Fan Girl’s Guide to the Language of the Runners
(conjugating verbs not necessary, partial snot-rocket instructions included)
I first realized I knew nothing about running long before I had any desire to know anything about running.
Freshman year of college a tall skinny guy was in line for the dorm microwave behind me and, much to my dismay (I wasn’t into guys who wore a smaller pants size than me), started chatting.
“So you’re on the softball team? I’m on the track team.”
“Uhh, awesome. So you must be, like, fast or something.”
“I’m a decathlete.”
“… I’m done with the microwave.” (walks away)
What! It’s really hard to feign interest in anything, let alone something you don’t understand, when your Top Ramen is bubbling over the sides of the bowl. After retreating with my soup from the common room, I tucked into my desk and googled “duhcathalete.” More for procrastination tactics and less for intrigue in Mr Track Team, but once I read about all the running, jumping, and throwing… Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly impressed.
(FYI the Decathlon is comprised of ten separate track and field events, and a cummulative score of all ten crowns the winner. Ashton Eaton set a new world record at the Olympics and is considered the “World’s Greatest Athlete.”)
Not wanting to give him a big head thinking I researched his sport but needing to make up for a little athletic dunce-ness, I razzed him at our next microwave meeting about “that pointy stick thing you throw” and asked how his “games” went. You know, playing it too cool for (track) school. Our dorm rendezvous fizzled away, and my T&F interest ended along with it.
Anyway, in light of Wilson Kipsang’s new marathon world record and laughing remembering the “duhcathalete” dunce moment, I started reeling through all the unique runner vocabulary, and how confusing and intimidating it can be to a casual observer or new fan. People throw acronyms and names and splits and “did you just say fart?” around like they’re speaking some secret Runnerd language and there’s no translator for the rest of us.
Since I’ve been there, nodding in fake comprehension and mumbling through questionable pronunciations, I wanted to put a cheat sheet together with the intel I’ve collected over my time as an Evolving Fan Girl. hopefully it helps break down the language barrier a bit, and who knows, maybe it will help someone land a date with the next Mr Track Team waiting for the communal microwave.
Let’s start with some easy ones…
Section I : Acronyms
WR/AR – World/American Record. The former of which Kipsang gave the smack down to at the Berlin Marathon this September.
PR/PB – Personal Record/Best. Synonymous, but from my research I hypothesize one is universal and one is metric. Road runners tend to refer to setting Personal Records in their mile-based races, while track athletes tend to refer to their metric-distance races (800 meter, 5km) as PBs. Personally, I am all about PB = Peanut Butter.
DNS – Did Not Start. Usually used by injured runners whose logic outweighs their stubbornness, or scatterbrains who fail to realize the race they double booked a race with Big Work Trip/Cousin Sally’s Wedding/Lifelong Dream Vacation.
DNF – Did Not Finish. We don’t like to talk about these much.
DFL – Dead __(insert choice “f” adjective)__ Last. Self explanatory.
PEDs – Performance Enhancing Drugs. aka ‘Cheater Juice.’
USADA – United States Anti-Doping Agency. In charge of catching the cheaters, keeping the sport fair, and requiring “good aim” be a skill professional runners strive for. Not to be confused with the USDA which quality grades the beef at your supermarket.
Section II : Workouts
Fartlek – The best word in the running language. Meaning “speed play” in Swedish, you basically run fast and then run slow over and over again, for varying times or distances. For instance – 3:00 hard, 1:00 easy, 2:00 hard, :45 easy, 1:00 hard, :30 easy. Or “to that light pole”, “to the mailbox”, “around the block”, etc.
Intervals – Like a fartlek but less fun to say and more monotonous. ie: Mile Repeats, to the Jones’s driveway and back, etc.
Yasso 800s – A popular speed workout used to predict marathon finish times. Cliffnote: If you can run 10 reps of 800m in 3:30 each (with equal rest between) you can run a 3:30 marathon. (Physically, at least. Mentally is a whole ‘nother ballgame.)
Double – Two runs, one day. Can also refer to two races (track: 1500/800, ultra: 50k Saturday/Marathon Sunday) or two long runs back-to-back.
Strides - The simplest but most mis-understood form drill out there. Done 2-3x/week after easy runs, purpose is to get used to running fast efficiently and relaxed.
Section III : Terminology
Slog – “Slow” + “jog” Usually occurring the day after a hard workout or a heavy night of drinking.
Split – A measurement during a run or race, usually in braggart’s terms. “clocked a xx:xx at the 10k split”, “my splits for that tempo were right on target”, etc.
Douche Grade – an ultrarunning term for a hill that is not steep. Like when your ass feels it but your eyes can’t see it.
Junk Miles – An easy non-workout run, not necessarily related to your feeling while running them.
“Drop the Hammer” – The “hammer” is what you’ve got left at the end of a race, to “drop it” means to give it all, and in turn usually makes for some awful finish line photos.
Negative/Positive Split – The first half vs. the last half of a race or run. Negative – faster second half; Positive – faster first half, usually coupled with an immense amount of pain, dread, self-loathing, and slow times. It is universally accepted that negative splitting is the “right” way to run a race.
Bonk – A funny word depicting a very not funny situation, typically in conjunction with aforementioned positive split. Is also referred to as…
“Hitting the Wall” – an arguably imaginary immobile object in front of you near the end of a race, blocking you from forward motion and in turn sucking all of the hope from your battered and broken runner soul. Recovery time from a hard wall hit can range anywhere from immediately after sighting the finish line and eternity. (the former being more common)
Section IV : Races
Marathon - Despite common misconception, a “marathon” is not just any “really long run.” Only races 26.2 miles in length are called marathons. Hereby abolishing the phrase “How long is your marathon this weekend?”
Ultra – Any race longer than 26.2 miles.
Cross – Cross-country, or XC. A fall sport, ran on a dirt or grass in all sorts of shitty weather. The off-roading of running.
“Eight”, “Fifteen”, etc – Track shorthand for 800 meter, 1500 meter race.
Race Walk – Typically 10 or 20k event where severe hip-swingers walk faster than my running 5k PR pace.
Rabbit – Hired pace-maker for track races
Steeple – 3000 meter (7.5 laps) event with big hurdles and a water pit on the track. Basically a rope swing and tire drill shy of a full-fledged obstacle course.
photo credit: Getty
Section V : Issues
IT Band – In the Runner’s version of Greek Mythology, Achilles’ name is actually Illiotibial Bandeus. If anything below your shoulders hurts it’s probably because of this.
Chafing – Skin rubbed raw that exposes itself once you’re in the shower and suddenly OMG THE SEARING PAIN! HAVE MERCY MAKE IT STOP! (see also: Body Glide)
Bloody Nipples – A frequent late-in-the-race shirt decoration for male marathoners, who all seem to love to wear white.
Runner Trots - An embarrassing yet common issue of mid-run “gotta goes”
Snot Rocket, or Farmer’s Blow - Expelling nasal mucus in a graceful and classy way mid-run. An acquired talent.
Section VI : Pronunciation
Meb Keflezighi (US Marathoner) - Ka-FLEZ-gee
Evan Jager (US Steepler) - JAY-gurr
Saucony (shoe brand) - SAHK-ah-nee
and of course...
Oiselle - WAH-zell
Hopefully that clears up some things and sends you into your next Runnerd convo confident and prepared. Feel free to share any others I missed in the comments below, and thanks for following!
Yours in newbie Fan Girl-ness,