A quick A-Z of running terms for beginners

November 26, 2015

We've all been there at some point. We're starting our running journey and we're bombarded by hundreds of terms we have no idea how to comprehend. All we want to do is go for a run, be it a simple couch to 5K, or if you're a bit more brave and attempting a longer distance, these terms might put you off. Don't worry, you're not alone, I even have some trouble getting my head around all the running lingo out there. With that in mind, I've created a quick list of the terms you might need to know and what they mean. This will be added to in time and we'll post the link back on Facebook when we do. If you have heard a term and think it should be included, comment below and we'll credit you beside the term!!

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: While both aerobic and anaerobic exercises burn glucose, there are some differences. Aerobic exercise is long in duration but low in intensity (like walking or jogging), while anaerobic exercise is short in duration but high in intensity (like sprinting or heavy lifting).

Anaerobic Threshold (AT)

This is the point of exercise where the going gets tough, and lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. Despite popular belief that lactic acid is what's causing muscle fatigue, the body actually produces it as fuel to keep going. Still, it doesn't mean workouts, like tempo runs, done at this threshold are a piece of cake!

Cadence: Also known as stride turnover, a runner’s cadence is the number of steps taken per minute while running. The fastest and most efficient runners have a cadence of around 180 steps per minute, so find a fast-paced song on the iPod and keep to the beat!

Carb-Loading: You're going to hear this term from time to time, but this is aimed at endurance runners who might be running a half-marathon, full marathon or an ultra-marathon. This is a process where runners take in a higher amount of carbs in their diets in the days and weeks before an event. If you want to more about Carb-Loading, we have some articles on site about the hows and whys.

Cool down: After a run, particularly a long run or one where you put in a lot of effort, you need to bring your heart rate down slowly and keeps the blood moving around your body. The best cool down is a ten minute walk after your run.

Fartlek: Much like IKEA, the word originates in Sweded. Fartlek or speed play is a speed work format in which you run faster for however long (or short) you want. A simple example of what a runner would do during a fartlek run is sprint all out from one light pole to the next, jog to the corner, give a medium effort for a couple of minutes, jog between four light poles and sprint to a stop sign, and so on, for a set total time or distance.


Form: No one wants to be “that awkward runner,” which is why nailing proper form or running technique is key when lacing up. Try to keep the upper body tall yet relaxed and swing the arms forward and back at low 90-degree angles.

Foot Strike: There’s a right way and a wrong way to make every step count. A runner should strike the ground with their mid-foot, not the tippy-toes or heels. Try using light steps that land right under the hip for lower impact—aka fewer injuries!

Hill Session: Hill sessions are a great way of helping improve your speed and stamina. Luckily in Ireland, we have no shortage of hills!! One of these sessions includes sprinting uphill fast, jogging downhill at an easy pace to recover, and then repeating this a set number of times depending on the distance you are running. It’s thought to be an efficient way to build leg strength, speed, and aerobic capacity. Hill repeats reduce your injury risk because it limits fast-running time and because the incline of a hill shortens the distance your feet have to fall, reducing the impact of each step.

Interval training: Interval Training is tough but a great way to improve your speed. The main focus is on periods of high intensity training such as sprints followed by a period of recovery before starting another high intensity period. There are loads of examples out there, but this is example of an interval session where all parts would be completed.

30 seconds sprint/30 seconds recover

1 minute sprint/1 minute recover

2 minutes sprint/2 minutes recover

4 minutes sprint/4 minutes recover

2 minutes sprint/2 minutes recover

1 minute sprint/1 minute recover

30 seconds sprint/30 seconds recover

Negative splits: This might be one of the easier terms. This is simply running the second half of a race faster than the first half. The theory is you will conserve energy by easing your way into a race and finishing stronger.

Orthotics: The types of orthotics can vary but invariably, they are different types of insoles. Orthotics can be hard or soft, and of varying length, depending on what injury they’re trying to address. You should wear orthotics only if advised to in order to address a specific underlying imbalance or weakness. Running shops can help you determine if you require orthotics.

Overpronation: As someone who overpronates, I know all about this one. It is defined as excessive inward roll of the foot, which can cause pain in the foot, shin, and knee. In other words, you strike the ground with the outside of your heel and your foot rolls to push off your big toe like in the image below. If you are unsure about this, simply go into a running shop and they will tell you what foot type you have. It is important to get the right shoes based on your running type.

Pace: Pace is simply how fast you are running over a given distance in a given time. Depending on how you measure your runs, in KM or miles, you will be running X minutes per KM or mile. Your running pace at a given effort level will vary greatly from day to day, depending on the weather, your fatigue level, and numerous other factors so don't worry if you're not running at the same pace every day. While it’s good to have a general idea of how fast you’re running, it’s best not to base your running around hitting certain paces all the time. Doing so usually leads to working too hard, and can drain much of the enjoyment from your running. As you gain fitness, you’ll naturally speed up.

Recovery: Recovery can vary depending on your workout. If you are running a fartlek, recovery might be the time where you can jog at a slower pace in order to catch your breath. Recovery lets your heart rate return to the point where you’re ready to run fast again, and it helps you regain the energy you’ll need for the next burst of speed.

Runner's knee: Hopefully you won't have to look this up, but it is a common running injury that can be painful. This common running injury is caused by inflammation of the underside of the kneecap. A common cause in new runners is building up mileage too quickly, so be sure to take it easy. Being at a good running weight and have strong, flexible quad and hip muscles help to lessen your risk for developing runner’s knee.

Shin Splints: Another common running injury, shin splints refer to pain on or around the shinbones. Most cases can be treated with rest and ice, but could signal it’s time to whip out the credit card for some new running sneakers.


Speedwork: Also called intervals or repeats, speedwork refers to any workout run at a faster-than-normal pace. Often done at a track. Performed to increase cardiovascular fitness.

Splits: The time it takes to complete any defined distance. If you’re running 800 meters, or two laps, you might check your split after the first lap to shoot for an even pace.

Strides: Also called striders or “pickups,” these are typically 80- to 100-meter surges that are incorporated into a warmup or a regular workout. Strides increase heart rate and leg turnover; they get your legs ready to run. Strides are run near 80 percent of maximum effort, with easy jogging in between.

Tempo: When runners talk about doing a “tempo run” they usually mean a sustained, faster-than-usual run of 3 to 6 miles at the pace they could sustain for an hour in a race. Tempo runs are said to feel “comfortably hard”—you have to concentrate to keep the effort going, but aren’t running with as much effort as a sprint or 5-K race. Tempo runs are a good way to boost your fitness without doing hard track workouts.

VO2 max: A measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can consume per minute while exercising. VO2 max is determined by genetics, gender, body composition, age, and training. Runners with a naturally high VO2 max often find it easier to run faster because their hearts can deliver more oxygen to their muscles. There are many ways to boost VO2 max, including speedwork, which forces the heart to pump blood at a higher rate.

The Wall: Typically refers to a point when a runner’s energy levels plummet, breathing becomes tougher, and negative thoughts begin to flood in; this often happens at mile 20 of a marathon. Experts say that it usually happens two-thirds of the way through any race, no matter the distance. Hitting the wall often occurs because you’ve run out of fuel and need carbohydrates (like a sports drink or an energy gel) that the body can convert into fuel for the muscles to use. 

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