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Running 102: a glossary of the weirder running words

Illustration of a book titled “Glossary” with legs, running
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When you’re a new runner, those first few miles are tough. Sore legs and muscle cramps are a challenge, sure, but the seemingly endless sea of info — training science, gear options, new runner tips — is daunting. And running jargon can be pretty opaque.

This glossary will help you nail down some of the more obscure running vocab. Sit back and take a look. You’ll emerge word wise and a little more prepared to chat up the next runner you meet.


(verb) – Frequently referred to as “hitting the wall,” this term describes the condition of feeling like you simply cannot go on. Usually it can be prevented. If you stay hydrated, stay fueled, and stay positive, that wall may never materialize. No promises though.


(noun, verb) – A favorite word among the running community but a total mystery to non-runners, fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish, and refers to faster, unstructured speed segments during a training run. Got that? Fun, fast running, not remotely related to embarrassing bodily emissions.


(noun) – Must. Find. Bathroom. Eventually we all experience the severe discomfort of a full-on stomach revolt. Long runs, races, speed workouts — all are susceptible to bathroom urges. You can research good and bad pre-workout foods, but everyone is different. Let your experience guide you in avoiding tummy trouble.

Illustrated runner chasing a toilet with legs


(noun) – Not hot sauce, not a dance move, this kind of kick refers to the natural (and totally awesome) impulse to push harder at the end of a race. Use with caution while training, but on race day, put it all out there.


(noun) – Generally defined as running the second half of your route or race faster than the first half. Guaranteed to give you all the good feels and add a shot of confidence to push harder when you’re tired. Also NEGATIVE SPLITTING (verb)


(noun) – Refers to the night leading up to a big run or race when sleep is the most important. It supercharges your body to race, leaving the night before the race for you to toss and turn as you consider the big (but exciting) task ahead. Rest easy, you’ve already slept plenty.


(noun) – The average speed over a given distance, typically in per-mile increments. So if you run 5 miles in 25 minutes, your pace is 5:00 per mile (lightning fast). If you run 5 miles in 1 hour and 40 minutes, your pace is 20:00 per mile (enough time to stop and smell the roses).


(noun) – Like shin splints, plantar fasciitis is a running-related injury. An inflammation of the connective tissue in the heel and lower Achilles tendon, plantar fasciitis is especially hard to heal, with total rest (and a few consolatory beers) being the most recommended treatment.


(noun) – Stands for “personal record” and is the stat you share (or brag about) with other runners. You can also use PB for “personal best.” Feel free to add ridiculous qualifiers as they do in other sports such as baseball, e.g. “my fastest 10k in the last 7 years while wearing a chicken suit.”


(noun) – When professional racers want to go even faster, they’ll hire a “rabbit” (also called a pacer), whose entire job is to run fast early on, and then drop out on purpose. Including a rabbit usually produces fast times, which is exciting for runners and spectators alike, but it’s hard not to wonder if any of them just want to ditch their job and race to win.

Illustrated rabbit running with a carrot on a stick attached to his headband and dangling in front of him


(noun) – Runners who hop into a race without officially being entered, or runners who otherwise take part in a race via nefarious or illicit means. Don’t be that runner. Support race organizations and respect your fellow (legitimate) racers.


(noun) – Shorthand for “running-induced hunger,” this term refers to that intense bottomless-pit feeling that can hit after a long run — just as you finish or even hours later. Fend it off with on-the-run snackage, a balanced diet, and some experimentation to figure out when and what to eat to conquer your appetite.


(noun) – No mind-altering substances here, just the pure, natural, warm-and-fuzzy feelings that can occur during (or just after) a run. You may feel the urge to whoop, holler, and hoot your joy on the trail or road, all of which we greatly encourage.


(noun) –

  1. A running sin committed by those who save their effort for the last repeat of the workout, thereby beating everyone who gives full effort from the beginning. Not cool, man, not cool.
  2. Misrepresenting your skill level or race readiness to enter a competition you’ll easily win. Think: the guy at the start line who says, “I’m so out of shape!” — only to dash off, cartoon roadrunner style, leaving a cloud of dust and a faint “meep meep” in his wake.


(noun) – A common ailment wherein the front of your lower legs (yep, shins), can feel sore or painful to the point where you can no longer run. There’s no hard and fast scientific cause for shin splints, but common theories include running on hard surfaces too frequently, adding mileage too quickly, and running in worn-out shoes.


(noun) – The incredible, tissue-free solution for blowing your nose on the run. Simply put finger to nostril, blow snot out the other side, and voila, run sniff-free. Tell your training partners to steer clear the first few attempts, and always look over your shoulder to verify a clear shot.


(noun) – A wise man once said, “If you want to run fast, you have to run faster.” A bit simplistic maybe, but speedwork — running faster in short sections — will help improve your race time and overall fitness.


(noun) – It’s not what you think, unless you’re thinking, “A person who runs in some sort of impressively consistent manner,” e.g. running at least once a day for 25 years or running 50 Boston Marathons. Be impressed, or jealous, or both.

Illustration of a nude runner covered by ribbon that says “Not this kind of streaking”


(noun) – Open to some interpretation, “tempo” generally means a challenging but sustainable pace. Somewhere between red-in-the-face and nausea-inducing effort.


(noun) – Designed for the most masochistic athletes, the ultramarathon comes in two (painful) flavors.

  1. A standard footrace over a specified distance — must be longer than a standard 26.2-mile marathon to count.
  2. A timed event, with the winner covering the most distance or simply outlasting her competitors. These races can stretch upwards of 10 hours, with the most extreme being multiday affairs.

Got all that? Congrats, you’re one step closer to being fluent in Runner. Now that you can talk tempo and launch snot rockets with the best of ‘em, find out which running shoe is right for you.