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November 26, 2017

The language used to talk about racing events

I was reading a newspaper story about a man’s visit to the gym and understanding the language that is spoken there. It reminded me of how each discipline or sport has a language that is unique to that area.

I taught physical education (Health and Human Performance for the politically correct); and if you talked to another person about kinesiology, VO2 max, actin and myosin, and exercise phys, you might as well be speaking a foreign language to them. Each discipline has its own vocabulary that is unique to that specialty.

The gym article had terms like “skull crushers,” “glutes,” “lats,” “1RM,” “cleans” and “go to failure.” For a “gym rat” it all made sense; but for a person not familiar with gym speak, it was a strange language.

I do consulting for organizations that want to put on a race, many of whom have never run - or even been to - a race. They just want to see if this “race thing” can help their organization raise some funds. If I just meet and talk with them, the language is often confusing; and unless it is written down, it will be forgotten in a very short time. I usually give them a manual that I have written, so that after the meeting, they can read up on what it takes to put on a race.

I started to think of the running world, and the language that is common among runners that non-runners will not understand. Some are more common than others and are often used in everyday conversations. Most of the non-running population probably understands that when a runner “hits the wall,” it means the runner ran out of gas and was unable to finish the race. This is usually used in the marathon distance race.

When a runner mentions a marathon to a non-runner, the concept of running 26.2 miles is almost like jumping over the Empire State Building to them. They think what it is like to drive to Austin from San Marcos, and the thought of running all that distance is hard to visualize. Some races advertise a “marathon” that is only 6.2 miles, or even 5.1 miles, not knowing that a marathon is 26.2 miles.

There are terms used in more experienced running circles that some beginning runners are still learning. For instance, the runner said they had “negative splits.” What that means is that, during the race, the second half of the race was faster than the first half of the race. Sometimes it means that each mile into the race was faster than the miles at the beginning of the race.

If the runner put on a “surge” during the race, it means they put on a burst of speed to pass a runner and get ahead of the slower runner. This is often used as many of the runners being passed think that you are really fast and do not try to catch up with you. After you pass them, you go back to your regular slower pace.

A training technique to improve a runner’s speed is to run “intervals.” This is usually when a runner goes to a track and runs a distance from 400 meters to a mile at a set time that is faster than their usual race pace.

Actually, the interval is the time between the runs around the track; but most runners think of it as the running part. If a runner states that he is doing “60 – 30’s,” he is telling you that he is running a quarter-mile distance in 60 seconds with a 30-second rest between runs.

The one that is on T-shirts for the runners’ attempt at humor is “fartlek.” The term will almost always bring a smile to the face of a non-runner. It is a Swedish term meaning “speed play.” A runner goes for a run and will run at different speeds during the run. They will run as fast “as they feel.”

Usually there are about four different paces in fartlek, from a slow jog, to a normal pace, to a race pace, to the fastest sprint pace. Some runners use landmarks during the run to run the different paces. They run to the end of the block at a race pace, back off to a slow jog to the tree on the corner, and sprint to that driveway at the end of the block. There is no order of selection to the four paces; a runner just runs the pace that they feel like.

For race organizers, the term “chute” has to be explained as the ribbons that are at the finish line to help put the runners in a single file for placing purposes. A “PR” for a runner is his or her personal record for a distance, or a particular race, that they have entered before.

Such is the language of the running community; and it might help some non-runners understand what their running friends are talking about at the next gathering you are at.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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