October 26, 2013

Running Lingo (Running terms and their meanings)

I've been meaning to write this post for a very long time. Some questions I get asked all the time are questions about running: What does PR mean? What's a tempo run? What the heck does 6 x 400 mean? and stuff like that. So I thought it would be fun to write a post to explain the basics.

Common Race Distances

5K (kilometers)= about 3.11 miles
10K= about 6.21 miles
15K= about 9.32 miles
Half-Marathon= about 13.11 miles
Marathon= about 26.22 miles

Common Terms

Pace - The speed that you're running, usually referred to in minutes per mile. For example, "My goal was to run a 9:30 pace for the 5K" would mean that I was hoping that my average time would be 9 minutes and 30 seconds for each mile of the 5K race.

Pacer - A lot of big races use "pacers" to help runners reach their time goals. The pacer runs a particular pace throughout the entire race in order to finish at a very specific time. For example, a 4:00 pacer at a marathon will finish the race in four hours; if you stick with him/her, then you don't have to focus on your watch to meet your goal time of 4:00.

Cadence - The number of steps taken per minute.

Taper - The final few days to few weeks leading up to a race, where you reduce mileage and/or hard effort runs. Typical tapers for common distances are 3-5 days for a 10K, 7-10 days for a half-marathon, and 2-3 weeks for a marathon. The purpose of the taper is to allow your muscles to recover and prepare for the hard effort of the race itself. 

PR - This stands for "personal record", also known as PB (personal best). It refers to your fastest finish time for a particular race distance. For example, "I'm hoping for a PR at the 10K this weekend"; that means that my goal is to run the 10K faster than I ever have previously.

Splits - Dividing one run or race into smaller parts (usually one mile). Each part is called a "split".

Negative Splits - Each split gets faster as you run. For example, running a 5K with mile splits of 9:50, 9:42, and 9:31 are negative splits. A negative split race is when you run the second half of the race faster than the first half. Negative splits are a good thing; it shows that you finish strong!

Positive Splits - Where each split gets slower as the run progresses. For example, a 5K with mile times of 9:45, 9:53, and 10:03 would be positive splits. Despite the "positive" name, it's not good to have positive splits ;)

Common Types of Running/Training Workouts

Easy pace runs - Running done at a conversational pace; you should be able to chat with a running partner, and not be gasping for breath. The majority of your running each week should be done at an easy pace.

Tempo runs (a.k.a. threshold or steady-state run) - Done at a pace that you could race for approximately one hour. Length of a tempo is usually 20-30 minutes, but could be as long as an hour. It should feel hard, but not all-out race pace. Usually shouldn't be done more than once a week.

Long runs - By RRCA standards, this is a run that is over 90 minutes long; but most runners use "long run" to describe their longest run of the week. Usually done once per week (or three times per month) at an easy, conversational pace.

Strides - Short bursts of speed for about 80-150 meters. These can be done on their own (a lot of runners use them to warm up before a race) or they can be done within a longer, easy run. They aren't meant to be an all-out sprint, but should be done at around 5K pace.

Intervals - A fast bout of running, followed by a slow jog (or walk) to recover; basically, alternating fast and slow speeds at regular intervals. Common interval distances are 400 meters (one time around a track, or about 1/4 mile), 800 meters, 1200 meters, and 1600 meters. Generally, the recovery jog is about half the distance of the speed interval (could be longer or shorter, depending on the goal of the workout).

Intervals are usually written like this: 8 x 400m at 90 seconds with 200m jogs (The "8" refers to the number of fast intervals; the "400m" is the distance of the fast intervals, 400 meters; the "90 seconds" is how long it should take to run the 400m; the "200m" is the distance of the recovery jog between the fast intervals. So you would run 400 meters (~1/4 mile) in 90 seconds, then jog slowly for 200 meters; and repeat for a total of 8 times.

Fartlek runs - Similar to intervals, but the bursts of speed aren't done at regular intervals. There is no specific distance or pace for each interval. You might see a tree ahead, and run fast to the tree, then slow down until you get to the next mailbox, and then run fast when you get to the corner store, etc. Impromptu and varied intervals.

Race Pace run - A run done at your planned pace for an upcoming race. "Race Pace" refers to the minutes and seconds per mile for the duration of the race.

C25K - Short for "Couch to 5K", which is a nine-week program to train a "couch potato" to run a 5K.

I could probably get way more in-depth on this, but I wanted to stick with the basics for now. Happy running!


  1. Seriously, every time I read your blog something always helps me out! Thank you for this because I've been absolutely confused about all these terms, and I was never able to make them make sense!


  2. GREAT POST! Although I have ran many races I have to be honest in that I had no clue what half of these things meant. Very informational!

  3. LOVE this post. I get asked a bunch of the same questions and shall point them in the direction of this post!

  4. What is the term for celebrating the end of a race with a glass of wine?? Love ya Katie!!

  5. Why is it that beginner runners first goal after actually being able to do continuous running to do a 5k run? Is it that we don't feel we're serious runners until we can run 5k without stopping?

    1. I think it's more of a goal to run a race, and the 5K is such a popular distance for races. It gives people a goal to work toward!

  6. As a new runner, this was very helpful...thanks!


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