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Katherine Wright | | August 12, 2022

Cross country glossary: Get to know the basic and advanced terms

2021 women's cross country championship | FULL RACE

Here is a look at some of the common (and not-so-common) terms used in the world of NCAA cross country and running.

Thanks to Lori Shontz at the University of Oregon, the USTFCCA and for help compiling this glossary. Have your own entry you'd like to see added? Tell us at


That "k" represents kilometers, which equals 1,000 meters. 6k equals 3.73 miles; 8k is 4.96 miles; 10k is 6.21.

Bill Dellinger Award

Named after former Oregon men's cross country and track and field coach, the Bill Dellinger Award is given to the cross country Men's Coach of the Year.


The point at which muscles begin fatiguing rapidly. Also phrased as "hitting the wall." It happens when the body's stored energy is used up and major fatigue sets in.

Cross Country conference championships

A period that begins the postseason where conference members oppose each other for the conference title. It includes the ACC Cross Country Championships, Big Ten Cross Country Championships, Pac-12 Cross Country Championships.


Slow run or jog to loosen muscles after a race to rid the body of lactic acid.


Course record.


Did not finish.


Did not start.


Swedish for "speed play." Training technique that combines variations of speeds or paces — slow, moderate, fast bursts — within a run. Can help increase speed and endurance.

George Dales Award

Named after the late Western Michigan coach George Dales, the honor is awarded annually to an individual who enhances, grows and develops the profession of cross country and track and field.

International Amateur Athletic Federation​ ​​​​​​(IAAF) 

Founded in 1912, the IAAF is an international governing body for athletics, including track and field, cross country, road running, mountain running, etc. Standardizing rules, regulating equipment, recognizing and managing world records are some of the IAAF's responsibilities.

IAAF World Cross Country Championships

Inaugurated in 1973, the championships gathers the world's best cross country runners and tests them against each other. The once annual event is now biennial.

imperial mile (mile)

The U.S. unit of measuring long distances, equals 1609 meters, 5,280 feet; 1,760 yards.

in-season invitationals

Meets within the collegiate regular season that host opponents across the country; individual runners and teams have the opportunity to compare themselves and compete for placement.

  • Examples: Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, Pre-nationals Invitational

NUTTYCOMBE INFO: 6 essentials to know about the annual invitational


Training technique that builds strength and endurance. Intervals incorporate fast, repetitive speeds within 200-800 meters alternated with slow intervals of jogging or rest.

Jimmy Carnes Distinguished Service Award

Named after the late Jimmy Carnes — who coached the U.S. Olympic and Florida Gators track and field teams — the annual award is presented to an individual who goes beyond the basic service of coaching cross country and track and field.

junior athlete

Student-athlete younger than 20 on Dec. 31 of said year.

lactic acid

Associated with muscle fatigue and soreness, the substance forms in the muscles after the incomplete breakdown of glucose.

lactate threshold

Maximum intensity or effort a runner can reach before lactate is introduced to the blood stream.

long, slow distance (LSD)

The practice of running long distance at an "easy" pace to promote fitness, in comparison to running at full exertion in short distances — which accelerates exhaustion

masters athlete

Older than 40.

maximum heart rate

The highest heart rate reached during the run.

"metric mile"

1500m, the closest to the imperial mile in international racing distance.

NCAA Cross Country Championships

31 men's and women's teams are selected to compete at the NCAA DI Championships. 18 bids — top two teams in each of the nine regions — are automatic, and 13 bids are at-large. At large selections involve regular season and regional scoring. Designations of "A" and "B" teams are determined after the NCAA regional meets. 38 additional individuals per gender are selected to compete.

NCAA Regional Championships

Event that assembles the country's nine regions' cross country teams for a men's and women's race, the precursor to the NCAA National Championships.

negative split

When an athlete runs the second half of the race faster than the first half.


National record.

Peter Tegen Award

Named after former Wisconsin women's cross country and track and field coach, the Peter Tegen Award is given to the cross country Women's Coach of the Year.


Acceleration during a run, those in shorter duration than fartleks.


Personal ranking/personal best.

running economy

How much oxygen used while running. Improving running economy means you are able to run at a smaller percentage of VO2Max, or maximum oxygen consumption.


Clocked time at mile markers or other pre-planned checkpoint in route to the finish line.


Decrease of mileage in preparation for a big race. Helps with muscle relaxation. Can be used as a noun or verb.

tempo run

Training with a sustained effort. Length ranges from 20-30 minutes at 10-15 second per mile slower than normal pace.

threshold runs

To build better endurance and delay fatigue, runs of 5-20 minutes at a pace slower than your typical speed should allow athletes to run faster in the future. This pace is close to the lactate threshold, and running close to that window is believed to raise your lactate threshold.

U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA)

A non-profit, professional organization that represents track and field and cross country coaches of all levels, including collegiate and those in high school associations

USTFCCCA Convention

An assembly held every year in December to gather the nation's many cross country/track and field programs. Celebration of the previous season ensues, as well as the administering of honors and award presentations

USTFCCCA Program of the Year

Awarded annually to the best cross country/track and field programs in each of NCAA's three divisions, the NAIA and each gender in those levels. Eligibility is determined if the program qualified for the NCAA/NAIA Championships (cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field), and the scoring is based on the programs with the lowest scores in the championships.


Maximal oxygen consumption. The maximum amount of oxygen you can inhale and then transport throughout the body.

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