Lingo, Terms, & Etiquette Oh My: Runners’ 401

Runners are all smiles at the TCTC Winter Seminar "Pun Run" Photo Credit: Robert Hill

Hello and welcome to Runner’s 401. This is where things start to get serious. In this article, more terms will be broken down, but there’s a twist. This article is more so aimed for people getting into the more complex side of running. What makes these terms more complex is that there is much more variation to how they are applied to an individual runner. 

Every runner is different so most of these terms are not cookie cutter and can be applied the same way to all runners. For example, a 5k pace to two runners is going to be very different. Person A may be able to run a 5k in 18 min. That is a smidge faster than a 6 min per mile pace. They would be able to run a 10k in around 35 min, or a full marathon in around 2 hours and 40 min. (Please know that these are not true numbers, pace varies greatly, they are very rough estimations for the sake of the example) Person B may be able to run a 5k in 30 min, which is just shy of a 10 min per mile pace. With the same principle, they would be able to run a 10k in about 65 min (1 hr, 5 min), or a full marathon in about 4 hours and 55 min. 

With these differences, the same terminology will apply very differently to them. The lingo covered also is not necessarily universally known. As mentioned in the very first article of this series, there are a myriad of resources available to get started in running and many of the designers of the resources have different approaches to how they view terminology. Some of the terms have also been used so much that there are a lot of meanings now. So bear with us as we try to break them down for you. 


Lactate Threshold or “Threshold Running”: In its simplest format, threshold pace is the pace you could run “all-out” for one hour. The goal is to work increasingly close to your maximum oxygen consumption without suffering from high accumulation of waste products in the blood. This will lead to you being able to run at faster paces for longer without fatiguing. There are several methods to test this ability. Some methods, such as blood lactate tests, may not be available to the average recreational runner. The simplest way to test this is to do an all-out run for 30 minutes then average your heart rate over the last 10 minutes of the run. This would be your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate. (Typically, this is run at your 7-8 out of 10 effort and is approximately 80-95% of your max HR) Additionally there are several great online calculators like this one that can help you estimate this pace.

Aerobic Recovery Zone: The aerobic recovery zone is exercising at a level that allows the body to take in more oxygen than it needs. This is going to be efforts where holding a pace for a long period of time (over an hour) is pretty effortless. When running in the aerobic recovery zone you should be able to hold a conversation or even sing where you don’t need to take a breath between sentences. This is typically a 4-5 out of 10 on your perceived effort scale or 65-70% of your max heart rate. Many coaches recommend at least 80% of your training miles be run in this zone.

Aerobic Training Zone: Similar to the aerobic recovery zone, you should be able to maintain this pace comfortably from minutes to hours. This is still in the realm of “conversation pace” running. You should be able to maintain a conversation without breathing heavily here. This will feel more like a 5-6 out of 10 on your perceived effort scale and will fall around 70-80% of your max heart rate. 

Anaerobic Zone: Anaerobic is typically understood as “without oxygen”. While you are never really without oxygen while running, in the anaerobic zone you are exercising at a pace where your muscles are building up waste products at a greater rate than can be removed efficiently. This causes fatigue to quickly set in and paces to slow almost involuntarily. Sprinters spend most of their time in this zone and some middle distance runners train here but it is not viewed as very important for adult recreational runners. A general rule of thumb is you hit anaerobic training zone during “all-out” efforts of up to 15 seconds. This will feel like a 10 out of 10 effort level and your heart rate will rise close to max during these efforts. It is important to recover properly between efforts of anaerobic training.

Muscle Fiber Types:  All runners have three different muscle fiber types: fast twitch, slow twitch, and convertible. It is important to note that all 3 types engage when running but some runners favor one type over the other. For instance, a runner with a higher concentration of fast twitch muscles will likely perform better at shorter distances while a runner with a higher concentration of slow twitch muscles will perform better at longer distances. Convertible muscle fibers will adjust and “behave” more like fast or slow twitch muscles depending on what type of training a runner performs on a consistent basis.

In another article, we explained some very basic terms that describe effort done in training. Using different efforts in training allows you as a runner to maintain a consistent pace throughout a race and allows you to go overall faster vs trying to go too fast and then burning out. Next, we’re going to bring those terms back, expand on some of them, and add in a few more. 

The Hierarchy of Running Efforts: 

Here we will address the level of effort/speed you as a runner put in for a certain distance/time/etc. There are many factors that play into how you perform in a run on any given day so it is important to note that your pacing is not always going to be the same. A common philosophy is that your heart does not understand pace. You will have days where, say, a 10 min pace may feel easy and other days where you feel like a 10 min pace is basically an all out sprint. Terrain, general health, weather, and many other factors affect pacing so while using pace is great, it’s not the best to use 100% of the time because your body cannot always be expected to maintain a specific pace. This is where the term “effort” comes in. 

Here, we are going to break down the effort differences in that Hierarchy. What we mean by effort differences is the difference between pushing yourself until you can feel your heart beating in other places in your body and you’re out of breath versus a nice pep in your step that just gets the heart rate up a tiny bit, but you can still talk and gab with ease. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not supposed to be breathless all the time while running (most of your running should actually feel relatively easy!). You use different effort levels at different times for specific distances you’re training for as well as in different workouts in general.

“Easy” Efforts

“Easy” efforts are going to fall somewhere between a 1-5 on a scale of 10. These efforts should feel good. You should be able to speak in paragraphs without having to take breaths between sentences and should finish these runs feeling like you could keep going. A few terms you may hear to describe “easy” efforts are listed below. 

  • Recovery 
  • Shakeout 
  • Conversational
  • LSD (Long, Slow, Distance)


“Medium” Efforts

These efforts are going to feel “comfortably hard.” They should fall between 6-8 on a scale of 1-10. Around 20% of your runs should be reserved for these efforts. Here you will only be able to speak in short sentences or a few words at a time between breaths. A few terms you may hear to describe these efforts are: 

  • Steady State
  • Tempo
  • Threshold
  • Fartlek


“Hard” Efforts

These efforts are going to feel challenging and can only be sustained for short periods of time. They should fall between 8-10 on a scale of 1-10. These efforts are typically reserved for peak performance and race preparation. At these efforts you may be able to speak in 1-2 words before needing to breathe. Some examples of terms you may hear describing these efforts are:

  • Race Pace
  • VO2 Max
  • Short Interval
  • Long Interval
  • Sprint


As mentioned earlier, there are many resources available to delve deeper into anything this article touched on. The Twin City Track Club is full of experienced runners and coaches alike. If you’d like to learn more we encourage you to check out any number of the great training resources available and connect with some of our more experienced runners and coaches. A great way to do that is to join one of the many group runs going on throughout the week! For more information on these check out the TCTC website and Facebook group and stay tuned for the next article in the “Lingo Terms and Etiquette Oh My” series!