Glossary of marathon running terms

All sports have their jargon and marathon running is no exception. here’s an explanation of some commonly-used marathon running terms.

Marathon jargon


The ‘fight or flight’ hormone, which is sometimes triggered by excitement or anticipation. Often producing too much adrenaline at the start of a race can make your heart rate greatly increase, causing you to run faster than you planned – with dire consequences later in the race.

Altitude training

Preparing for a marathon race by training at heights above 8,000 feet. The main benefit of altitude training is developing a greater concentration of red blood cells when runners return to sea level to race.

Antagonistic pairs

Muscles work in pairs which work in opposite directions called an agonist and an antagonist.

Back to front racing

Marathon racing tactic where the aim is to win by slowly working your way through the leading group of runners without leading until near the end of the race.


Foot type which is essential in the preparation for and recovery from distance running. Carbohydrates include foods like pasta, potatoes and bread.

Carbo loading

Sometimes called Carb loading or Carbohydrate loading. A pre-marathon nutrition approach which involves eating large amounts of carbohydrates in order to increase the amount of energy in the form of glycogen stored in the body’s muscles.

Chip timing

An increasingly common feature of well-organised marathons which allows a runner’s time to be accurately recorded through the use of an electronic transponder chip, typically worn on a running shoe or race number.


A chemical which increases a runner’s rate of urination. These are best avoided in the few days before a marathon. Common diuretics are found in coffee, tea and alcoholic drinks.

Fartlek training

A form of exercise in which several different speeds and intensities of running are used to put the body’s aerobic and anaerobic systems under stress.

Front running

A rarely used marathon race tactic to lead from the starter’s gun to the finishing line, crushing the resolve of all opposition along the way.


Chemical in which form the muscles and liver store most of the energy used during marathon running and other endurance events.

Hitting the wall

The term describing the point in a marathon where the body’s glycogen supplies become used up – this results in the body needing to convert body fat into energy. This often has a severely debilitating effect on a runner. Not all athletes hit the wall, but if they do it’s typically some time after the 18-20 mile mark.

Ice foot baths

A post running treatment to reduce inflammation of the feet and ankles which involved standing in a bucket or bath of icy water for 10-30 minutes.

Interval training

A form of training which at mixes near-maximum exertion with periods of lower-intensity activity. Sprint training, or a mixed training session which incorporates some sprinting, or sustained running at high speed would be classed as interval training for marathon runners.

Jogger’s nipple

Abrasion of a runner’s nipples which can lead to soreness or bleeding due to repeated friction of clothing. Best prevented with sticking plasters.

Lactic acid

Energy source used by the muscles. Manufactured by the body from glycogen. Often wrongly thought to be a waste product.


Training too instensly or too long so that performance actually decreases, either through failure to allow the body time to recover from the effects of training or through resulting injury or illness.


Runners encouraged to run the early stages of a marathon at a fast yet controlled pace to allow one or more elite athletes to attempt to beat a fast time for the whole race.


A way of managing your training throughout the year so that you can peak for important races, while enjoying other periods of running in between these peaks.


A key food type for marathon runners, used by the body to build and repair muscle fibres.

Recovery days

Days with no training or very light training which follow a very testing training session.

Resting pulse rate

A measure of the beats per minute of your heart when you are undertaking no movement – this is used as a good general measure of the body’s aerobic fitness and as an indicator of whether an athlete has been overtraining.


Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. A popular way of treating soft tissue injuries in the period immediately after their occurrence – typically 48 hours.

Running economy

A style of running which allows you to avoid wasting energy.

Shin splints

A common running injury more properly called medial tibial stress syndrome or MTSS. There are many causes of shin splints, from over training to inappropriate running shoes.


Reducing your training in the two weeks prior to a marathon in order to build up reserves of energy for the race itself

Tempo run

A training run of high but prolonged intensity in which the athlete runs for a sustained period of time close to maximum performance.

Warm up

A pre-training and running regime to get the cardio-vascular system prepared for operating at high intensity. A warm up may also involve stretching.

Warm down

A post training regime designed to aid Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness and allow the cardio-vascular system to return to a more normal rate gradually.

Water stations

Place where runners can pick up water and sometimes energy drinks during marathons. Knowing where these are stationed is an important part of pre-marathon planning.