A Glossary of Running Terms Defined

Why is a marathon 26.2 miles long? What is a beer mile? And what the heck is a BQ?

Whether you’re new to running or have been at it awhile, there are a collection of terms, numbers, code words, abbreviations and bits of jargon that float about in the running community, almost like a secret language. Here’s a helpful glossary to help you understand runner-geek speak.

400

One lap around a track is 400 meters, roughly a quarter of a mile; this is a common distance for repeats in track workouts. For example, a 12 x 400 workout is a good to build form and rhythm while training your body to run relatively fast under fatigue. And here’s the fun part, they should be fairly speedy—as in you might throw up or pass out when you’re finished. These (it’s never just one) are usually performed while someone stands at the edge of the track with a whistle and a stopwatch because you generally aren’t doing these for the fun of it.

800

Two laps around a track is 800 meters, or roughly a half-mile; twice the fun as a 400, but can and should be run at a slightly slower pace. Again, they are often delivered in multiples, for example, 6 x 800m with 2 minutes of recovery jogging in between. After a few of these, you’ll understand the reason why track athletes often throw themselves on the ground after a race. Again, these are most often done in a group or when someone is forcing you to do them.

The Mile

The gold standard of distance running, the mile is the distance by which everything is measured—at least in the U.S., one of the few countries in the world to shun the metric system at the peak of the first running boom in the 1970s and stick with imperial measurements. The mile, approximately four laps around a track, is the base unit of distance running and knowing how fast you can run one all-out mile or what your mile pace is at any distance is of utmost importance. While the mile has lost some luster in recent years, there is a movement (called “Bring Back the Mile”) aimed at revamping the excitement and encouraging high school, college and community mile competitions. In recent years, how fast you can run a beer mile (repeating the act of intermittently drinking a beer and running a lap four times without stopping) has become nearly as important.

5K

At 3.1 miles, the 5K is most popular race distance on the planet. Don’t be fooled, though: Just because the 5K is one of the shortest races commonly run on the roads, it’s only easier if you’re jogging. (And that’s just fine, especially if you’re a beginner just getting the hang of it!) But if you’re racing all-out, the 5K is one of the hardest and most acutely painful races out there.

Brick workout

Brick workouts are a favorite of triathletes in training. It means doing two different workouts back-to-back; think a bike ride and a run or a swim and a ride. While seemingly masochistic, especially when you are in the midst of it, the intent of the workout is to get your body and brain used to switching disciplines and training under simulated race fatigue.

BQ

One of the most coveted standards in running, “BQ” refers to a Boston-qualifying marathon result in any marathon with a certified course. In recent years, it’s been harder and harder to gain entry to the Boston Marathon, both because the qualifying standards have gotten slightly faster and because more people have tried to qualify in some of the more popular age groups. Still, earning a BQ is a true badge of honor, even if you don’t get in or choose not to race it that particularly year.

Cadence

This is your number of footfalls per minute. And, of course, faster is usually better. The ideal number for running—meaning most efficient with a reduced likelihood for injuries–is about 180 steps per minute. To help with the math, that’s 90 footfalls per foot per minute. 

Doubles

For over achievers, those training for a big race or an ultra, or even those who don’t have time to do one big run at once, your coach or training program may suggest two runs in a day. The goal is to have time to recover between the two, while enduring the character-building experience of running on tired legs. But, if your morning run is a hard session, it might be that your afternoon/evening run is a light recovery run that helps flush out your muscles and keep you fresh for later in the week. For some runners, though, that second session might be a running store fun run that happens to be serving beer and pizza.

Dynamic Drills

Dynamic drills are what you do to get warmed up and activate muscles before your run. When done right, you’ll definitely get your heart pumping and the sweat flowing without static stretching of cold, rigid muscles. Examples are: high knees, butt kicks, skipping, walking lunges, toy soldiers and fast footwork like grapevines.

Easy Run/Recovery Run

The hardest thing about easy runs is generally keeping them easy. The legit goal here is to move your muscles, get blood flowing and NOT do any damage to recovering muscles. You should be able to maintain a conversation as you go.

Fartlek

This is a Swedish word for “speed play”—Swedes know how to have fun! No, it has nothing to do with breaking wind. The “playful” aspect of these is that you get to determine distance, speed and how many you do, but the goal is to keep them relatively short and speedy. Once you’re warmed up, step up your pace between trees, light posts, the red car parked on the corner, whatever works for you. Do a set of five to 10, return to your regular pace and repeat, if desired. These are good mid-run, pick-me-ups if you feel like your pace is lagging or your mind has wandered.

Forefoot Striker

A runner who primarily lands on the forefoot when running at any speed. Most runners are not forefoot strikers all the time. In fact, studies have shown that less than 2 percent of runners actually run that way.

Half Marathon

The modern-day crowning glory for novice to intermediate runners, the half marathon has become one of the world’s most popular race distances. At 13.1 miles, it’s long enough to warrant some serious training but not so long (like a full marathon) that it depletes your energy, destroys your body for several weeks and makes you want to quit running. Instead, the half marathon encourages runners to keep training throughout the year, travel to exotic places to run races on vacation and to keep going hard in hopes of lowering their personal best time.

Hill Repeats

“Ooh, let’s run up that hill!” said no sane person ever. But that’s exactly what you’ll do for hill repeats; repeatedly so, as the name suggests. Short bursts of running uphill help to develop the strength, speed and power needed for maintaining good form over longer distances and finish-line sprints. Be sure to warm up on the way to your hill (or before increasing the incline on the treadmill). You’ll generally run uphill for a specific amount of time (45 seconds to 3 minutes), turn around and jog back down to the start and repeat for the recommended number of reps. Downhill is your reward, make the most of it!

Intervals

You might see “intervals” and “repeats” used interchangeably, but that’s not accurate. Intervals refer to the amount of time spent resting between runs, like repeats (see below). The time spent recovering between sets is usually less than the time spent doing the set itself, so that you are running without being fully recovered. The interval may actually be an easy jog of 60 to 90 seconds instead of time spent standing still.

Marathon

This 26.2-mile race is the granddaddy of all running races, still perhaps the hardest of all distances to master. After American Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1972 Olympics and again after he earned the silver at the 1976 Olympics, interest from average citizens running that distance became so feverish that it essentially helped launch the Great American Running Boom. That growth continued through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and remains strong today, although interest in the marathon has waned slightly in recent years (as judged by annual finisher numbers) as popularity in the half marathon and the 5K have soared. It’s also been the distance du jour for celebrities running to raise money for charity or just to prove their mettle. (See Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs, Will Ferrell, Pam Anderson, Al Roker, Ed Norton, Mario Lopez, Sean Astin, Pippa Middleton, Drew Carey and Alicia Keys, among others.)

The modern-day marathon was born at the 1896 Olympics in Athens as a means to commemorate the 40K (or 25-mile) distance ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides ran to spread the news of a Greek victory over the invading Persians in 490 B.C. The marathon didn’t officially get longer until the 1908 Olympics in London, when Queen Alexandra requested that the race start on the lawn of Windsor Castle and finish in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium, a distance of 26 miles, 385 yards (or 26.2 miles).

Minimalist Running Shoes

Minimalist shoes are low-to-the-ground shoes that have little material (rubber, foam, etc.) between a runner’s foot and the ground. The minimalist boom occurred from about 2004 to 2011 when Nike, Newton, Vibram, New Balance and other brands launched minimally designed models.

Maximalist Running Shoes

Maximalist running shoes are high-off-the-ground models that feature thick foam midsole cushions. The maximalist boom occurred from about 2009 to 2014 when Hoka, Altra, Adidas, Nike and other brands launched maximally designed models.

PR/PB

These runner geeky acronyms stand for “personal record” or “personal best” for any given distance. For example, if your best time for a marathon is 3:22, that’s your “PR” or “PB” for the marathon.

Repeats

These are relative shorter, faster repetitive runs where you run at a high speed for 45 seconds to 6 minutes (or for a specific distance of 200 meters to 1 mile), rest long enough to recover slightly and bring your heart rate down a bit, then repeat each rep in your prescribed set as close to a consistent speed as possible. A workout may consist of a set number of 200s, 400s, 800s or miles or a workout that includes a combination of repeats of various distances—for example: 200, 400, 600, 800, 600, 400, 200—with an appropriate rest interval in between.

Rest Day

Hello nap time! Rest days—or a day off from running—are built into training schedules to give your body time to absorb all the training and conditioning. While naps are awesome, you don’t want to be glued to the couch for the entire day. This might be a day when you do some sort of active recovery in the form of cross-training, such as hiking, swimming, cycling or mountain biking. Also, you might consider getting some bodywork or a massage, go to a yoga class or take a walk. Use the time to recover and recharge so you’re stoked for another week of training.

Speed Work

The best way to get faster is to run faster in training! Fun, right? This term encompasses the things you do to get faster. Examples are fartleks, strides, intervals, repeats and hill workouts. (Although hill workouts are usually run at a relatively slower pace as you work against gravity, they’re really a speed session in disguise because they’re building explosive power, strength and speed in the same way track repeats do.)

Static Stretching

Remember the stretches you used to do at the beginning of gym class or sports practice in high school? You know, bend at the waist and touch your toes to stretch your hamstrings. Or stand on one leg and grab your other ankle to stretch your quad muscles. Those are static stretches. And doing them before a workout is no longer a good idea. Save these for after a workout, when muscles and ligaments are warm and limber. Hold stretches for upwards of 30-60 seconds. You want to feel the burn of each stretch, but it shouldn’t hurt—at least not in a bad way.

Strides

Strides, or wind sprints, are short bursts of speed that help to boost muscular power, build good running form and increase leg turnover. They’re an ideal tool to help you warm-up before a hard workout or a race. Typically, strides are 10- to 20-second sprints at about 80-85 percent effort. Sprint, take a walk or jog break, then sprint again until you’ve finished your set. You can do these anywhere, on the road, the track, a soccer field or even a smooth dirt trail.

Tempo Run (aka Lactate Threshold or Threshold Run)

Tempo is code for “lively tempo” meaning you need to pick up the pace and run at an effort just below race pace. While these runs may feel somewhat like a sufferfest, the purpose is to train your body to go faster for longer distances. Your pace should be comfortably hard, faster than conversational pace and also at a rate you can maintain for the duration of the run. Target speed should be faster than your everyday run, but slower than your 5K or 10K race pace.

XT or Cross-Training

These are the days when you can finally do something other than run! Swimming, biking and rowing are some good options. However, excitement often turns to despair when you realize you haven’t tuned your bike in months and you’re so tired that you think aimlessly wandering the aisles of Whole Foods counts (for the record, it doesn’t).

 

Allison Pattillo

Motiv Running senior editor Allison Pattillo writes about running, health, nutrition, gear and travel from her home in Colorado. When it comes to gear, she’s a fan of tall running socks, short running skirts and wearing her hat backwards. Even with a BQ and a few podium finishes (all triathlons should be run, bike, canoe!), Allison finds more inspiration from running in beautiful places and exploring on the run instead of the numbers on a stopwatch. She looks forward to the day when she finds her ultimate running dog, which, at this point, may be more bulldog than border collie.