A beginner’s running guide: Race Terminology

A beginner’s running guide: Race Terminology

Congratulations, you’ve trained hard and done your mileage and now want to take it to the next level and enter a race? A half marathon even?

When you register and read all the FAQs and race day information you might come across some terminology you haven’t heard before. Instead of having to look things up, I will give you a quick run down. The following apply to the most common and popular road races and shorter trail races (ultra marathons for example have some differences).

This is your race number which will either be send out to you by post or that you will have to collect pre-race at registration. You attach this to your chest (hence the name) with safety pins which are usually provided. 

Chipped timing:
This is the most common way of taking your time at a race and is provided by the organisers. It is done by some sort of micro chip/transponder that is either pre-fitted to your BIB or comes as a small device you attach to the laces of your shoe or round your ankle with a strap. It will measure your exact race time once you pass the timing mats on the start and again on the finish line.

Be aware – some races have more than one timing mat at the finish. They can be used as a way to donate towards a charity by simply running over them. You don’t have to! Event organisers will communicate this prior to the race and mark clearly which one is time only and which one is the additional charity one. 

Race clock:
On top of chipped timing most races will have a big race clock at the finish line. This clock will get going with the official race start and stop with the last runner crossing the finish line. Especially at bigger races, your chipped time will differ from the time on the race clock unless you’re right in the front line.

Corrals and waves:
When you register for races you can be asked your estimated finishing time. You can base this either on previous official timings or you training times. Organisers will group runners according to these times and you will get assigned to a start corral, usually a colour, letter or number. These corrals will start in different waves to ensure participants don’t get in the way of each other and improve the overall race experience. Especially if it is a race where professional athletes take part you don’t want them to be held up by us average ‘park runners’. The waves can start up to 10-20 minutes after each other so it might be some time before you cross the start line. Which is where the chipped timing comes in handy.

If you want to make sure you run at a certain pace and not get carried away by the whole race experience or maybe try for a new PB (personal best) many events will offer pacers. These are clearly marked by flags or bright t-shirts with the time on their BIB. Stick with them and they will make sure you get to the end at an even pace. And even better, they will encourage you and cheer you up should you need it. 

Feeding/water stations:
Longer races will provide you with water stations. Sometimes you will get just water or you might be treated to power bars, bananas, sweets, sport gels or sport drinks etc. This depends again on the size of the event and if it is sponsored or supported by a sport nutrition brand. 

Runners’ village:
This sounds posh, doesn’t it, but can just refer to some tents behind the finishing line after you received your medal. There can be food on offer, massages, some sponsors might be represented here, toilet facilities etc. My rule of thumb: don’t expect too much, the more you get, the more pleasantly surprised you will be.

Loop course:
The finish line is in the same place as the start line, hence you run in a loop.

Point-to-point course:
The finish line is somewhere else than the start line so you run from one point to the other.


The German half of Outdoor Kultur. When I'm not working as a graphic designer and illustrator to pay my bills, I can be found outside, rambling in the countryside, going for a run or enjoying my new found love for mountain biking.

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