Running jargon busting No.1: Undulating

This is the first in an occasional series of posts explaining the real meaning behind various running terms


Dictionary definition: having a wave in form or appearance

Undulating isn’t the sort of word you hear every day – but in run course descriptions it’s so over-used it’s a bit of a cliche.

Why? Well, it’s probably because nobody really knows exactly what undulating means. You can work out that a course described as undulating will have some elevation change in it, but the description offers no real clue as to exactly how bumpy it might be. That makes it a useful word for race organisers worried that using phrases such as ‘not flat’, ’hilly’ or ‘steep in places’ might scare off entrants. Because running up hills hurts, obviously.

Essentially, ‘undulating’ is running shorthand for a race route that definitely isn’t flat, but probably isn’t punishingly steep (that’s what the term ‘challenging’ is for…). That’s my theory, at least.

Undulating pic2

An undulating course, displayed in GPS tracking profile form…

Some organisers stretch the definition a bit, with routes that have surprisingly long and steep undulations in them, which seem far more like, well, proper hills to me.

Also, some organisers just use the word in slightly odd ways. One race I competed in had a course which, rather unhelpfully, was described as “both flat and undulating”…

Click here to read my full set of running jargon busting guides here.



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