Runner’s Lingo

Shedding some light on few phrases used by runners.

If you have friends who are serious runners, you may sometimes wonder what on earth they are talking about when they share tales from their latest training session. We runners have a vocabulary all of our own. We go on many different types of runs, all with different purposes. Allow me to translate some of this lingo for you, so you can understand what it is we're talking about. If you yourself are a runner, you may even learn something to help you improve your skills.


Interval is a broad term often used for runs that focus on improving speed. Interval runs usually involve running at a certain speed for a given amount of time, then slowing down to an easy jog for another given amount of time, then repeating. The number, length, and speed of intervals depends on the individuals goals, abilities, and the purpose of the run.

Speaking of intervals, what in the world is a fartlek?

Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning "speed play." Fartlek intervals are excellent for beginners, but can also be done by the more advanced. Runners usually go by how they feel on farlek intervals. An example of a fartlek session might be a ten minute easy warm up, followed by 20-30 minutes of alternating one minute of hard running with one minute of easy jogging, then a ten minute cool down. Another example of a more challenging fartlek session could be a one mile warm up, followed by 10 intervals of 2.5 minutes of hard running, with 1.5 minute easy jogs in between, and a one mile cool down.

VO2 Max

This is a term for your maximal rate of oxygen consumption, meaning how much oxygen your body can deliver to working muscles. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight. The higher a person's cardiovascular fitness level, the higher their VO2 max will be. Certain training sessions can improve VO2 max, which can then help a runner to improve his or her race times. For many runners, the best pace to run at to improve VO2 max is about their 5k race pace or slightly faster. VO2 max workouts are typically done as intervals. The intervals are fairly short, as it is difficult to maintain such a fast pace. A track is convenient to use for VO2 max workouts. A runner may first do a warm up jog, then run 2 laps at VO2 max pace, jog a recovery lap, then repeat a few times, and end with a cool down jog. VO2 max is genetically determined, but can be improved as much as 15-20%.

Lactate threshold

When we exercise, our bodies create a byproduct called lactic acid. When we are running at an easy pace our bodies can easily clear away lactic acid faster than it accumulates. The harder we run the faster lactic acid is produced and builds up. We reach a point where we are running hard enough that the body cannot clear away lactic acid as fast as it accumulates. At this point a runner is not able to maintain their pace for very long. That is our lactate threshold, also called anaerobic threshold.

Lactate threshold can be improved dramatically with the right training. This is important for any runner who wants to improve their speed, with the exception of sprinters. Tempo runs and lactate threshold intervals are common workouts to make these improvements. These runs involve running at or slightly above lactate threshold pace. For most runners, lactate threshold pace is about 15k race pace. For slower runs 10k pace may be best, and for elite runners half marathon pace may be appropriate. Tempo runs consist of a warm up jog, 20-40 minutes of steady state running at or just above lactate threshold pace, followed by a cool down jog. An example of a lactate threshold interval run could consist of a warm up jog, followed by intervals of 1200 meters at 15k pace alternated with 400 meter recovery jogs and ending with a cool down jog.

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