When someone runs past me in a Boston Athletic Association (BAA) jacket, clearly training for the Marathon, I always feel a little worse about myself as I struggle through a two- or three-mile run.
But even more astounding to me than the 26.2 miles (plus the dozens of other miles they rack up training) is that the average runner is discouraged from wearing headphones by the BAA and the elite runners eligible for prize money are prohibited from wearing headphones at all. My music is almost exclusively what gets me through my measly runs.
I like to think of myself as someone who has a decent taste in music. Thanks to a series of musically literate ex-boyfriends, I have a robust iTunes library that mostly stays away from the standard poppy and/or acoustic guitar playlists of many of my friends. But when I’m running, it has to be either bad pop or occasionally rap with a sing-a-long hook. That’s it.
I justify this weakness for Top 40 hits with the theory that all humans have a self-destructive streak. It’s just bigger or smaller in some people. We crave things that are bad for us on some level, no matter what. When I’m running, I’m doing something good for my body. I can’t do something good for my mind too—sort of like how it is really hard to write a 15-page paper without eating Doritos.
I’ll try to listen to tUnE-yArDs or LCD Soundsystem, which are just as upbeat and share similar rhythms with the Top 40, but less than a half-mile in, I become a pop junky, shaking and pleading with the iTunes gods to give me the stuff I need to numb my mind and body enough to get through.
Rather than fight this desire, I have given in. So, in honor of the Boston Marathon, I am sharing with you five of-the-moment(ish) songs to start a run and attempt to be in solidarity with the marathoners—or just make yourself feel better about not running 26.2 miles.
“Shut Up and Dance” by WALK THE MOON
Even though this song is everywhere, the catchy guitar riff hooks you right from the beginning and gets you psyched to start your run. After the first verse, the break in the lyrics—with only the thrum of the guitar and steady clap—sets an even beat and a rhythm to run to. The quiet 1-2-1-2 can be heard at all times and drives the song (and you) forward.
The lyrics are fun and take you to a Friday night instead of the road in front you. “Shut Up and Dance” clinched its spot as a beginning-of-the-run favorite with the interlude at minute two that matches the one after the first chorus. It not only reminds you of the pace at which you should be running, but the exuberant exclamation of “SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME!” that carries you into the final chorus is so enthusiastic that you may become that weird person in the gym who is dancing on his/her treadmill.
“Honey, I’m Good” by Andy Grammer
The song starts with a burst of energy, with only a line-dance-like clap and the vocals from Andy Grammer keeping up all the energy you just built from “Shut Up and Dance.” After the initial intro, the instruments come in and it slows down a bit for the verses, letting you really settle in for the run. This works like a modified sprint, challenging you with some interval training without exhausting you completely and depleting your energy. But the intro comes back for every chorus, keeping the song interesting and allowing you to check your pace and energy for the remaining three minutes.
“7/11” by Beyonce
Pretty much any Beyonce is great running music in my book, but her newest release, “7/11,” is even better. A bonus track for her much acclaimed, self-titled album, “7/11” is a touch grittier than the rest of the record and listening to it feels a little more badass than the average Beyonce song.
It has an artificial keyboard beat that works the same way as the clap in “Shut Up and Dance,” but it moves a little faster to really get you into the run. It tells you to pick up the pace and hopefully motivates you to keep running until you look as fabulous as Beyonce sounds. It is slightly irregular, punctuating some of the sassier lyrics. “Girl I’m tryin’ kick it with you” makes it sound like Beyonce is on your side as you push through this first mile. That, or I sort of feel like she’s trying to hang out with me, and my girl crush on her knows no bounds. I would be pretty okay with her hitting on me.
“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
Running songs have a longer shelf life than the average track because of the tried-and-true, worn in, almost lullaby-like nature. I heard once that good pop songs are like nursery rhymes—easy to remember and not too complex—and that is part of why they are so successful. This is even more true for running music. The simplicity lulls you comfortably into the pace of the run.
“Uptown Funk” is the song no one can seem to get away from, but this makes it ideal to pound out the middle of a workout. It is catchy as hell and sheer, innocent fun, which makes it way more enticing than other songs it’s next to on the charts. (Take “Wasted,” for example. Any song that is built on the basis of “I like us better when we’re wasted” is depressing, no matter how upbeat it is.)
The three-minute break of just Bruno Mars repeating “Uptown funk you up / dance, jump on it” mixes up the song enough to keep your mind busy for the full 4:29, which is about a half mile without looking at your timer or mileage.
“Anything Could Happen” by Ellie Goulding
“Eee eee eeee eeee.”
Ellie Goulding’s auto-tuned falsetto welcomes you to the middle of your run. Even though this one is a few years old, it is still the perfect this-is-starting-to-get-difficult song. This quality is mostly due to two things: first, it gets bonus points for being almost five minutes long. The second is a somewhat more elusive quality, a quality I couldn’t pin down for almost year.
It comes from the transitions into the choruses. They build and build, with the repeated “Anything could happen / anything could happen,” slowing gaining as the background singers and the weird “ee eeee ee” is added back in. But on the last repetition of the phrase, it cuts off at “…anything could.” You are pulled up short, never getting the payoff you were waiting for, a watered-down techno beat cutting in instead. It’s maddening, like holding in a sneeze.
At the three-minute mark, a piano takes over for the eees, joined only by Goulding’s voice. Then the drums come back, strengthening, as Goulding’s voice gets more guttural and more powerful, singing “I know it’s going to be / I know it’s going to be,” with a final, perfectly timed “Oooowhooo” joined with the techno beat.
And it took her a full four minutes to get there. Look at that, you’re almost finished with your run.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic