Beginner’s Guide to Running Terminology: Part 1

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beginners guide to running terminology Beginner’s Guide to Running Terminology: Part 1

If you are new to the sport of running, you might quickly find that it is not just the physical act of running that is overwhelming.  You might feel utterly lost when it comes to “runner speak.” Perhaps you have made it a point to pick and stick to a training plan, but upon reading the first few lines, you have no idea what it’s even talking about!

Before you throw in the towel altogether, know that it really only takes a little bit of time before you start understanding “runner slang” and actually begin regularly using it in your day to day conversations as well. (Bonus points for multiple words used together in the same sentence!) Until you’ve mastered the art of runner speak, let this list of running words/phrases and their definitions help you navigate those situations when you are surrounded by runners who seem to be speaking in a completely different language.

Food and Nutrition

Fuel: What runners call food. Fuel is the energy source fueling your run. Calling it fuel makes it sound better when your runger (see below) is out of control and you eat the entire bag of chips.

Carbo Load: Refers to when runners eat a carbohydrate rich meal to refill their glycogen stores, whether because they have been depleted due to training or because they are preparing for an upcoming race or hard run. Carbs are the easiest and fastest source of energy to fuel running and workouts.

Rungry: When you become ravenously hungry within the day after your run. Runger can quickly lead to being hangry (you are so hungry that you become angry).

Hitting the Wall/Bonking: When you run out of easily accessible and fast-burning glycogen sources that were providing energy to your run.  This usually occurs in long distance races such as marathons.  Hitting the wall can feel like extreme fatigue, lethargy, and heavy, dull and aching muscles. Avoid bonking by fueling properly which includes taking in fuel every certain number of miles during long runs and races.

Running Injuries

ITBS: Also known as Iliotibial Band Syndrome. The IT Band runs from the top of your hip down through your shin. It helps propel you forward with each stride and after repeated use without proper stretching, it can quickly become very tight and knotted (which leads to stiffness and some serious pain). Tight, inflamed IT Band is not only painful but can end up being detrimental to your running. The IT Band helps secure your knee and other joints and ligaments in your knee. An inflamed IT Band can result in less stability to these joints and ligaments, and lead to other injuries.

Plantar Fasciitis: When the tendon that runs along the bottom of your foot, from the heel to the toes, becomes inflamed and painful.  If you experience pain in that area especially when you first wake up in the morning chances are you have a case of plantar fasciitis.

Runner’s Knee: As the name suggests, this one is very popular among runners. It involves pain in the patella (the knee bone) and is often caused by overuse mixed with weak surrounding muscles (like weak, fatigued quads and hamstrings). In fact, the best way to avoid runner’s knee is to strength train and stretch the surrounding muscles.

Shin Splints: When the muscles on the media (inside) or anterior (outside) side of your shins become inflamed. Shin splints typically affect new runners who try to add too much mileage too quickly, runners who have a running stride that puts too much weight and emphasis on either the inside or outside part of the shin, runners who aren’t stretching and foam rolling enough and runners who aren’t wearing the right supportive shoes. Shin splints are tiny tears in the shin muscles that result in the muscle pulling away from the bone it is attached too. (Yeah. Ouch.)

Stress Fracture: Overtime, the wear and tear of running can add up in small ways that suddenly become a big problem. Stress fractures are very small hairline fractures that occur in the bones due to overuse. If left untreated, (AKA you keep running) the miniature fractures grow deeper and bigger, leaving you with a stress fracture or multiple stress fractures that can sideline you for at least six weeks. Best advice? Stop at the first onset of pain and give yourself a few days off to see if pain subsides or improves.

DOMS: Stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  If you have ever lifted weights or tried a strength training program, you’ve probably experienced DOMS.  As the name states, it is pain that starts 8 or more hours after a hard workout. DOMS still baffles scientists and exercise experts because of its delayed nature.  As a runner, just beware that, even if you feel like a million bucks after that track workout, you might not be singing the same tune tomorrow morning.

Black Toenails: Runners are the people the pedicurists dread, and black toenails is one reason. It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Toenails become cracked, bruised, and beat up after repeated pounding and pushing against your sock and shoe after many, many miles of training. Most of the time, black toenails mean they are “dead” and will eventually fall off. Let’s just say that running does a heck of a lot of positive things for your physique, but it isn’t going to land you on the fast track to becoming the world’s next best foot model.

Running Attire and Gear

Foam Roller: Also known as your best friend and worst enemy as a runner. This torture device is used to literally roll out tight muscles, making those legs hurt oh-so-good.  Is used for both treatment of injuries as well as prevention.

Fuel Belt: A belt worn around your waist during running that can hold all your essentials such as keys, phone, music device, and fuel such as energy bars, energy chews, etc. to keep you going.

Compression socks reviewed

Compression Socks: Tight-fitting socks that promote circulation to your feet, ankles, and lower legs to help speed up recovery.  Other compression gear includes compression calf sleeves, compression arm sleeves, compression tights, compression shorts and more.

Minimalist Shoes: Running shoes that have minimal support and are less bulky when compared with traditional running shoes. Some extreme version look like toe-socks, while others offer enough support that most runners prefer them because of their lightweight.

Be sure to check out Part 2 tomorrow!


  1. Emily Faherty, The Ultimate Guide to Running Lingo,
  2. Jennifer Van Allen, A Guide to Common Running Terms, Runner's Wolrd Blog