Running Jargon: The ABCs You Need To Know
Let’s set the scene.
You’re walking to your first ever parkrun. There is no pandemic. Your legs feel fresh. Life is good. You’re happy with everything around you - except for that little. . . what’s it called? Your shirt is rubbing against your torso and is causing irritation. For some bizarre reason, your inability to name this thing bothers you.
Then you see himself - mad thing. Runs parkruns every week. Below freezing temperatures and he’s wearing a singlet. Again. Mad thing. In spite of this, he’s beaming: ‘Garmin says I stuck to zone two for my warm up,’ he tells you, as if he were preaching from the book of genesis. Zone. . . two? you think to yourself, before shaking your head and, smiling, offer him a purely surface-level congratulations. He looks baffled. You feel baffled. This is getting out of hand.
After your parkrun - which you doubtless won - you sit yourself down in front of the computer. You are determined. You are willing. You have conviction.
You are going to learn what on earth a heart rate zone is.
I would be extremely surprised if this scene has ever played out legitimately for anyone - no one could ever be that excited about a warm up. The point of it was to highlight a cornerstone in running that tends to hide in plain sight: that running boasts quite an extensive vocabulary unique to this kind of sport. For many, especially new runners, this vocabulary might seem a little off putting. From offsets to pronation, and fartleks to chafing, no one expects you to just know their meanings straight off the mark. So instead, we have compiled a little list of jargon that pertains to running to get you started.
We will start with the basics: your body. There is a wealth of terminology surrounding how we run, how best to track it and so on. The few here cover the basics, giving you the needed edge over Himself at Parkrun.
Overpronation And Supination
Generally one of three things will happen to your lower leg upon impact. If the leg retains a straight line from your knee to your ankle, you would be classified as a neutral runner and would need a neutral shoe. However, if your ankle rolls inwards, we call this overpronation and would want to put you in a stability shoe. If your ankle pushes outwards, on the other hand, you would be supinating (or underpronation), and we would put you into a neutral shoe again.
The primary difference between a neutral shoe and stability shoe is the kind of support on offer. In a neutral shoe, it is entirely natural support and typically a part of the structure of the shoe. In a stability shoe, there would be another element of corrective support (which differs from runner to runner according to the degree of overpronation). We determine which camp you fall into via a gait analysis.
Another commonly used term amongst runners is lactic acid, otherwise known as lactate. This builds up in runners during intense exercise (intense, of course, being relative), as you are exercising in a state in which your lungs simply cannot produce enough oxygen for glycolysis to happen in your muscles. Things like increased lead-like weight in the legs is one indicator of this build-up, as well as just general soreness. More often than not, this is temporary: however, one should also consider how best to regulate this lactate. Regular recovery and easy runs are a good solution, as it will ensure the reduction of the lactate while allowing your legs to reap the rewards of the high-intensity exercise.
Vo2Max And Heart Rate Vs. Pace Zones
These terms are a little trickier to grasp on first go, so we will start with pace zones. A pace zone is generally measured according to your ability to run at different paces: for instance, your pace during recovery runs will be very different to your tempo pace (more on that in a moment). These zones are a handy way of not only tracking progress but also of ensuring you are using your body as efficiently as possible - if you ran your tempo pace during a recovery run, for instance, you simply would not recover.
Heart rate zones are a little bit more advanced and fine-tuned, but are increasingly recognised as an important measurement to train to. An easy, albeit haphazard way of working out your heart rate zones is by subtracting your age from 220: so if you are 45, then your max-heart rate is 175, making 175 the “very hard” heart rate zone from which you can then work out your hard, moderate, easy and very easy zones. Your heart rate in an activity will reflect the measure of effort you must put into that activity.
Of course, this simple calculation does not take into account things like training history, diet, metabolism, health, lifestyle and so on - that is, it fails to account for you as an individual. A far more accurate way to find out your unique heart rate zones is through a Vo2Max test in a certified facility. Vo2Max is a measurement of how much oxygen is being used at certain levels of effort: this would tell the person carrying out the test what your precise running economy looks like, as well as your max. aerobic capacity.
The Wall (V: To Bonk)
Spoiler: the wall is not a fun place to be. This is primarily due to the fact that one would refer to reaching it as “hitting the wall” or “bonking.” This is something people of all distances can experience, but it is far more wide-reaching and relatable amongst marathon and ultramarathon runners. This is brought about by a complete exhaustion of your glucose stores in the liver and muscles: your muscles, then, can no longer receive the electrolytes they need to keep going, and so the runner experiences almost extreme fatigue and a loss of energy. They have hit the wall. This is more than just feeling a bit tired or sore: it can range anywhere from finding even walking a chore, all the way to simply being unable to move.
Yeah. Not fun.
That’s the boring part over. Himself probably knew all that anyway. Now for where having the edge in mind over matter really counts: training.
Also known as your lactate threshold, to run at a “tempo pace” is to run a bit slower per kilometre or mile than your current 5km race pace, but a bit faster than your half marathon and marathon pace. You will hear the term bandied about quite a bit, and with good reason: it is an important session if you want to be able to pick up speed and hold it over a longer period of time. Like most speed sessions, of course, there is no one way of doing it, but the more common kinds you might find people doing (and with which you might find yourself benefiting most) include mile repetitions or a 4-6km tempo run.
Moving across the aisle, we reach fartleks. This is Swedish for speed play, the translation being more literal than you might think. At their core, a fartlek is just running at a flat out effort or a near-flat out effort for x distance. Then you rest or recover for y minutes or seconds, before repeating. The “play” element comes into effect by virtue of you getting to have a bit of fun with it: want to see how fast you can get from this lamppost to that lamppost? Go for it. Random set of strava segments you want to demolish? See how many you can get in a single session. The point rests not so much on structure and more on training your fast-twitch muscles to be able to react, grow and adapt to higher intensities, while, somehow, thrusting a bit of informal fun into the mix.
This is not to say that you cannot structure your fartleks: in fact, many people do, and they often structure them according to a certain time they want to cover a certain distance in, whether it be a 5k Time Trial or a 13.1 mile half marathon. Quite a few popular interval sessions (moneghetti sets, 400s, pyramids etc) would all fall into this category.
Positive And Negative Splits
Most people will already know what splits are, but may not necessarily have the vocabulary to go with this knowledge. A split is essentially the time it takes to cover a certain measurement of distance. Miles and Kilometres are, of course, the quintessential splits for most runs, workouts and races, but workouts like the aforementioned fartleks may include splits as short as 100m or as long a couple of miles.
If, in a given run or race, the second half of the total distance is faster than the first half, then you have successfully achieved a negative split. For example, if I run a marathon and my first 13.1 miles is run in 2 hours and 3 minutes, while my second 13.1 miles is run in 1 hour and 59 minutes, then I will have achieved a negative split of 4 minutes. On the other hand, if my second half is slower than my first half (say, 2 hours and 5 minutes), then I will instead have achieved a positive split of 2 minutes. A negative split is thus preferable, but can sometimes be harder to achieve.
This one is fairly self-explanatory, but the noticeable lack of races over the past year warrants a brief explanation for those who have taken up running since last March and are looking to improve on their times.
A time trial is just you against the clock at a distance of your choice and on a course of your choosing. These serve as a fantastic means of highlighting your progress made (if you did a 5k time trial every three or four weeks with the proper training in between, for instance, you’d be in for a pleasant surprise each time you took it on), but also as a goal one can set for oneself.
Gear And Equipment
This one is going to be largely shoe-focused: we are apt to throw lots of shoe-related information around with one another that some of these are inevitably going to pop up. Hopefully you can find one that will make even Himself envious.
The stack height in a shoe is straight-forward enough, but useful to know ahead of the next definition. This is the measurement (in millimetres) of the amount of material between your foot and the ground. Deciding what kind of stack height you want in a shoe is always personal preference and, for many, will not heavily impact their decision making. There are three broad categories of stack height that shoes will fall into:
Low stack height: minimal cushioning, more grounded and natural feel, foot absorbs more shock.
Medium stack height: most shoes fall into this category with moderate cushioning and versatility for the foot.
High stack height: maximum cushioning, less grounded with the shoe absorbing more shock.
Otherwise known as the “drop” in a shoe, the offset is measured in millimetres and is the difference in height (thus, drop) between the stack height of material between your heel and the ground, and the stack height of material between your forefoot and the ground. The offset of a shoe can typically range anywhere from 0mm to 12mm. The lower the drop in the shoe, the more the shoe will encourage a midfoot strike. While this is well known to ensure less impact upon landing, it also means your achilles tendon will have to do more work.
One will often find a low stack height and a low offset going hand in hand (although this is not always the case). This is a more natural way to run, but it is also worth noting that one cannot go straight from a highly cushioned shoe with a high offset to a barefoot shoe - your foot simply wouldn’t be strong enough for it. It would require a bit more of a transition period down through the ranks of shoe drops, as well as a greater focus on strengthening your foot and not just running on it.
Carbon Fiber Plate
Two years ago, this definition would not be here: but it very quickly became clear that the emergence of a new type of endurance racer was not merely a one-off fad but the beginning of an entirely new running shoe marketplace. Most brands now boast endurance racers with carbon fiber plates. Their primary purpose is to reduce energy loss. While it would take an entire blog post to go through the main mechanisms of the plate, in summary it lessens the workload in the calves, increases ankle stability, keeps your toes straight and bounces your energy back into your foot for a boost upon take off. It is impossible to go to any race now and not see these shoes in their droves.
This is the material used around the toe-box of a shoe and often plays a key role in how one chooses a shoe as it impacts flexibility, breathability, water resistance, weight, security and so on. Most trail shoes would have a higher degree of water resistance in their upper mesh than road shoes, for example, while road shoes are constantly innovating and reconfiguring their upper meshes to strike the perfect balance between keeping their material as light-weight as possible without impacting the durability and flexibility.
Some of these are as ridiculous as they are universally applicable and I highly encourage you to feature them in your strava titles.
DNF - Did Not Finish
You know who you are.
IPOS - Injured Piece Of S***
I felt that one.
LSR - Long Slow Run
The alternative to mass on a Sunday.