Running Terminology 101: Training Plan Edition

One of the things that I sometimes struggle with as a coach is forgetting that my running terminology shorthand isn’t exactly universally understood.

For example, “10 min W/U, 10×2 min w/ 2 min recovery, 10 min C/D” makes total sense to me, but when that shows up on a client’s training plan, he or she may not be able to decipher the message.


Granted, that is a bit of an advanced case of training plan shorthand, but those of us that have been around running for awhile have picked up on much of the running terminology that gets thrown around in running circles.

Splits, tempo pace, fartlek, and taper make perfect sense to us.

Shoot, if you’ve been running long enough you might even find that you no longer chuckle when someone talks about a fartlek.

But for for someone new to our sport, the running terminology that so many of us take for granted is one more barrier to feeling welcomed as a member of the running community.

So today, I want to define some of the running terminology that you’re likely to see in a training plan, read in blog posts, or hear in conversations with other runners. 

Common Running Terminology: Defined

  • Warm Up: Every run should start with a good warm up. A warm up helps your body prepare for the harder work that is to come once the real workout “starts”. If you’re doing a hard workout, like intervals or a tempo run, the warm up may be clearly defined in your plan for the day. For long runs or easy runs, the warm up may not be listed separately from the prescribed workout, but the first part of the run will typically happy slightly slower than the rest. You may see warm up abbreviated as w/u.
  • Cool Down: After the hard part of the workout is complete, it’s good for your body if you take a few more minutes to allow your body to cool down slowly instead of just coming to a stop. That could mean walking or doing a really easy run similar to the warm up, but continuing to move for 5-10 minutes after the hard running is complete will help to minimize any soreness that may be in your future. A common abbreviation is c/d
  • Pace: Pace simply refers to how fast you’re running, and usually it’s talked about in terms of minutes per miles (or kms for everyone not in the USA). So if a plan says 10:30 pace, that means your goal is to run each mile in 10 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • Speed Work: Speed work is a bit of blanket term, talking about any run that is of a higher intensity. Tempo runs, intervals, and repeats would all be classified as different types of speed work.
  • Easy Run: Easy runs are pretty self-explanatory, they are runs you would consider to be easy in terms of pace. A good way to gauge an easy run is weather or not you can carry on a conversation without struggling to breath while you are talking. If you’re only able to speak a few words before you take a breath, you are not running at an easy run pace. Keep in mind that what is an easy run for one runner is very likely a hard workout for another; easy is definitely relative.
  • Cross Training: I consider cross training to be anything that is not running but is still exercise. Some people would disagree, and say that cross training can only be cardio exercises (biking, swimming, etc), but I feel like cardio exercises, strength training, yoga, etc., all count as cross training. Cross training (in all of it’s forms) is a vital component of any training plan for any level of a runner for helping to prevent many of the running injuries that are so prevalent in our sport.
  • Tempo Pace: Tempo pace is 15-30 seconds slower than your average 5k race pace. Most tempo runs last for 3-5 miles, though I have definitely seen longer, and the idea is to try an run your splits as close to even as possible.
  • Splits: You splits refer to the time interval between different segments in your workout. Often, that segment would be each mile. If you were running 5 miles, the time it took you to run each mile would be your split for that particular mile. Even splits mean that you ran each mile at the same pace (virtually impossible to do in the real world, but anything that is +/- a few seconds would still qualify as an even split). Negative splits are when you run faster for each mile. Sometimes the goal is to run even, other times the goal may be to run negative. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter either way!
  • Intervals: An interval workout consists of running hard for a certain time/distance, and then walking or jogging as a way to recover before running hard again. An example might be 400m, 800m, 1200m, 800m, 400m with 400m recovery between each hard effort.
  • Fartlek: Fartlek is pronounced just like it’s spelled (fart-lek), and it is a Swedish term meaning “speed play”. A fartlek workout is a type of interval workout, but in the case of a fartlek workout the intervals are completely random. You can choose landmarks (run hard to the stop sign), times (45 seconds all out!), or any other variable that causes you to mix up the distance/duration of your hard efforts.
  • Repeats: Repeats are another variation of an interval session, but in this case you’re doing the same thing over and over. Hence, repeat. 10x400m would be an example of a repeat session, where you’re running 400m 10 times. You’ll also likely have a rest/recovery interval after those 10 hard efforts that will be the same for the duration of the workout.
  • Rest Day: A rest day is every bit as important to your improvement as a runner as any other workout on your schedule. A rest day means you’re doing as little physical activity as possible on that day. Most people can’t just laze around all day, I know our lives are busy, but on your rest days do your best to stay off your feet and avoid strenuous activities as much as possible.
  • Taper: Tapering typically starts 10-14 days before a goal race, and it involves reducing the amount of running you’re doing to allow your body to recovery and be fully rested for race day.

Hopefully this list will help you understand some of the common running terminology a little more clearly, and maybe help your training plan make a little more sense!

And don’t worry, you don’t need to memorize everything on this list today. Just fill out the info below, and I’ll send you a PDF guide of these terms so you can refresh running terminology anytime.

That way it’ll be easy for you to reference the next time that “10 min w/u, 5×5 min @ 5k pace w/ 3 min recover, 10 min c/d” shows up your training plan!

What Other Bits of Running Terminology am I Missing from this List?

2 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    You know me, I’d like to see a Galloway reference if someone says they use 69/30, the first one is the run interval (time) and the second is the walk interval (time). 4/30 indicates 4 minutes/30 seconds but 10/30 would be 10 seconds/30 seconds. I’m sure I could write that up better than I just did.

    Great list!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *