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Running and trail running terms and lingo
Martina Russo, CEO & founder
December 22, 2023

If you’ve ever laced up your running shoes and felt the thrill of hitting the trail or pounding the pavement, you’ll know that a passion for running and trail running goes far beyond the finish line. Running is a movement. A community. But if you want to easily follow a training plan or run a race without getting lost in the vocabulary, you’ll need to know the lingo.

At The Action Sports Translator, when we’re not squeezing in that quick 5 a.m. run, we’re crafting and translating content that connects runners across different cultures and languages. We’re pretty clued up on the terms and lingo that runners and trail runners use, so if you want to be a true trailblazer, take a look at our list below.

While running and trail running are their own disciplines with their own fan bases, there’s a lot of overlap in the lingo. Besides, maybe you’re a city runner looking to head into the mountains or a dedicated trail runner who’s considering a flatter race. These terms won’t lead you astray, whichever path you choose to take.

40 running and trail running terms you should know 

Talk like a running and trail running pro with these 40 need-to-know terms.

A male trail runner wearing a t-shirt, shorts and backpack running in the mountains with mountain scenery and trees in the background.

Aid station

An aid station is where you can fortify yourself with water and snacks and get the support you need to finish a race. Most aid stations are basic stands along the side of the route, but they can also feature marquees with beds and medical points. Whatever form it takes, you’ll be super happy to see one in the middle of an endurance race. 

Barefoot running

Barefoot running is exactly what it sounds like – running without shoes. Some shoes, like minimal, zero-drop styles, replicate the feeling of running barefoot while protecting your feet and saving your soles.

Blow up

Ever gone out at the starting line too fast, but by the end, your legs felt like they were about to fall off? Yep, that’s a blow up.

Body glide

Body glide is an essential part of any runner’s kit. It’s a stick of anti-chafing lubricant that helps protect high-rub areas of skin – like the inner thighs, nipples and toes – from chafing and blisters. Put one in your pocket and thank us later.

Bonk

No, it’s not what you’re thinking… In running and trail running, bonk describes the feeling you get when you suddenly run out of energy during a long run. It’s almost like hitting a wall – the only way to beat it is to slow down, fuel up, distract your mind and keep going.

Cadence

Also known as turnover or step rate, cadence is the number of steps you take on both legs per minute (spm). Most recreational runners have a running cadence of 150 to 170 spm, but this depends on their fitness levels and stride length (the shorter the stride, the more steps you’ll take to keep up). The gold standard for elite runners is about 180 spm.

Chafing

Every runner has experienced chafing at some point or another. Chafing is a pretty uncomfortable friction-induced injury caused by skin or clothes rubbing against other sections of skin. Sweat and moisture from hot or wet weather can make it worse.

Checkpoint

Checkpoints can sometimes overlap with aid stations, but more often than not, they’re points where race officials check your time as you power through a run.

Code brown

A code brown is something EVERY runner dreads (and has experienced at some point – even if they won’t own up to it). It’s the sudden urge to go to the toilet during a race. Never fun. 

Cramp

Runner’s cramp is a seeeeriously painful neuromuscular issue where your muscles seize up and contract, practically stopping you in your tracks. It’s most commonly linked to over-training, but dehydration, muscle fatigue, lack of stretching and an electrolyte imbalance are also culprits.

DOMS

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – aka DOMS – are deep muscle aches that show up around two or three days after a run – just when you think you’ve gotten away without that dreaded soreness.

Door-to-trail

A door-to-trail route begins at your front door and leads to the trail. Door-to-trail shoes provide exceptional underfoot comfort and perform just as well on flat terrain as on technical trails, making them the perfect all-rounders for this kind of route.

DNF 

DNF means Did Not Finish. Running is a mentally and physically demanding sport. Sometimes you experience that bonk we mentioned earlier or need to bow out – and that’s totally okay. Focus on getting back in the game and channeling your efforts into the next race. DNF isn’t a sign of failure; it’s just proof that you went for it and that the start line matters more than the finish. As such, it’s an inclusive term that allows all runners and trail runners to feel part of their communities. For more on why inclusive language matters, check out this blog post

Elevation profile

Trail run organizers provide an elevation profile to help you plan for your next race. It features the scheduled route, climbs and descents, how steep they are and the location of each checkpoint and aid station. 

Elevation training

Elevation training is where you train at high altitudes to improve your running performance closer to sea level. The air is thinner and less oxygen rich at altitude, which can help increase your endurance (by improving oxygen uptake) – particularly during ultramarathons and other distance running events in the mountains.

Fartlek training

Developed by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér, fartlek training is a type of interval training that involves alternating periods of fast and slow running over chosen distances. The idea with fartlek training is to condition the body to become faster when tackling longer distances. 

Fun fact: fartlek training translates to ‘speed play’ in Swedish.

Fast and light

Fast and light basically means running with as little gear as possible. Runners use space-saving equipment, like running vests and hip belts, to carry essentials, allowing them to run as quickly as possible without being bogged down by unnecessary weight.

Two trail runners running up a rocky hill surrounded by greenery and using poles to help them stay stable and move faster.

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

Fell running

Fell running – or hill running – is a British sport that incorporates elements of off-road running, cross country, trail and mountain running. It’s not for the faint ofheart. Fell runners need to negotiate large hills at speed, so the sport requires strength and resilience in spades.

FKT  – Fastest known time

FKTs are speed records achieved on undefined routes and courses. They’re popular with trail runners and elite athletes who aim to finish the world’s most challenging routes in the shortest times.

Foot strike

Foot strike is the area of the foot that hits the ground first as you run. It’s also known as initial contact, which begins the stance phase of the gait cycle. You may hear runners throw around terms like heel strike or toe strike when describing gait.

Gait cycle

A gait cycle begins when one foot comes into contact with the ground and ends when the same foot makes contact with the ground again.

A pair of trail running shoes in the middle of a gait cycle while running on flat ground surrounded by trees and hills.

Photo by Tara Glaser on Unsplash

Gaiters 

Gaiters are one of the most important parts of a trail running shoe. Light and compact, they cover the opening of your shoe to keep small stones and debris out while you run. Super essential when you’re covering long distances over rocky trails.

Hardware

Hardware refers to the shiny medals and trophies you get at the end of the race. Show them off with pride – you’ve earned it.

Hill repeats

Hill repeats are another form of interval training that involves running up and down hills to improve leg strength and endurance. They also help power up your speed and running stride on level ground.

Mountain goat

Mountain goat is a nickname given to the speediest, most agile mountain runners. It’s meant as a compliment – take it!

MUT – Mountain ultra-trail 

An MUT – or a mountain ultra-trail – is an ultramarathon trail race in the mountains. Expect big climbs, technical downhills, rocky terrain and spectacular views as you push the limits of what you’re capable of.

Out-and-back

Out-and-back routes (as opposed to a loop) go in a straight line that starts and ends at the same location. You follow a single trail to the endpoint, then go back along the same route until you reach the finish line.

Oxygen uptake

Oxygen uptake (or consumption) measures the cardiovascular system’s ability to transport oxygen to working tissues and those tissues’ ability to use it efficiently. Wanna sound like a running and trail running scientist? Then break this term out at your next event.

Pacer

A pacer is a long-distance runner’s trusty guide. Their main purpose is to set the pace for the ultrarunner they’re working with, allowing them to simply focus on the trail in front of them. Most pacers are needed around the 50-mile mark – although this can come sooner or later, depending on how the runner’s doing.

Point-to-point 

Unlike an out-and-back route or loop, a point-to-point route starts in one place and finishes in another. The best thing about it is you get to see ALL the beautiful mountain scenery along the trail. The worst, you may need to call someone for a ride back.

Rock garden

You guessed it – a rock garden is a part of the trail littered with rocks. Take care of those ankles when you’re in this section, as things can get very bumpy.

Single track

As the name suggests, a single track is a narrow trail only wide enough for one person at a time.

Start corrals

Start corrals are designated starting areas where runners are grouped based on either their accepted start time or projected finish time. Start corrals make the starting point more efficient and organized.

Strides

Stride intervals are 15 to 30-second accelerations of around 50-100 meters where the runner moves at their highest intensity without straining or sprinting. Most runners do them at the start of a workout to get their leg muscles and neuromuscular system fired up.

Surge 

A surge is when a runner picks up the pace for a short section of the race. They’re usually thrown into the middle or end when the runner wants to break away from the competition.

Tapering

Tapering is when you reduce your training load and endurance workouts in the leadup to a race. This allows your body to recover from training and heal small injuries but still allows you to maintain peak condition 

Technical

Technical trails are the most difficult to traverse. Navigating a technical trail is completely different to running on tarmac – you’ll need to scramble and hike over uneven backcountry terrain, scree-covered ground and tricky climbing sections to get to the finish line. 

Trailhead

The trailhead is where the trail begins. The adrenaline will be coursing through your veins at this point – and you’ll definitely have the sudden urge to go to the toilet again (even though you’ve just been).

Traverse 

Traverse simply means to move across a trail or route. You’ll hear this term often throughout your running journey, so it’s a good one to know.

A male trail runner wearing a t-shirt and shorts running over a grassy hill with mountains in the distance.

Ultra-marathon

An ultramarathon is any endurance trail race longer than the traditional 42.195-km (26.2-mile) marathon distance. 160 km (100 miles) is the longest distance raced within 24 hours, but some ultramarathon courses can go up to 320 km (200 miles), spanning several days.

Vert

Vert – aka vertical gain or loss – is the cumulative amount you’ll climb or descend over the course of the trail. Gains can be tough, but you’ll feel unstoppable once you reach the top.

A female trail runner wearing shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt walking down a steep grassy hill as the sun starts to set

Before you blaze the trails and track…

It’s super common to hear English speakers using these terms out on the trail and track. But if you’re gearing up for a trail running adventure in the heart of the French Alps or prepping for the Berlin Marathon, don’t be surprised if some new terms leave you in the dust. From training plans to pre-race events to on-course chat, there’s no end to the jargon you may encounter. Whether your chosen terrain is tarmac or trail, the key to sounding and feeling like a true running and trail running pro is to master the vocabulary – no matter the language.

If you’re ready to take long strides in new markets, you need running and trail running translations that go the extra mile for your customers. Want to find out more?

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Martina is the CEO and founder at The Action Sports Translator. After starting her career in marketing translation in 2010, she has been recognized as a Localization industry influencer multiple years in a row and has been working with some of the world's most exciting brands to bring multilingual marketing campaigns to life.

Co-founder and localization manager at Protect Our Winters Italy, she founded The Action Sports Translator to provide outdoor brands with a sports translation service that truly gets them. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her climbing a mountain or snowboarding down the other side.

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