Home > The Scene

A breakdown of track and field’s most insider lingo

Words you need to know if you're going to step onto a track

Running has so many sub-sections that at times is can be tricky to understand the jargon of the sport’s various events. If you’re a road or trail runner who’s looking to dip your toe into track and field spectating or competition, here are some commonly used track and field terms that don’t have obvious meanings but are important to know.

Interior of an athletic arena

RELATED: What runners say and what they really mean

Yelling ‘track!’

If someone yells ‘track!’ it means move. And move fast, because a runner is coming. Track athletes should really just yell move, it would be more intuitive, but this is the word they use to convey, “get out of the way.”

Negative split

A negative split means that the first half of your race was slower than the second half. Running a race this way typically indicates that you can go faster. 

Sit and kick race


The ‘sit and kick’ style of racing is most common at championship events. This is where races get tactical, because a runner’s place is much more important than their time. In distance events, this usually means running slowly for the majority of the event before someone gets antsy and tries to break the field. Sit and kick races can turn into more of a waiting game than an actual race.

Sitting and kicking is just one of the various tactics that runners use in a championship. Other examples are attempting to run away from the field, meaning that you take your fellow competitors out at a pace that they hopefully can’t sustain. A runner can also have another competitor marked and when that runner moves, so do they. 

Toe the line

This just means lining up to race. When track runners line up, they literally put their toe just behind the white line. 

The cut in

The cut-in refers to a runner moving into lane one. There are several kinds of cut-ins in track and field depending on the event and start type. You’ve got waterfall starts (typically used in the 1,500m through 10,000m) which places all of the runners on a curved line and they’re able to cut into lane one as soon as the gun goes off.

Box starts are a version of the waterfall start, where the runners are separated into two or three alleys on the track, and they’re able to cut into the innermost lane of their box once the gun goes, but not able to cut into lane one until they hit the 100-metre mark.

Finally, there are two different kinds of lane starts. In sprinting events (400m or less) runners start with in starting blocks in their lanes and stay there, never cutting in. The 500m, 600m and 800m are the only events that start in lanes before going to a cut-in. Runners are in an assigned lane and move to lane one after 100 metres.

Lead photo: