow you down to conserve energy. Bonking is more than simply being tired; it's when you reach a point of fatigue in which your body starts to shut down and you can barely continue to move.

Racing Culture

Runners cross the finish line at a race.

DNF/DNS: You hope these letters don’t show up on your race results, but sometimes they do. DNF is “Did Not Finish,” and DNS is “Did Not Start.”

PR: The best two letters of the runner’s dictionary. The thing that everyone strives for. The life-changing moment, the holy grail, the proof that everything in your life is working. PR stands for "personal record."

Taper: The period of time a runner cuts back on training and mileage to rest before a race. During the taper period, it’s common for runners to get nervous energy, become grouchy and start feeling phantom aches and pains—sometimes referred to as a “taper tantrum.”

Bandit: Someone who jumps into a race without paying. No one likes bandits. This is wrong enough to get you excommunicated from the running world. Don’t do it.

BQ: Boston Qualifier. The Boston Marathon is a big deal because it's the oldest marathon in the United States. But not just anyone can sign up. In order to get in, you must run another marathon at the time specified for your gender and age group. There's also $150,000 up for grabs for elite runners.

Overheard at Fleet Feet

Stack height: The distance between your foot and the ground when you have a shoe on. The higher the stack height, the more cushioning. Check out our list of the Best Cushioned Running Shoes.

Heel-to-toe drop: Measured in millimeters, heel-to-toe drop is the difference between the stack height of the heel and the height of the forefoot. You might also hear about a shoe's “offset," which is the same as heel-to-toe drop. Shoes with a higher heel-to-toe drop (8-12 millimeters) can reduce pressure on your calves and achilles, while shoes with lower heel-to-toe drops (0-5 millimeters) can shift the load off your knees and hips.

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