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The Language of Running

by kirsty
Friday 13th March 2015
Tags  Kirsty Reade   |   Marathon Talk   |   Humblebrag   |   Race Face   |   Roller Face   |   Runners Mouth   |   Gingerbread Man   |   Robbie Britton   |   Jez Brag   |   Lizzy Hawker

Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade takes a humorous look at the runner's vocabulary. Are you guilty of the humblebrag?

As the blank faces of your work colleagues on a Monday morning will testify, running has a language all of its own. Tired of questions like ‘how far is an ultra?’ and ‘what’s the Grizzly/Terminator/Glutecrusher 50?’, I now answer the mandatory question about what you did at the weekend with ‘went for a run’.

To start out with you’ve got PB, DNF, DOMS and other acronyms to master, then you progress to fartlek, pronate, iliotibial band syndrome and patellofemoral pain (sadly, a lot of us literally progress to these last two). Then you’ll start to create your own verbs from these (‘Oh man, I DNF’d’, ‘hooray, I PB’d!). This sort of thing is acceptable in running, but not in Scrabble.

My absolute favourite use of running language is the made-up words and phrases. Listeners of the excellent Marathon Talk podcast will be familiar with such gems as ‘zip up the man suit’ and ‘gingerbread man’. These are now in common usage, so much so that when I go to a local coffee shop, where they sell a drink called ‘gingerbread man latte’, I swear people are sniggering. No Marathon Talk listener would buy that drink, except to take a photo of it and send it to Martin and Tom.

My friend recently coined ‘roller face’, which is one I think all of us who’ve spent any quality time with a foam roller can relate to. Roller face is somewhere between dentist and childbirth.  I also like ‘race face’ – that look that of steely determination that you fake just before you see a race photographer, which instantly returns to misery and pity once you’re out of camera shot. It’s often accompanied by a temporary improvement in running form. Another friend suffers from ‘race jazz hands’ which means that whenever she sees a photographer her hands suddenly go into a demented double wave. There is currently no known cure for this, nor the similar affliction of the ‘double thumbs up’.

The Language of Running

Photos: Prime examples of 'roller face'. Who could drink a Gingerbread Man Latte once they've listened to Marathon Talk? 

I really like a friend’s creation of ‘runner’s mouth’. This is when you come back from a run on such a high that you can’t stop going on to your long-suffering partner (or running widow/widower) about how great it was, how you saw a rainbow, how you ran up that massive hill possessed by a previously unknown strength, stroked a beautiful dog, chatted to a walker about the rainbow and picked wild berries. A word of warning on this one: if you’re the sort of runner who is prone to runner’s mouth, you will probably have completed this wondrous run at some ridiculous hour of the morning, so you may need to hold back a bit while your partner reaches that same level of enthusiasm, or is at least fully conscious. You know who you are.

One current trend in running language I do not approve of is the use of overstatement. This can be illustrated by words and phrases such as ‘toughest… in the world’, ‘brutal’, ‘broken’ etc, ridiculous exaggerations of runs and events, often used as a humblebrag.  Brutal is defined as ‘savagely violent’. I’ve had the odd accidental elbow in the ribs, a heel scuff, or a mild-mannered ‘you have it’, ‘no, you have it’, ‘no really, I’ll have the custard cream’ for the last jaffa cake at an aid station, but nothing I’d call violent. Broken is defined as ‘given up all hope, despairing’. I’ve been a bit fed up, my legs have hurt, I’ve wanted to stop running, but I’ve never found myself lost in a jungle, drinking my own urine and waiting for death to come.

The Language of Running

Photos: Prime examples of 'race face' and 'jazz hands'! 

We’re very lucky at Run247 to hang out with some very awesome runners. If you asked Robbie Britton how he found a really hard race I think he’s very unlikely to see its difficulty as ‘brutal’. He bloody loves that sort of stuff! He can’t get enough of the really hard runs and the hurt. He shrugs off pain and suffering, rather than bragging about it. He had a massive cut along the bottom of his foot after UTMB but it didn’t register much more than a broken fingernail. Similarly, I was talking to Jez Bragg about the toughest section of a race I think I’ve ever run and he barely noticed it. I was swearing, falling over, couldn’t believe how hard I found it and he’d skipped over it (many, many hours previously).

Ask Lizzy Hawker how she finds unbelievably difficult (mentally and physically) runs and you’ll get an answer about her love of the mountains so eloquent and evocative that you’ll want to head straight for the Alps or Himalayas. And she’s possibly the person least likely to use a humblebrag in the world. She exudes a love of what she does, she is so talented and yet so humble. One of many, many reasons she is such an inspiration.

So come on people, let’s zip up those man suits, get out there and enjoy our running. Get your runners’ mouths on, enjoy the rainbows, the berries and appreciate the views from the top of those hills rather than getting our phones out to tweet about how brutal that 20 metre climb was and how you’re now broken. It wasn’t and you’re not. Unless you’re trying to outrun a gang of blood-thirsty pirates while marooned on a desert island, then fair enough.


About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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