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Jan. 17 2010 - 11:42 am | 625 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Music for the road

4 GB blue iPod Nano

Image via Wikipedia

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, iPods and other MP3 players are a part of running.  Even if you don’t listen to one yourself, you’ll inevitably run alongside others who do: In 2008, the United States Track and Field Association lifted its ban on portable music players for racers not competing for awards, leaving it up to race directors to decide whether or not to allow them.  Even when the ban was in place, however, race participants routinely broke their rules.  Just like coffee, it seems music is something many runners simply will not, perhaps cannot, run without.

While we at Running Shorts may not shudder at the thought of running emtpy-eared, we recognize the power of the right tunes to  push our workouts over the edge or even to pull us out of a dreaded running rut.  Here’s what we think about training with iPods, and the music we use to jazz up our workouts.

Matt: Every once in a while I go through a phase where I run without my iPod for a while, but usually that’s only because I’m sick of my playlist!  Otherwise, I almost always use one when I’m running alone.

For me, listening to something while I run serves two distinct purposes: Enhancing my workout, and delaying the onset of all-out boredom.  If I’m doing a track workout or even a tempo run, upbeat music pumps me up and helps me focus during fast repeats, while slower songs during rest intervals serve to accentuate the change of pace.  For long runs though, it’s all about distraction: I’ll listen to whatever it takes to keep me out on the roads or the trail for two or three hours.  Lame as it sounds, a brand new audiobook from the library can zone me out like nothing else while I log in the requisite mileage to train for a marathon or ultra.

As far as genres and bands go, I’m a big fan of anything punk while running.  Pop-punk stuff like Blink 182, which I’m a little ashamed of listening to when I’m not running, always seems to do the trick of getting me to push a little harder.  I’ve also found Death Cab for Cutie albums to be a good mix of entrancing and energizing, perfect for long-ish tempo runs.  And I’ve got to give a little love to Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover,” an all-instrumental guitar song that has the perfect tempo for matching your strides at the ideal rate of 180 steps per minute.  I listened to this one over and over as I was training myself to increase my turnover rate. You can see lots more of my favorite running songs in a post I wrote on my blog a while back.

Megan: I started running when the only option for on-the-go music was a clunky CD player. I tried this a few times, but soon decided that the constant skipping and extra bulk wasn’t worth it. By the time Ipods became popular, I was a member of my college’s cross-country and track teams and our coach made it clear that running with music was not an option. Even after I graduated from college and was running on my own, I was hesitant to bring an Ipod along. Would the music distract me during hard runs or races? How do you bond with a running buddy if Beyonce is blaring in your ear?

Once I moved to New York City and my work schedule required that many of my runs be done solo or on the treadmill, my music became an indispensable running partner. A new playlist got me excited to run when I was tempted to stay on the couch and some of my favorite motivational songs helped me finish the last tough miles of a long run. Now I regularly run with music, but I’m judicious in my use of it. My playlists keep me company on the treadmill, during solo runs, and even during some workouts and races. However, over time I’ve made the decision not to run with music when a race is very important to me. In these instances, I prefer to draw my focus inward and concentrate 110% on the race. I didn’t use an ipod during any of the marathons I’ve run – I wanted to hear the crowds and cheers in NYC and I had a great running buddy to keep me company in Boston. When the stakes are high for a race, I’ve found that focusing internally brings greater success than a playlist. That being said, I still have a queue of favorite songs that pump me up:

-She Wolf by Shakira
-Meet Me Halfway by the Blackeyed Peas
-Promiscuous by Nelly Furtado
-Lose Yourself by Eminem
-Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys
-And of course, Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty

There’s nothing like top 40 music to get me goin’ – Kelly Clarkson, Fergie, and Shakira help the miles fly by!

Do you have the perfect running playlist? Or do you prefer to run to the beat of your own feet?


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    I wish the race directors had been more aggressive in enforcing the no-headphone rule when it was applicable. People who run with headphones are some of the most anti-social, isolated runners (I hate to call them that). If you can’t run without music you are not a runner – go to the gym and get on a dreadmill!
    Imagine someone showing up to a golf game or a tennis match with headphones – then why is it acceptable to be in a race with headphones on. I live in New York City and run regularly in Central Park and find that people with headphones are completely unaware of runners around them – they constantly step in front of you no realizing that someone is about to pass them etc. It is really rude and people should be discouraged from running with music. The only music I want to hear when I run is the beat of my and my running buddies’ feet

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    If you can still find it, dj BC and the Beastles is pretty great for running — a sublime mashup of the Beastie Boys and the Beatles

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    I mix up the running playlist from time to time. I tweak it constantly, in a futile effort to keep boredom at bay.

    At the moment, included on my playlist are Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” “Hate on Me” from the GLEE soundtrack, some Toots & the Maytals, the Pretenders, Gogol Bordello and K’Naan. I love running to AC/DC from time to time — nothing like classic rock to get things flowing. My latest obsession is with Black Joe Lewis. Load his song “Sugarfoot” on to your iPod immediately. You can thank me later.

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    Totally agree w/ shuddering at the thought of being “empty-eared” and definitely think that finding the “right” music that motivates you can help on a run. I also think that matching the bpm (beats per minute) to your pace can also be very helpful. I’ve put a few of my favorites w/ bpms below and I hope you’ll check out the 4 different playlists I’ve put together specifically for running (esp. for marathons). There is over 25 hrs of running music w/ carefully selected songs that are inspirational, about running, or at least are fun w/ great beat. Check it out at http://www.aboldpace.com

    Some favs (w/ bpms):

    This Year – The Mountain Goats (140)
    Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken – Camera Obscura (145)
    The Way We Get By – Spoon (152)
    Take a Minute – K’naan (156)
    Joker and the Thief – Wolfmother (158)
    Niagara Falls – Harlem Shakes (159)
    Slight Figure of Speech – The Avett Brothers (165)
    Salute Your Solution – Raconteurs (165)
    Come Together – Beatles (167)
    Jigsaw Falling Into Place – Radiohead (167)
    Australia – The Shins (171)
    Paper Planes – M.I.A. (173)
    Such Great Heights – The Postal Service (175)
    Friend or Foe – Adam & the Ants (184)
    Talk to Ya Later – The Tubes (155)
    Kick it Out – Heart (157)

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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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