A Beginner’s Guide to Running Lingo

A Beginner’s Guide to Running Lingo

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
November 14, 2023

Every sport has a ridiculous amount of sport-specific lingo. To people who aren’t intimately involved in that sport, those terms can sound like a foreign language.

To make things easier for new runners, here’s a quick key to some of the terms you may hear in a running group, from a coach, or on your TV if you’re watching a marathon or track meet.

Terms Related to Running Form

Whether you’re working with a coach, reading about running, or just over hear people talking about running and running form, these terms will pop up in various circumstances. Knowing some or all of them (and more!) can help decipher some things. However, refer to the last item on this list for a healthy number one goal.

Stride: The way you run—the motion your body makes from one step to the other while you run.

Used in a sentence: “She has a very upright stride, while he has more of a forward-leaning stride.”

Toe-off: The part of your stride where you roll from your toes to your next step.

Used in a sentence: “My shoes feel like it propels me forward with every toe-off.”

Heel strike/heel striker: When the first part of your foot that hits the ground during your strike is your heel.

Used in a sentence: “I’m a heel-striker.”

Midfoot: Refers to landing, duh, on the middle part of your foot during your stride.

Used in a sentence: “Some say that landing on your midfoot is a more efficient way to run than landing on your heels.”

Forefoot: Refers to runners who and on their forefoot.

Used in a sentence: “Sprinters are the only ones who really land on their forefoot.”

Neutral pelvis: An ideal body position where your butt isn’t sticking out behind you creating an exaggerated curve in your lower back, or, tilted under you where your lower back (and pelvis) aren’t tipping backward.

Used in a sentence: “Running with a neutral pelvis helps create a more fluid stride.”

Arm carriage: Not a little cart for your arms, rather, the way you “carry” your arms while you run. Close and tight to your body? With your shoulders shrugged? Across your body?

Used in a sentence: My coach yelled out as I ran by, “Think about your arm carriage!”and I had no idea what she was talking about until I read this blog post.

Efficient/Efficiency: Expending the least amount of energy as possible while running (but not by not running).

Used in a sentence: “Swinging your arms back-and-forth while you run, instead of across your body, is more efficient.”

Cadence: The frequency with which you place your feet for every step during a run.

Used in a sentence: “The most efficient runners run with a high cadence, but plenty of good runners run with a slower cadence.”

Natural: How you run naturally.

Used in a sentence: “Don’t bother yourself with all these terms about running form. Run in a way that feels natural to you, while keeping some form tips, like running with a neutral pelvis, in mind.”

Terms Related to Training

If you work with a running coach, or read about running to learn how to improve, you may here the following terms(and many, many more).

Fartlek: Not as gross as it sounds, “Farlek” is a Swedish word for “speed play” and is used to describe short bursts of speed during training runs.

Used in a sentence: “I did a Fartlek workout with a 15-minute warmup, and four pick ups of various lengths, plus a 10-minute cooldown.”

Effort: Pushing the pace.

Used in a sentence: “My Fartlek workout included four efforts.”

Tempo: Pushing the pace for a set amount of time, usually longer than Fartlek efforts.

Used in a sentence: “Tempo runs are usually hard efforts, but not quite max efforts.”

Recovery: Time needed between efforts, or running days, to let your body recover.

Used in a sentence: “I’m getting stronger and becoming a better runner because I’ve been giving myself time to recover between run/run-walk days! It’s a amazing!”

Bonk/Bonking: When you suddenly feel horrible—depleted, trashed—on a run.

Used in a sentence: “I was feeling great and then I bonked. I should have eaten something before that long run.”

Running Shoe Terms

These are just a handful of the many terms used in the world of running shoes. Knowing these will give you an idea of what the running shoe salesperson is talking about the next time you shop for shoes. It is highly recommended to shop for shoes in person, utilizing the help of a knowledgeable specialty running shoe store salesperson.

Midsole: The middle part of the shoe beneath where your foot sits and above the outsole that touches the ground.

Used in a sentence: “Some shoes have a very fat midsole.”

Neutral/neutral-cushioned: Shoes that don’t aim to adjust your stride at all.

Used in a sentence: “If you don’t pronate, you’ll be most comfortable in a neutral shoe.”

Pronate/Pronation: When your foot/feet roll inward due to flat arches, collapsed arches, or other biomechanic reasons.

Used in a sentence: “Stability shoes or inherently stable shoes can feel good and supportive for runners who pronate.”

Stable/Stability: Shoes that are constructed to provide some stability to runners who pronate.

Used in a sentence: “My knee has been hurting, so the shoe salesperson recommended a more stable shoe.”

Outsole: The bottom/outer part of a running shoe—the part that touches the ground.

Used in a sentence: “I have a piece of gum stuck to the outsole of my shoes.”

Traction: Refers to how well your shoes grab the ground. As a noun, “traction” refers to the lugs on trail running shoes, or the varying types of rubber on different parts of road running shoe outsoles.

Used in a sentence: “I became much more confident running trails once I bought trail running shoes because the traction gave me better footing.”

Upper: The “soft” part of the shoe that encapsulates your foot, often made of some kind of mesh.

Used in a sentence: “I found these shoes that felt great, but the upper was just so ugly I couldn’t do it.”

You can absolutely be a runner and not use—or even know—any of these terms. But, knowing some of them might help you navigate your new world of running.


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