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Running terminology 101

Marathoners sometimes seem to speak an entirely different language. Use this cheat sheet to decode their pre- and post-race utterings.

Chicago Marathon 2010: Start, Race and Finish
Photograph: Max Herman and Bekki Wasmuth
By Liz Plosser |

gel [jel] n. Runners carry and consume gels throughout the marathon to prevent hitting The Wall (see below). Usually about 100 calories, the gels provide easy-to-digest energy during the run and contain varying amounts of sugar, sodium, potassium and caffeine. They come in a variety of flavors, from fruity to chocolate, and are the consistency of melted jelly.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually craving a gel right now.”

hyponatremia [hi-po-ne-tre-me-e] n. It’s crucial to stay hydrated while running, but drinking too much water—more than a runner sweats out—decreases sodium concentration in the blood, which can cause vomiting, seizures, coma and even death. The International Marathon Medical Directors Association issued a warning in 2001 urging runners to drink only when they’re thirsty.
“I kept chugging water like I was back at a kegger. Do you think I’ll get hyponatremia?”

negative split [neg-uh-tiv split] n., v. The strategy of running the second half of a race faster than the first half. On a flat course like Chicago, this is thought to be the best strategy for PRing (see below).
“I let everyone sprint in front of me at the start line so I had enough energy to negative split the marathon.”

PR [P-R] abbr. n., v. Abbreviation for “personal record,” the fastest a runner has completed that distance. After months of training, a PR is a very big deal.
“The weather was perfect for a PR today!”

taper [tey-per] n., v. Reduction of mileage during the two to three weeks before the marathon by as much as 50–75 percent of peak training volume. This allows muscles to recover from three or more months of hard training effort.
“Dude, I was excited to taper, but now I’m bouncing off the walls.”

The Wall [thuh wahl] n. Runners can store only a limited amount of glycogen in their bodies—when it runs low, the body turns to stored fat for energy, which does not burn as readily. It pretty much sucks when this happens, and the runner will experience extreme fatigue, muscle soreness and mental fuzziness—kind of like hitting a wall (not to be confused with the Pink Floyd album).
“My legs cramped up and I felt dizzy when I hit The Wall—but at least I didn’t throw up.”

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