hr

Build a Playlist to Conquer Every Workout

Use your tunes to optimize recovery, bolster your endurance, and—of course—run faster than ever.

A perfect running playlist delivers you into that elusive flow state, where peak performance feels effortless. But there’s no one-size-fits-all mix that will get everyone there on every run. Just as each workout has its purpose—speed, endurance, recovery—your playlists should be crafted to meet those goals while also responding to what mood and music you find motivating. Here’s how to design your personalized playlists.

playlist and running accessories
Trevor Raab

Consider Beats per Minute, but Don’t Be Constrained by It

Running to high-BPM music—above 130 beats per minute, according to a 2019 study from the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada—has been shown to improve endurance, offer a quicker recovery postrun, and help maintain a steady pace. But that doesn’t mean you have to obsessively track down songs at the exact same speed, says Peloton Tread instructor Marcel Dinkins. “Your playlist would be extremely boring if every song was at the same BPM,” he says. Unless it’s for a very short run or an intense burst, Dinkins advises varying song speed across a playlist. For cruising, try songs at 120–140 BPM, like “I Gotta Feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas. Speedwork calls for 150–160, like “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. Check your favorite songs’ tempo at SongBPM.com.

Dial Into Your Fastest Emotions

Stir up the feelings that give you an edge. Does a little anger make you run faster? Tap into that, says Stephen Gonzalez, PhD, assistant athletics director for leadership and mental performance at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and an executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. But pay attention to the length of your run and the limits of your endurance before you amp yourself too much: Gonzalez points to pro fighters who come out to hype music, get into the ring, and swing so hard that they’re exhausted by round two. “[Music can] heighten emotions to the point where it impacts [an athlete’s] physical ability,” he says. Build in calmer breaks if you tend to push yourself too hard.

checking watch
Trevor Raab
checking phone
Trevor Raab

Follow the Lyrics

A 2015 study out of the University of Tehran in Iran found that folks who listened to music with lyrics while running on a treadmill had a lower rate of perceived exhaustion than those without music. Gonzalez likes to take that idea a step further: When he ran track at the University of Pittsburgh, he played Van Halen’s “Right Now” during intervals because the lyrics had a message that matched what he was doing physically. “[The song tells you] right now I’m going to go for this and do this,” he says. There are lots of ways to match a song’s message to your effort, from running relevant lyrics (Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” or Jill Scott’s “Run Run Run”) to tunes that encourage you to persevere (Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” or Queen’s “We Will Rock You”).

Source Soundtracks

Movie and television soundtracks are designed to connect with your emotions and can make you feel like you’re in your own sports montage. One of the greatest examples: Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from Rocky. Just try to listen to it without wanting to sprint up the nearest steps. Lanoa Curry, a group fitness instructor and run coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, says these songs work by conjuring visuals that instantly boost your vigor. She sources songs from action movies or TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “In class I use the Buffy theme for the final sprint,” she says. “I get to be Buffy in my head and run through the opening credits [action sequence].”

checking headphones
Trevor Raab

Always Make It Fun

While runners are often focused on performance, Gonzalez says pairing music with your run is also about enjoying the miles, especially for easy runs. The right songs can allow you to park your brain and disassociate yourself from the running task at hand. So when you’re curating your list, add the songs that make you get up and dance no matter where you are (like Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” or “Call Me Maybe,” by Carly Rae Jepsen). You can get a similar effect by zoning out to a podcast, Gonzalez says. But you’ll have better success with lighter, unscripted shows like How Did This Get Made? versus a more demanding listen such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History.

Test-Run Your Playlist

There’s no better way to know what works (and what doesn’t) than by road-testing your series of songs. Ask yourself: Are there songs you added that made you want to change your pace? Slowed you down? Sped you up? Were there songs that improved your mood or totally killed your vibe? Make those mental notes and then you can revise the playlist for next time. —Rozalynn S. Frazier


hr

Get Pumped Up Like a Pro

11 running superstars share their favorite hype songs. Add them to your playlists for a hit of high-speed magic. —Matthew Huff


hr

The Grand Piano Man of Big Sur Saved Me

piano player michael martinez and runner michael wardian participating in the big sur marathon in 2017 courtesy image from hillary fujii hillaryblisteringpacecom  big sur marathon in 2017   httpswwwbigsurmarathonorggalleries2017 marathon photo gallery
Pro Runner Michael Wardain passes pianist Michael Martinez at the 2017 Big Sur Marathon.
Photo by Alheli Curry / Courtesy Big Sur Marathon

At California’s Big Sur Marathon, Michael Martinez reinvigorates flagging runners in a tuxedo and tails.

It was the year I ran six marathons. I was coming off a rough breakup, not so much running away from my problems as running through them. Halfway into my second race, the Big Sur Marathon, I bottomed out at the top of Hurricane Point—far too exhausted to appreciate the smell of salt and chaparral, the view of stratus clouds sliding down to the Pacific. We often talk about mile 20, where just about everyone’s legs start to go sideways, but the hardest mile in Big Sur is arguably number 12, Hurricane Point, the pinnacle of a 500-plus-foot climb. That mile was one of my most difficult in that rough year, and when I reached the peak, I didn’t know if I could go on.

Then I heard it: the ethereal notes of a piano from somewhere ahead. I didn’t recognize the song, but I knew then that I could and would finish the race. My stride lengthened, and I loped down toward the iconic Bixby Bridge (you’ve seen it on Big Little Lies), where a tuxedoed man was perched at the seat of a concert grand piano. That man was Michael Martinez, a native of the Monterey Peninsula, who has played piano during the race since 2005.

Most marathons feature live music, and many include performances beyond the usual cover bands. A crew of Japanese Taiko drummers plays mile 20 of the New York City Marathon every year, while the quirky Portland Marathon in Oregon has featured a ragtime jug band near mile 10. Events in the Rock ’n’ Roll Running Series, which take place all over the world, are as much music festivals as races, featuring live bands and DJs. But there is nothing quite like bounding downhill in the magical landscape of Big Sur and happening upon a concert pianist.

It's about feeling the race. I'm playing off what's happening around me.

Martinez is known as the Big Sur Grand Piano Man (yes, it’s his official title). He says runners often stop at the bridge to take pictures, and one year someone even sat down next to him and played a few bars. “It can be a very impactful experience for the people who stop and stay a while,” he says.

Martinez was only 15 years old when he first donned the tuxedo to perform at the Big Sur Marathon, after being tapped by the original Big Sur Grand Piano Man, Jonathon Lee, who had performed on the course for 17 years. At the time, Martinez was a bit of a prodigy. His dad had surprised him with an electric piano at age 11, and by 13, he already had a gig at an Italian restaurant. He knew only 10 songs, but was supposed to play twice a week for two hours, including taking requests. He learned a lot of material by ear very quickly.

When Lee, who was suffering from complications of type 1 diabetes, passed away in 2004, Martinez took over as the marathon’s regular pianist. He realized he needed to learn some running songs, including “Chariots of Fire,” which he now plays a few times each race, timing it so most runners can hear the 1981 movie theme at least once on the mile-long stretch from Hurricane Point to the bridge. Otherwise, he tries to put together a set list that is relaxed enough to de-stress runners at the halfway point of an intense course, but still upbeat. “For me it’s about feeling the race,” he says. “I’m playing off of what’s happening around me.”

Like the passing runners, Martinez has to prepare and pace himself for the three-hour performance, starting right when the pros fly by and not stopping till the last stragglers walk past. Before arriving, he eats six pancakes. Then he warms up slowly, working through standards and originals, not really hitting his stride until after about an hour. He drinks water between songs, but otherwise there are no breaks, not even for the bathroom.

“Once I’m in the zone, I really don’t tend to move much or need much,” he says. “But afterwards I really feel it. Sunburn. Fatigue. It just really hits me fast. I’m like, Oh gosh, I really need to lie down.” —Keith Plocek


hr

6 Songs to Reignite Your Run

Tired legs? Broken spirit? Play these emergency tracks picked by former MTV VJ Dave Holmes.

Over time, the songs absorb bits of my life, making years’ worth of memories accessible at any time. It happens to the most seasoned and unnaturally enthusiastic runners: Every now and then you simply run out of gas. Your chest is burning, your motivation is flagging, there’s a shortcut home right there, you want to sit down like a normal person. To get over that hump, I keep an emergency playlist filled with songs guaranteed to put the wind back in my sails. Next time you find yourself in need of motivation, deploy one of these.

hr

There Is a Perfect Mile-Long Song and I’ve Been Chasing it for 15 Years

sound of silver
Courtesy, CD via GraphicPear

LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” arrived in May 2007, as I graduated high school. I heard the single, off the band’s Sound of Silver album, that summer while working as a YMCA camp counselor with a cooler college-student staff. Right away, I fell for the tireless piano riff and slow-building momentum. The length—seven minutes and 37 seconds—made it an ideal running song, one that fit easily into my three- or four-mile morning jogs. At 18, I could run seven-minute miles without much difficulty, and would routinely cover more than a mile by the time the final cymbal crashes brought the song to a halt.

In my mid-20s, when I first started seriously training for marathons, I had slowed down. Injuries and general life responsibilities had stretched my average mile to eight minutes. Still, “All My Friends” remained on my running playlists, a challenge to return to my unburdened teenage speed. A minute-twenty in, singer James Murphy crooned, “That’s how it starts,” but by then I’d already upped my pace, trying to keep up with my earlier self.

This content is imported from Third party. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Now, at 32, with a couple lingering ankle problems, my average pace fluctuates between eight-and-a-half and nine minutes. It’s become daunting to hear LCD’s soft piano kick in and stick to the old routine. But when I hear those first notes, no matter whether I’m on mile one or 10, I try to match my mile pace to the song’s length. It’s an isolated race against time, a test that has remained constant for nearly half my life.

It’s not just the length of “All My Friends” that makes it a perfect mile. Its style and substance set up an introspective effort. The lyrics follow a narrator through the years and social losses of getting older: “You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan. And the next five years trying to be with your friends again,” Murphy sings, his voice full of ennui.

During those summers in my late teens, when I spent evenings sprinting away from campers in games of Counselor Hunt and Capture the Flag, “All My Friends” was a reminder that the days were endless with possibility. Now when I listen, I identify with the world-weary guy in the later part of the song. I’ve moved across the country several times, changed professions, and lost touch with countless friends. I can barely keep track of others scattered across the globe. At the crescendo, when James Murphy repeatedly asks, “Where are your friends tonight?” I wonder about them while my chest burns and my legs wobble.

Over the years, as my running routes changed with the places I was calling home—Ann Arbor, Chicago, Tallahassee, Tacoma—“All My Friends” offered continuity in my running practice while everything else was in flux. Each time it begins, I smile at the challenge. By the end, I am exhausted. It reminds me that you don’t have to succeed at impossible tasks, like maintaining a pace for 15 years, or staying in touch with every friend, or living a blissfully fulfilling life. But it feels good to try. —Aram Mrjoian


hr

How Music—and a Long-Distance Relationship—Made Me a Runner

sitting listening to music
Nikhita Mahtani checks her playlist before a run in Mumbai, India.
Trisha Sarang

K and I met at a Christmas party in India where a celebrated DJ was playing. I won’t name names, but neither of us was impressed by the headache-inducing EDM thumping out of the booth. “I can come up with a better playlist than that,” K said as we sipped vodka sodas with extra lime (called “nimbu” in Hindi). “Okay, DJ Nimbu,” I said. “Send me some songs.”

We went on our first date a few weeks later, but we were quickly separated by the realities of our lives: He lived in London, and I had to go back to New York. Across an ocean, we communicated through text and music. He’d kept his promise. Almost every day, he sent me a new song: Led Zeppelin, or indie pop rock band The 1975, or Niall Horan—the George Harrison of One Direction. K was a runner, and a lot of the songs he sent came from his running playlists.

I was not a runner, and when the pandemic began a few months into our song correspondence, I fell into a funk that I had a hard time shaking off. First: all the cardio, cycling, and Pilates classes I normally used to clear my head disappeared. Second: K and I hadn’t even established what we were yet. With the two of us separated on different continents, it didn’t seem like there would be many chances to figure it out.

K, meanwhile, ran almost every day. He’d put on a playlist and just go, his body and music and mind as one. His dedication was impressive—aspirational, even—and losing interest in my Zoom workout classes, I followed his lead. I put on one of his favorites, “Me & You Together Song,” by The 1975, and puffed along in a park. I could hardly make it around one loop until my legs felt like they were about to give way. (What were all those spinning classes even doing for me?) My quads ached and my breath came short, but I was hooked: The idea that I might improve gave me something to work for at a time when it felt like the whole world had stopped.

woman smiling
Trisha Sarang
woman running
Trisha Sarang

That’s when our song exchange became something new. The songs themselves hadn’t changed, but their purpose had: They became a daily ritual to fuel our combined goals. We had check-ins where it felt like K wasn’t just sharing his day, but also his achievements, feelings, and passions with me. “That was so hard, it was almost ineffective!” he said about a super-quick song that he couldn’t keep up with, and I imagined him trying to run to it. He’d send me silly songs, love songs, club songs, country songs, and now that I was running, too, I started sending some back. “My whole playlist is now filled with your music,” he messaged me one day. “This is a problem.”

I felt like I was a part of his days, instead of just hearing about them. That makes sense: Music has such strong effects on human bonding that some scientists consider it an alternative communication system to language. A 2019 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships showed that couples who had “couple-defining songs” had more intimate relationships.

“My whole playlist is now filled with your music,” he messaged me one day. “This is a problem.”

Unfortunately, K and I didn’t make it long-term. We managed to get together again in October 2020 and had a lovely time, but by 2021, our moment had passed. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing. While I’m now back to my Spin and boot camp classes with my friends, I still run every week. The classes get me out of my thoughts, but the runs give me space to process everything going on for me at that moment. It’s a little bit of me time I’ve come to love, where I work to run a little faster, go a little longer. I see now why K used to channel his feelings into his runs—because now I do it, too. And sometimes I even listen to One Direction. —Nikhita Mahtani


hr

Give the Starting- Line Bands a Medal

san jose, california   october 06 band 'wonderbread 5' perform for runners after the 2019 michelob ultra rock 'n' roll 12 mara on october 06, 2019 in san jose, california photo by lachlan cunninghamgetty images
Cover band Wonder Bread 5 performs at the 2019 Rock ’n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon.
Getty Images

They’re stretching their musical chops while we’re just stretching.

They give us their love, and we run from them. They long to entertain us, yet our attention is elsewhere. They sing, but they are unsung. They are the bands who play marathons, triathlons, and 5K fun runs, and I say it’s time to give them the applause they deserve.

The role of “starting-line entertainer” is a thankless one. There is a tension in the air, a collective fear of the unknown, maybe even more so than at the prom this band might have just played. The joy that live music instills in an audience gets drowned out by intrusive thoughts like “I haven’t mobilized my glutes,” or “my bowels feel funny,” or “banana.” We are, in the time before the gun, not the best audience.

I am an eager consumer of music, but even for me the bands who play at races become white noise. I hadn’t even noticed I wasn’t listening until I did the Los Angeles Marathon a couple of years ago. I showed up hours before the start, to maximize the time I spent worrying and being cold. And as I stretched and paced, there they were: a perfectly good cover band, playing the parking lot of Dodger Stadium like they were playing the inside of Dodger Stadium.

I paused, and I’m glad I did. If this was a rough gig for them, I couldn’t tell. Whether 4:30am was the beginning of their day or the end of a long night was unclear. None of those things mattered. They played those Van Halen and Bon Jovi covers with all their hearts, for a crowd that was largely too nervous to pause and appreciate it.

new york, ny   november 02 a band plays music for runners participating in the tcs new york city marathon on november 2, 2014 in the park slope neighborhood of the brooklyn borough of new york city  photo by andrew burtongetty images
Getty Images

This, my friends, is the spirit of rock and roll.

If you’ve ever tried to make something, to write a poem, to sing a song, you know how hard it is to finish. What if people don’t like it, we ask ourselves. What if they don’t care? Our ego fears the tepid reaction of an audience, and too often we give up. We let our dreams decay because of expected indifference. It’s hard to push through, and it’s even harder to face the inevitable unresponsive crowd. The starting-line band? They do this, and it’s heroic. Anyone can play for a stadium full of fans, but only the strong can survive a crowd doing high-knees past them in compression tights.

Do not take the starting-line band for granted. They don’t just play “What I Like About You” at least twice before the sun comes up, they remind you to keep going, to keep the beat even though nobody will notice if you give up. Give that band your full attention for a moment. Dance if you have it in you. Tip them a banana if you’re not carrying cash.

I’ll never forget that band at the L.A. Marathon for teaching me about tenacity and the pure joy of rock and roll. I don’t remember their name, though. I was distracted. —Dave Holmes