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If you don’t know yet, I am a proud running nerd. I own (too) many running books, write about running constantly, and read tons of articles every day about training.
Nothing gets me more excited to hear about “negative splitting a tempo to help develop high end aerobic capacity.” But I realize that not every runner wants to hear the industry jargon. You want to know what to run and when so you can start getting faster and reach your potential.
Fair enough. I thought it would be helpful to list several common running buzzwords and common-sense definitions. No more wading through articles that look more like scientific journal abstracts or reading a ton of running books – here’s the low down on the phrases that nerdy runners love.
Aerobic capacity is simply your endurance or “engine.” How far and fast you run before you start going into oxygen debt (that familiar burn in your legs and increased breathing rate) is directly related to your aerobic capacity. It’s also commonly called your VO2 Max.
Many runners worry about increasing their VO2 Max. Without going into the science too much, VO2 Max is not a great predictor of success in distance running. Instead, worry about your lactate threshold (see below) which is much more responsive to training.
All you need to know: Your aerobic capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during a particular time period at a particular effort level.
This is an easy one. A “negative split” is when you run the second half of a workout or race faster than the first half. It can also be a verb if you’re feeling super nerdy; you can say things like, “I went out in 6:15 for the first mile, but negative split a 5:55 last mile in my 5k yesterday!” Most world records have been set by athletes running negative splits.
All you need to know: Running the second half of a workout or race faster than the first half is a negative split.
This term is also popular in cycling where it is your revolutions per minute. In running, your cadence is your stride rate. Most coaches will have strive for about 180 steps per minute (or somewhere close – there’s no magic number). This high cadence can help protect you from injuries.
All you need to know: Cadence refers to the number of steps you take per minute while running. Most runners should aim to increase their stride rate by 5-10%. A good cadence to strive for is 180, but it’s fine if you’re slightly under that.
Lactate threshold (or LT) is the point at which your body transitions from working aerobically (with oxygen) to anaerobically (without oxygen). If you have a high LT, then you can run fast without going into oxygen debt.
Your LT can vary based on a lot of factors on a day to day basis, including fatigue levels, hydration, weather, stress load, and sleep debt. This threshold is closely tied with your ventilatory threshold, which is the point at which your breathe rate sharply increases.
All you need to know: Your lactate threshold is the point at which your body starts working without oxygen. Your goal with training is to increase your lactate threshold.
These faster workouts help increase your lactate threshold. They should be run right at that threshold where you begin to run anaerobically (without oxygen) – but not any faster.
You can determine this pace several ways: subjectively by running a “comfortably hard” pace, the pace at which you could run for about an hour (use your 10k – 10 mile race time to estimate), or by running at about 85% of your maximum heart rate.
All you need to know: Temp workouts help increase your endurance by allowing you to run longer at a given pace. It’s better to run slower than faster during a tempo.
This is by no means a definitive list and there are countless other running terms we could include (load rate! arm carriage! muscle firing sequence!), but the terms here will help you understand running a little more.
Enough talk, let’s go run!