The language of long-distance running
I imagine it’s much the same when you join a cult. At first, you fool yourself into thinking you won’t be sucked in. You look down on all those ‘fanatics’ who have let it get the better of them, adamant that it’s something you only dabble in occasionally. Yet over time you start to change. The clothes you wear are slowly altered, as pretty dresses and heels give way to comfier, more practical items. You start to look different – weight loss, hair scraped back, makeup becomes a thing of the past – friends and family make comments in their curiosity and concern. Most of all, it’s the things that you say that give the game away. Your language subtly changes. Strange words, unrecognisable to the untrained ear, are more and more frequently found on your lips. You begin to seek out the company of those who share your language, those among whom you can be understood. Then one day you’ll find yourself at a party with a glass of orange juice in your hand discussing your PB with a fellow LDR (non-runner translation: your ‘personal best’ with a fellow ‘long distance runner’) and that’s when you know you’re finally fully immersed in the world of running.
Lactic acid, toe box, and upper
It’s the same with any sport, of course, much as it is with any profession or pastime. Runners have their own language. When you start running, you may already familiar with the basics from school: aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise, lactic acid (still firm in my mind from biology exams), and warm-up (important in P.E. lessons as a way of avoiding as much actual exercise as possible). Inevitably, as your running career develops, you will pick up more complex terms, particularly when researching new running shoes or a recent injury. I didn’t know what a pronation was until I found out I had one, and that it meant I needed special insoles (it’s very common, much more so than supination which affects only 1% of runners). You need a new pair of shoes every 500 miles or so, so you’ll soon learn about the different kinds of toe box and upper, as well as which suit your style. The ride a shoe gives depends on its weight and on the amount of support it offers, but preferences between different brands are often subjective. However, you need to be careful not to skimp on quality and risk conditions such as shin splints, RLB (runner’s lower back), or a severe case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
Then there are the bits and pieces you pick up from other runners. These are more often than not in initialism form, making your conversations impossible for a non-runner to follow. Your respective PB becomes a point of obsession, although these pale in comparison to the seemingly absurd NRs (national records) and WRs (world records) that are achieved these days. If you have races in common, you might compare CRs (course records) , but more often it’s the stories of that moment when you bonk and hit the wall that you bond over. If you join an IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation) then you’re guaranteed to meet a whole pack of people who speak like you, Masters and Juniors who share the same interest in splits, strides and intervals. It’s very comforting being among people who won’t laugh when you use the word fartlek. (A system of training that involves changes in both pace and terrain, fartlek is a Swedish word, from fart ‘speed’ + lek ‘play’.)
It’s taken some getting used to, this weird language of running. When I started out I was clueless, just keen to make up junk miles in my vague and uneven exercise schedule. Then I signed up for a half-marathon and I realised that doing a LSD (Long, Slow Distance) is vital if you want to improve your fitness. Now I’m back in training because on 26 April I’m doing my first marathon (and my last one, she says, with the same confidence she had just a year ago when she claimed she would never do one in the first place). I have an ideal chip time in mind, but so long as I don’t fall into the DNS or DNF categories (‘did not start’ or ‘did not finish’), I’ll be happy.