The Encyclopedia of Runningness (part one)

Like most other hobbies, sports and warlike Star Trek aliens, running has its own language. I’m guessing that by virtue of the fact that you’re reading a running(ish) blog, most of you will be runners of varying experience and ability, but for those of you who came here by accident while researching exciting new eggnog recipes (and are now unable to navigate away, trapped by my tractor beam of nonsense) I’ve knocked up a quick guide to some of the terms you might hear being casually tossed around by sweaty people in lycra.

(On the subject of accidental visitors to this site, I’d like to offer my sincere apologies to anyone who got sent here after entering the phrase “casually tossed around by sweaty people in lycra” into their search engine. I really don’t think you’ll find what you were looking for here, and if you do then I’d like to offer even more apologies to my other readers.)

Given my tendency to ramble on, I’ve decided that instead of writing an entire encyclopedia in one go, I’ll just start it off here and add to it now and then. So then…


This is a Swedish word that translates as “Cunning Swedish joke in which we come up with the rudest sounding word we can, and tell the rest of the world that it means Speed Play (a flexible, less structured form of interval training). We can then feel superior to them as they fall around giggling like 9 year olds”


Not a running term, but the sort of noise one might make whenever one hears the word “Fartlek”.


Long Slow Run. An essential component of most training programmes. In some magical way that I haven’t quite worked out yet, running slowly actually makes the pace of your shorter runs much quicker. Not to be confused with LSD, which is something else entirely. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is by this simple formula:

Evil little goblins are chewing your eyeballs = LSD.

Evil little goblins are chewing your knees = LSR.

Tempo run

This one has always confused me, and whenever I think I’ve got the definitive answer to “what is a tempo run” something else pops up and confuses me all over again. It seems that pretty much everyone who’s even vaguely regarded as an authority on running will have their own idea of what a tempo run is, but the one thing they all (infuriatingly) agree on is that if you get it wrong you’re wasting your time. Jack Daniels (not that one) is pretty much the Dungeon Master of running science, and he describes tempo runs thusly… “A tempo run is nothing more than 20 minutes of steady running at threshold pace”. What’s threshold pace? Well, Running Times has this to say… “Without getting too technical, threshold pace is the effort level just below which the body’s ability to clear lactate, a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism, can no longer keep up with lactate production”. Yeah, thanks for that chaps, really helpful. You clearly used the words “without getting too technical” to make yourselves sound clever so that girls would fancy you. So I’ve taken the simple route of declaring a tempo run as anything reasonably nippy that doesn’t fit into my definition of intervals, LSR or an actual race.


When you finish a race, you get a finishing time. Ha! If only life were that simple. No, in fact you’ll have several to choose from:

Gun time: The time that has elapsed from the moment the starting pistol (or klaxon, or whistle, or in some rare cases the starting bassoon) goes off to the moment you cross the finish line. Your starting position will obviously be a factor in this, and if you’re at the back of the pack in a big race it’s not uncommon to spend 10 minutes or more getting to the start line once the race begins. Interestingly, this means that if I’d entered one of these races very early on in my running career, I would have collapsed in a sweaty heap approximately 100 yards before the start line.

Chip time: This is generally regarded as the official result. An electronic chip (usually worn on your shoe – I’m guessing barefoot runners have to clench it between their buttocks and hope for the best) records the moment you cross a special pad on the start and finish line. This gives a more accurate race result for Johnny Backofthepack.

Watch time: Those of us who wear a small slab of GPS wizardry on our wrist will have another time to ponder over. The watch time (also known as Garmin time) measures the time and distance elapsed from the moment you press the start button on your device to the moment you press stop. These button-presses should ideally coincide with the start/finish lines for obvious reasons. It’s worth noting that even if the buttons are pressed the very moment you step on the chip mats, the results may differ slightly from the chip time. This is due to slight inaccuracies in the satellite data as well as any deviation from a strict racing line on the course (for instance, if you stick to the outside of the track on a circular 10k route your watch could easily tell you that you’ve covered 10.5k by the time you cross the finish line). Before proudly showing off your GPS results, it’s worth remembering that your watch will have no qualms about telling everyone how all those times you veered away from the designated route in order to visit adult bookshops and pee in other people’s front gardens.

Hammer time: Now you’re just being silly.

That’ll do for now folks. Let me know if there are any words you’d like to see explained in future installments of the Encyclopedia of Runningness



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