blog Trail Running Terminology, It’s Gonna Be Gnarly!

Trail Running Terminology, It’s Gonna Be Gnarly!

Sean Lake

4 months ago

Welcome to the world of trail running! If you are new here you may have noticed that trail runners, who venture into rough terrain and often traverse super long distances, have their own special language. Like any other sport, trail running has its own vernacular with words and phrases particular to the sport. If you’re having a hard time keeping up, don’t worry–we are here to keep you in the loop. So here are some typical phrases of trail runners and how to use them, so you can talk the talk as you run the run.

Single-track and double-track:

Popular trails come in different sizes. A trail that is wide enough for just one person is known as a single-track, while double-track refers to a trail wide enough for two people or a vehicle.

Switchback:

Just like hiking, a switchback is a sharp turn that helps you cut up or down a slope. Switchbacks actually serve a practical purpose in cutting down on erosion, so while it may feel like you are saving time by skipping them it's better for the trail to use them. Some trail races also have rules about using switchbacks, so make sure you know beforehand.

Gnarly:

if you’re hitting a gnarly trail, watch out! You’ve got a tough (but exciting!) run ahead of you. A gnarly trail will be technical and challenging, perhaps with rugged terrain.

Vert:

Trail runners are thinking about more than just distance–they also have to contend with vertical gain or “vert.”

Out and back:

An out and back is a trail that you run the same way out and back instead of in a loop. Out and backs are a great option for beginners because you are less likely to get lost.

Tapering:

The closer you are to race day, the less you typically exert yourself so that your body is ready to give 100% to the race. Tapering is a method of training used in trail running and other sports (like swimming) to gradually reduce distance and effort in the final days before a competition.

Strides:

In trail running, strides are short bursts of running for 15 to 30 seconds at as fast as you can go comfortably–these are not sprints after all. Strides are an excellent workout for improving running economy.

Bonk:

If you hit a bonk you may feel like you’ve hit a wall. Getting a bonk is the point when your body and mind are at a point of collapse.

Drop bags:

Drop bags are exactly what they sound like: bags dropped along a race route filled with supplies to help runners get through the run. The rules vary per race and not all races allow them, but usually they must be dropped at specific drop points or during designated sections of trail.

Fatass:

We promise you this is not an insult or a way of calling someone out of shape. A Fat Ass is a free or low-cost race. These events are usually organized by grassroots running communities.

Pacer:

A pacer is someone who helps a runner pace themselves in long races, especially ultramarathons. Pacers, sometimes called angel pacers, are part of a long distance runner’s crew, helping them achieve the finish line.

Aid stations:

Long races have aid stations where runners can refuel, rehydrate, and check-in. These stations are also known as everything from the trail runner’s buffet to the foot clinic to the hospital.

Crew–Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting:

Ah the crew. If you are participating in a long race such as an ultramarathon, you will more than likely need a crew to get through. Many people joke that “crew” stands for “Cranky runner, endless waiting,” and while it may be true, your crew is a group of people there to support you on your run–helping you hydrate, stay motivated, navigate the course, and just generally offering support so you can finish the run.

Some popular abbreviations for unpopular moments:

Trail runners love abbreviations and acronyms, especially when they’re for those less successful moments. Let's say you don’t finish a run–this is referred to simply as DNF, or “Did Not Finish.” If you never started at all, you are DNS or “Did Not Start.” And if you ran the race and came in “Dead Freaking Last,” then you are, you guessed it, DFL.

King of the Mountain:

Every dedicated runner is on Strava these days, and some even get the title King of the Mountain, or KOM for short. These runners have the best time on a section of trail.

Cutoff:

It ain't over till it's over right? Not necessarily. Most trail races have a cutoff, both at stations, and for the race itself. This just means there is only so long that you can spend at aid stations and finish the race and these cutoffs are in place for safety reasons.

Bladder:

While normally you want your bladder to be empty before running, this bladder, or hydration pack with a straw, should be filled before you hit the trail.

Dirtbagging:

The dirtbagging life isn’t for everyone, but it does attract trail fanatics. Dirtbagging means roughing it–living out of a van or on the road where showers are scarce.

Hundo:

A hundo is a 100 miler. Simple. And yes, people run that far. Also of note–even races longer than 100 miles, say 120, are referred to as hundos.

Roadie:

A roadie is a runner who sticks to paved roads.

Runnable:

few phrases are as subjective as “runnable” but if you think you can run it, its probably runnable.

Traverse:

Trail runners will traverse anything and will use the word traverse whenever possible to talk about the trails they’ve run.

It’s the climb:

The climb, or power hike, is the part of a trail that goes uphill. If you haven’t felt the strain yet, this portion could be the hardest part of your workout.

Get on out there!

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