As I write this, it’s exactly 100 days until the Boston Marathon. While it’s difficult to contain my excitement at running the world’s most prestigious race (and in my hometown!), sustaining the excitement level is more important than containing it at this juncture. My favorite marathoner, a Tanzanian named Juma Ikangaa who finished second at Boston three straight years, once wisely remarked that “the will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”
Adequate preparation for a marathon takes persistence. It is not particularly glamorous. And sometimes, when your training involves 100 laps around an indoor track in the middle of winter, I’ll be frank with you and admit it can get downright boring. You can be in shape to run the distance, but blank walls and barren trails can’t exactly replicate the excitement of cheering crowds on race day. Mental fatigue can be as big an issue as the physical variety. Which is a long way of saying that, yes, music can serve as an important element in your training. Driving beats can keep you going, and if a song can get you lost in thought, that’s helpful, too. Nothing kills a run like constantly thinking about how many miles or laps remain.
I may do this again before race day if the mood strikes, but I thought this week I’d offer up a batch of 10 of my favorite songs to help me run in the hopes they might help you as well. Now, if you’re a fan of Top 40 pop or hip-hop, I’m sorry to say you’ll be disappointed by this list because I don’t listen to that…um… stuff. But if your tastes tend towards alternative country or rock, you might find something here to enjoy:
- Mona Lee – Jason and the Scorchers
I hate the term “power song,” but I set my marathon PR with this song in constant rotation for several days before the race, and I don’t know that it was a coincidence. This is three minutes of pure, giddy, cowpunk energy with a terrific guitar solo midway through. The only danger with this song is that it will make you go out too fast, but if that happens don’t say I didn’t warn you, and at least you’ll have fun doing it.
2. ZZ Top Goes to Egypt – Camper Van Beethoven
This instrumental, on the other hand, starts quietly and you may worry about it making your pace too slow. Trust me, stick with it. You can lose yourself in this one as is grows ever so subtly, slightly louder and faster with the tempo guiding you. By the latter stages, you will discover you are barreling forward like a freight train. This also pairs nicely with wintry, snowy weather.
3. Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
Speaking of wintry weather, I can’t think of any song that will get me going in “the ice and snow” better than this. It’s my personal favorite Led Zeppelin track, and a great choice for the start of a run.
4. One Big Holiday – My Morning Jacket
For years, I’ve thought that if I ever own a hockey team, they will take the ice prior to the start of each game with My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday” blaring over the PA system.
5. Santa Ana Winds – Sons of Bill
Possibly the most obscure tune on this list, “Santa Ana Winds” is another that starts a bit slow in the opening seconds, but quickly speeds up and settles into a solid driving beat perfect for a mid-tempo run. And with lyrics like “tonight I’m gonna light that San Fernando with kerosene instead,” it’s a song that sounds upbeat but contains undercurrents of determination and anger. Which is pretty close to my state of mind when running a successful race.
6. Wax Ecstatic – Sponge
Dragging in the “bite me zone” of a marathon? Fire up this forgotten 90’s rock radio staple. Within the first 27 seconds you will be shaking off your aches and pains, and you will be flying.
7. 4th of July – Shooter Jennings
This should be a go-to option for, yes, a 4th of July race or something else with patriotic overtones like the Marine Corps Marathon. A good, steady, driving tempo and a fun, summery song.
8. Oh, Chicago – The Yayhoos
If there were justice in the world, runners approaching the start line of the Chicago Marathon would not be barraged with the tired strains of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” but instead they would hear this little gem. If the lead singer’s voice sounds vaguely familiar, it’s Dan Baird, the former singer of the Georgia Satellites. Yes, those are the guys who brought the world “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” No hugging no kissing until I get my finisher’s medal…
9. Like Lightning – Lucero
The title (and also many of the lyrics) are just too perfect to not include on this playlist. The piano intro is among my favorite little bits of music recorded in the past five years. And Lucero is just a plain great southern rock/soul band from Memphis, so do yourself a favor and listen to more of their stuff.
10. Big River – Waco Brothers
“Big River” was originally recorded by Johnny Cash and has been covered by several artists, none with more fire than Jon Langford’s band. This is another one which should carry a warning that it may propel you to a faster pace than you should be running. But for a burst of needed energy, it delivers in spades.
Do you have favorites to help you get amped for a run or keep you going? I’d love to hear about them. Share them in the comments section!