Is it better to listen to silence or music when running alone? I’m honestly a pretty big fan of silence. It allows me to hear my own thoughts and tune into the world around me.
I’ve often said and truly believe ... all my best ideas come when I’m running and all my problems get solved when I’m running.
Plus, ditching the ear buds can be a matter of safety, especially when on mountain trails. A slight rustling in the bushes can be your first clue that a bear or moose waits just around the bend. And even on paved paths or roads, it’s helpful to know when a bike or car is speeding up on your heels.
But, just because I might advocate silence, it doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s also a place for music. I use it judiciously, but I do use it.
I use music when interval training, because I’m on board with anything that takes off the edge of such an excruciating activity. And I use it for the last third of endurance races.
There comes a point in any endurance race when you’ve gone far enough to feel really tired, but aren’t so close to the finish line that you can smell the barn.
It’s at that point when I indulge in music. It becomes my pick-me-up, my motivation, my friend on otherwise lonely miles.
I first tried music while running the Leadville 100. As I found myself prancing by other competitors humming along to my favorite tunes, it occurred to me that I might be a convert.
What makes a good running song? Everyone has their own personal preference, of course, but for me my favorite song, hands down, while running is “Forever Young” by Alphaville. It has a great beat and lyrics that make me feel instantly happy and more committed than ever to plodding down the trail.
I want to be forever young.
Go on, belt it out and own it. I promise you’ll feel more energized afterward. Or maybe just annoyed at me and all things 80s. But, either way, it will have distracted you from at least an eighth of a mile.
Lyrics are a really important part of my running playlist. I need words that motivate, even if I have to take them completely out of context to derive meaning.
For example, there’s a line in a Matisyahu song I just can’t get enough of: “Ain’t no one gonna break my stride, ain’t no one that can pull me down, oh no, I got to keep on moving.” Admittedly, this song – called “Jerusalem” and performed by a Jewish rapper – has an altogether different meaning, but I listen to it over and over again just for that one line.
In a similar vein, “Time to Move On” by Tom Petty is another classic. “It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going, what lies ahead I have no way of knowing, but under my feet baby the grass is growing, it’s time to move on, it’s time to get going.”
If that doesn’t say ultrarunning, what does? Well, except maybe “Time to Run” by Lord Huron.
My running playlist is filled with a mix of fast beat songs – like “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen – as well as songs on the mellow side that just feed my soul – like “My Silver Lining” by First Aid Kit.
The bottom line: when music is used at just the right point in a movie or just the right point on the trail, there is simply nothing better.
So, as I prepare for the Scout Mountain 50 miler, coming up on June 2, in addition to packing electrolytes and sunscreen, I’ll also have my old-school shinny purple Nano iPod ready to rock and roll.