Project Marathon: What music do you listen to when you’re running?
The improver: Matt Kurton
Music is my constant companion when I run. It is there urging me forward when things get tough. It is there to put a smile on my face when the rain beats down and the wind steals my breath. And it is there to frame the sudden rushes of elation on those days when the blue skies and country views make me wonder why the whole world isn’t outside running too. First comes a decent pair of shoes, and second comes a decent soundtrack.
For me, running without music is like a watching a movie with the sound turned off. I ran a half marathon last year where MP3 players were banned, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. So I’ll be running London with my headphones on (although if the atmosphere is anything like it was in Berlin, I’ll also spend a good portion of the race with them around my neck, listening to the bands and using the crowd as my tailwind).
I’ve got an iPod I only use for running, and the tracklist stretches from the frenzied (Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Adam F, Pendulum, Sepultura) to the folky (John Martyn, Joanna Newsom, Nick Drake, Ben Kweller). Then there are the classics (David Bowie, The Beatles, Stone Roses, Beach Boys) and what you might loosely call the storytellers (PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, The Mountain Goats, Neil Young, The Decemberists).
There’s also the occasional blast of hip-hop and the plain difficult-to-pigeonhole, just to keep things interesting (Flight of the Conchords, LL Cool J, Blackalicious, and Oh Yeah, from the Ferris Bueller soundtrack). Oh, and Roadrunner by Jonathan Richman, which might actually be about cars, but to me will always be about running.
If I want to keep moving at speed – for a 10k, say – it’s all about metal and drum’n’bass. Not because I want to run to the beat (do that to the whole of Tarantula by Pendulum and you’ll either end up as the next Gebrselassie or being sick in a ditch), but because the relentless energy in the songs gets the adrenaline – and the feet – pumping, and waves away fatigue.
But while a quick blast of Metallica never hurts, on longer runs I need to be surrounded by the more gentle things in life, which is where the likes of The Decemberists and Neil Young come in. The lyrics capture your imagination, and the minutes and miles fly by. There’s also a lot to be said for big, memorable, singalong choruses, which is why Oasis, Aerosmith and the mighty Girls Aloud are also on the playlist.
So with all of that in mind, and unable to resist my inner Nick Hornby, I’m going to have a bash at listing my top 10 running tracks, based on a mix of faster and slightly slower tunes. I very much hope you’ll do the same. In no particular order, they are:
Arctic Monkeys – Fake Tales of San Francisco
The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 1 & 2
Cold – Go Away
Prodigy – Their Law
The Mountain Goats – This Year
Bright Eyes – Soul Singer in a Session Band
Metallica – That Was Just Your Life
Rage Against the Machine – Calm Like a Bomb
Wilson Pickett – Land of 1000 Dancers
Pendulum – Tarantula
The beginner: Carol Williamson
Following Sam Murphy’s advice, I headed off for a recent long run with the firm intention of running at a slightly slower speed than race pace. Admittedly this brings my speed down to slightly faster than snail pace, but anything that is going to get the mileage up is not to be sniffed at. My long run was the Roding Valley half marathon in Essex (I wonder if any readers were there too?).
After enduring an endless journey at the crack of dawn, I arrived at the freezing starting point. Life got much worse when I actually read the rules for the race, which included the alarming commandment: “No iPods allowed”.
I have never, ever run on my own without an iPod (in fact, I actually had a nightmare last week that my Nano broke down at mile one of the London marathon and I could not go on – this gives you a hint of my reliance on it). I therefore set off with serious doubts as to whether I would even get round the course.
Miles zero to three were indeed quite miserable, despite the sedate pace I was pootling along at. But by mile four a funny thing had happened: I found I was actually enjoying myself and my iPod freedom conferred many benefits.
Rather than existing in my own little antisocial bubble, eyes glued to the pavement in front of me, I was actually looking around at the countryside; paying more attention to my posture and running gait; and having great fun eavesdropping on all the conversations around me (Jo, if you’re reading this you should definitely dump your boyfriend – he sounds like a loser).
A friend assures me that I won’t want to listen to music on London marathon day as I will miss out on all the atmosphere and noise of the crowd, and as I will be running along with people dressed as Big Bird and the like I will probably find other runners quite talkative!
Anyway, the snail pace paid off – I finished in a slower time than my last (and only) half marathon, but I was nowhere near the hallucinogenic state I reached last time in the final miles. In fact, my last couple of miles were my quickest and I felt I could comfortably have run on.
Since then I’ve run with and without my iPod, depending on what type of training session I am doing that particular day. Sometimes if you’re feeling tired and having a bad day, you just can’t beat a good blast of Eye of the Tiger to encourage you on. It’s weird that often I find stuff I listen to generally just doesn’t encourage me when running, and tunes I would never normally listen to are actually good to run to.
Current top 10 tunes are (please don’t judge me!):
The Killers – Are we Human?
Cypress Hill – Insane in the Brain (I don’t know why but this always
gets me to pick my feet up)
The Jam – Town called Malice
Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer
Sugababes – Push the Button
Feeder – Buck Rodgers
Coldplay – Fix You
Oasis – Live Forever
Suede – Beautiful Ones
Pogues – Fairytale of New York
What should Matt and Carol add to their playlists – or do you believe in running without distractions? Let us know in the comments section below
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