September 20 2018
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Committing to a training program, whether it’s in preparation for a race or simply for the structure of it, is always full of nervous excitement. That is, until you look at your program and the excitement morphs into confusion, or even fear, because you have no clue what the words and abbreviations mean. Fartleks? 400s? How easy is easy and how hard is hard? This is definitely one of those cases where a little knowledge makes all the difference. Trust me, you aren’t alone. In looking back through years’ worth of old training programs, I have notations, definitions and explanations written all over them!
Related: Your Running Lingo Cheat Sheet
We’ve compiled this terminology “cheat sheet” so you can get the most from your workouts and work your way toward a PR (personal record) or maybe even a BQ (Boston Marathon qualifying time)!
One lap around a track, also one-quarter of a mile; this is a commonly used distance for repeats in track workouts.
Two laps around a track, also one half-mile; this is another common distance for repeats in track workouts.
Unless you are training for a triathlon, you may not see this term in a training plan. It means doing two different workouts back to back, like a bike ride and a run, or a swim and a ride.
The number of steps you take in a minute. The ideal number for running—meaning the most efficient with a reduced likelihood for injuries—is 180 steps per minute.
For those deep in the depths of race training, or even those who don’t have time to do one big run at once, your coach or training program may suggest two runs in a day. The goal is to have time to recover for the second, but to still gain the experience of running on tired legs.
These are exercises used to warm up before a run. The goal is to activate the muscles you’ll use during your workout. Instead of standing in place to stretch (static stretching), do things like walking lunges and high knees.
Keep these runs shorter and at a conversational pace.
This is a Swedish word for “speed play”—sounds like a blast, right?! The word itself is kind of humorous. And distance, speed and number are up to you. The goal is to keep these variable speed bursts relatively short and snappy. Once you’re into your run, do them from tree to tree, light post to light post, past a certain number of parked cars—whatever makes it work for you.
Repeated short bursts heading uphill help to develop strength and power. They also give you the opportunity to slow down and focus on form. It’s important to warm up first, then run uphill for the prescribed amount of time, walk or easy jog back to the start and repeat as directed.
Sometimes “intervals” and “repeats” may be used interchangeably, but they are different. Intervals actually refer to the amount of time spent resting between runs (likely between repeats, adding to the confusion). The endurance benefit comes in running when you aren’t recovered between sets. To reach this goal, the time spent recovering between sets is usually less than the time spent running the set itself. Keep in mind the “interval” may actually be a recovery jog instead of time spent standing still.
These are short, fast distances, usually associated with track workouts, where you run at a high speed, rest long enough to recover and bring your heart rate down, then repeat each set as close to a consistent speed as possible. A workout may comprise of a set number of 400s with rest between each. The rest period between sets is generally two to four times longer than the time spent running the actual set.
This is your day to recharge! Treat yourself to body work, sleep, stretch, be social, do some yoga or go for a walk. Your body needs to recover from the hard work you’ve been logging. Too often runners will skip the rest day, but it’s essential to respect it. Whether you go by six days on/one off or another program, enjoy your rest day. You’ve earned it!
All the things you do to make you a faster runner (e.g. fartleks, intervals, repeats and strides) count as speed work. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you have to go fast to get faster!
Post-run, when muscles are warmed up, is the time to hold stretches for longer periods of time to improve flexibility and mobility. You want to feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t hurt. Hold stretches for upward of 60 seconds.
These are mid-run or post-run speed bursts to build speed and increase leg turnover. You can do them anywhere during any run. Get warmed up and then decide how many you are going to do. The process is adding in 20 to 40-second sprints during your run. Sprint, take a walk or jog break, then sprint again until you’ve finished your set. You want to be snappy—aim for 85+ percent effort.
When you see a tempo run on your schedule, it’s time to pick up the pace! These runs should be comfortably hard, faster than conversational pace at a rate you can maintain for the duration of the run. You may also see this referred to as a lactate-threshold or threshold run. You are adapting your body to run faster for longer distance. Your coach or some personal trial and error can help you determine a pace, but aim for faster than your everyday run and slower than your 5K or 10K pace. Sometimes your coach will prescribe a goal pace ahead of time.
Ramping up the miles too fast can be hard and even injurious to your body. Cross-training gives the chance to improve fitness in a low-impact way. Swimming, biking, rowing and grinding it out on an elliptical trainer are all complementary to running.