What the Heck is Fartlek? How to Speak Like a Runner – Fast!

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Helen Foster
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One of the whole points of this blog is that it aims to be a happy place (or a safe space if you like that as a concept) for people who aren’t confident about the whole fitness thing. The plan is that you can come on here and get ideas and advice on ways to work out and enjoy it – and part of that involves knowing what the heck is going on when you’re exercising.

couple on the start line of a running track

After all, it can be quite intimidating walking into say, your first Pilates class when you’re not sure what to expect (and if that is happening, you need to have a look our Pilates 101 guide), to head into a gym full of strange machines that you’re not sure quite how to set up or join a group of regular exercisers who seem to talk in code.

And runners, do this last one a lot.

They have all sorts of strange running terms and language that gets scattered into conversation –  like PB, Tempo Run or taper – and if you’re not sure what they mean it can seem a bit like their speaking in code. And, it can be intimidating to ask – you don’t want to seem stupid.

As such, if you’ve started running and have maybe joined something like Parkrun (see below), a running club or, are just looking at running forums online, you might see a few terms banded about that you have never heard before (and so have no idea what they mean), or, maybe there’s some things you think you should know but don’t – and feel a bit embarrassed to ask (like how far is a marathon anyway?).

So, here’s what some of the most common running words and other bits of runner’s lingo mean…

The Dictionary of Running Words.

Cadence – the number of steps you take per minute. Apparently, 180 is ideal. That’s hard to count – so aim for 30 steps per 10 seconds.

Cross training – exercise that isn’t running. Useful to work other muscles

DLF – dead last finish – I did that in my first half marathon!

DNS – did not start – means you didn’t actually get to the start of the race.

DNF – Did not Finish, showed up but for some reason didn’t reach the end. When examining these three always remember the WISH motto below – DLF is greater than DNF which greatly trumps DNS.

Fartlek – means speed play in Swedish and it’s a way of training where basically you mix up fast and slow bits however you feel like it. So, sprint to the next lamppost – jog till that tree – sprint till you see something yellow. Whatever your little heart desires.

Field – number of runners in a race. If you don’t want to DLF it’s good to check the average time of the field in an event. If they are all three minutes faster per mile than you and you don’t want to come last, maybe try a different race for now (says the voice of experience).

Flushie – a real toilet close to the start line of a run. Generally less stinky than the Portaloos. If you find a secret one, never tell anyone!!!

Fuelbelt – a flat belt worn around the waist where you stash drinks, GU (see below), keys, phones, loo roll, phone and other essentials while you run. See also Flipbelt (our review of which is here)

GU – packets of sugary gel stuff that help you keep going during long runs. First rule of GU – only ever consume it close to a water station or you will end up with sticky paste in your mouth for ages – and possibly sticky hands.

Half marathon – a run of 13.1 miles (21km) – yes the 0.1 matters. Might also just be known as ‘a half’

Hill work – training by running up hills. It builds strength and endurance – the trick to it is to focus your energy on running up, then recover down.

Hitting The Wall (also known as boinking or bonking) – when you completely run out of energy during a long run. Risk is avoided by good training and correct use of GU.

Ice baths – stupid idea that sees you sitting in a freezing bath after a very long run. The theory is that it helps your legs recover. Thankfully science says otherwise so we can stop this now.

Interval Training – mixes up fast and slow, like Fartlek does, but in a more structured way – so you might do 30 seconds running as fast as you can, then jog to recover for a minute – the key with intervals is to focus on working as hard as you can on the fast bit, even if you have to walk to recover.

ITB – iliotibial band. A band of muscle that runs down the outer side of the thigh – it often plays up in runners. Google ITB stretch to see how to avoid it.

Long Slow Distance – torture – sorry, I mean a long run where you’re aiming to just get lots of miles under your belt without worrying how long it takes. Most of my runs fit this description – this is a bad plan as you never get faster using this approach!. Also known as an LSD.

Marathon – a run of 26.2 miles (42km) – yes that 0.2 matters too! Might also just be known as ‘a full’

Negative Splits – trying to run the second half of a run, faster than the first bit. Brings great joy when achieved.

Orthotics – insoles you put in your shoe to adjust the position of your feet to counteract things like pronation (see below). If you get them and they squeak, you’ll want to read this post on stopping that squeak.

Pacer – some events have special runners you can follow that keep you running at a certain speed – they often carry balloons or sticks with a time on so you can spot them. V useful if you want to PB (see below)

Parkrun – a free nationwide 5k run. It’s open to anyone, any ability and super friendly. Find out more at parkrun.org.uk

PB or PR – covering a distance faster than you’ve done before – stands for personal best or personal record.

Plantar Fasciitis – ow, ow, ow, ow. Repeat. Inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of your feet. The key symptom is a shooting pain as soon as you stand up in the morning. The University of Rochester stretch helps beat it.

Pronation – magic feet hit the ground straight when you run. Many people don’t have magic feet – they twist inward or outward when they land – that’s pronation. Over pronators roll inward, under pronators turn out.

Runstreak – running at least one mile (or another designated distance) every single day

Shin Splints – pains that appear up the front of your shin. Normally mean you’ve done a bit too much too soon – or your shoes need replacing. If this sounds familiar, check out our guide to reducing your risk of shin splints.

Tapering – the couple of weeks before a long run like a marathon where you start to reduce your mileage so you are fresh on the day

Taper Madness – jittery, slightly manic feeling that occurs when you do this (see above).

Tempo Run – running at a pace that feels a little bit hard for at least 20 minutes. I don’t do tempo runs. They are horrible. This is why I don’t get any faster. Don’t be like me, do your tempos.

Split time – the time you want to get to a certain distance in your run.

Ultradistance – anything longer than a marathon.

So, that’s my list of runners terms… have I forgotten anything? Feel free to add any suggestions for other running terms or running language below and I’ll add them to the dictionary.

If you found this list of running words useful, why not share it on social media so other folk can find it too.

Image: freedigitalphoto.net

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