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New to Marathon Running? Terms to Know

Marathon runners

Beginning a marathon training plan is an exciting endeavor, but along with it comes new challenges. One of the first challenges you may come across is a new set of vocabulary words – also known as the runner’s lexicon. Fartlek? DOMS? Tempo? We help you break down 10 words we think you should know to help you hit the road running!

  • Active Recovery: Active recovery is performed at a low intensity, most commonly prescribed after a long run or hard workout. The purpose of an active recovery is to move your body and get the blood flowing to reduce residual fatigue. An active recovery should not add additional orthopedic stress to the body so be sure to take it easy or take a rest day all together.
  • Cadence: The number of times your foot strikes the ground in a given time- typically one minute. To find yours, count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in a minute, and multiply by two. Efficient running form has been shown with cadences close to 180. At HSS we aim to get our runners at a 170-180 step rate per minute range). Proper cadence can help reduce over-striding and prevent injuries.
  • Chafing: Skin irritation caused by friction during a run. This can be due to moisture, fabric, and running form. To prevent this painful issue, consider using synthetic material, and tight fits, to reduce friction. Also consider using anti-chafing balms to reduce friction in chafing prone areas such as the arms and thighs.
  • Cross-Training: Cross-training can be a vital tool for runners to improve their performance, reduce the risk of injury, or burst out of a boredom bubble. It provides an opportunity to use muscles in different motor patterns and improve your strength and flexibility (think all 3 planes of motion- side to side, front to back, and rotational). The most important thing to remember is that cross-training should enhance your performance, not detract from it. Make sure that your cross-training sessions do not leave you too tired or sore to complete your running workouts. Overall, choose a cross-training activity that you enjoy doing and enriches your training to take your running to the next level.
  • DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This soreness is a side effect of the repair process of muscles due to stressful or novel exercise creating micro-tears in the muscle fibers. It is a common misconception that it is due from lactic acid accumulation. It typically begins around 12-24 hours after exercise and can last 24-72 hours. DOMS can be caused by running, but especially with eccentric muscle contractions, such as running downhill, so do not be surprised when you feel increased soreness after a hill workout! DOMS can also cause stiffness, and reduced muscle strength, as the soreness is associated with muscle rebuilding and recovery processes in the tissue.
  • Fartlek: This word is Swedish for “speed play,” and involves a variety of running paces in the same continuous workout to use both aerobic and anaerobic systems of energy production. It can help a runner prepare for uneven paces of a race, or help them push through walls when the running gets tough. Fartleks are less structured than intervals and include running at different speeds during different parts of your run. For example, you could go on a long run and pick up the pace, or even sprint between light-posts or telephone poles, while slowing to jogging or a moderate pace in between. Variety is the spice of life, and that’s what a Fartlek is to a distance workout!
  • Foam Rolling: A type of self-myofascial release aimed to reduce muscle tightness, increase recovery, and address trigger points. Foam rolling can be performed before or after a run and is an excellent tool to address mobility issues in runners. It is important to use proper form when rolling, so be sure to seek a physical therapist or fitness professional for guidance.
  • Plyometrics: Plyometrics, often called jump training, are exercises that involve a rapid stretch in the muscle followed by an immediate forceful muscle contraction. Plyometrics are important because when you break down running – it is a single leg hop to the opposite foot! Every time your foot strikes the ground it has to absorb the force and transfer that force into forward momentum. Research supports that implementation of a plyometric program will improve your running economy.  This improved economy results in a drop in ground contract time, decreased landing forces, and improved neuromuscular control resulting in a reduced risk of injury and seconds off the clock.
  • Splits: A run’s total time divided up into smaller parts. Usually, the time of the whole run is divided by the miles run, to indicate a runner’s pace per mile. Runners use splits to help them strategically pace a run in order to hit a goal time. By having “ideal splits,” a runner can compare the pace per mile that they need to reach their goal, to the pace they are actually running, which helps them stay on the right track.
  • Tempo Run: Tempo runs are just outside of our comfort zone and helps increase our lactate threshold. Tempo runs begin with a warm up at an easy pace, but then a set number of miles of a sustained effort at our threshold. These tempo miles typically mimic a 10k pace and should leave you unable to hold conversations but not fighting for air. Be sure to follow the tempo miles with 1-2 miles of a cool down pace. They are essential for getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Lauren Alix, physical therapist

Lauren Alix is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department. She has run two marathons and numerous other road races, and enjoys helping runners become better at their sport through running analysis, training, and rehabilitation when needed. Lauren is passionate about injury prevention in athletes, and specializes in treating orthopedic injuries.



Pam Geisel, exercise physiologist

Pamela Geisel, MS, CSCS is a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center. She graduated with honors from Towson University with a bachelor’s in exercise science and received her master’s in exercise physiology from Adelphi University. She has been in the fitness field since 2007 and has a special interest in using strength training to maximize performance and reduce injury for runners. Geisel is a long distance runner and has completed four marathons, more than a dozen half-marathons, and many 5K and 10K races.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.