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Tell Me Tuesday: Making a Perfect Race Playlist

After writing this post, I realized it it might be partly an homage to Steve Jobs. I'm grateful for the joy--and music--he brought to my runs.

If you’ve read our book or spent much time on this site, you know I love my music when I run. Seriously, gals, there are some mornings a new playlist is my main motivator to get out the door; my pavement-pounding session is often the only time during my day I can listen to my music. It can be tough to listen to the tunes I want: I can’t let the kids get schooled by Flo Rida and Snoop Dog in the minivan carpool, and while I write, I need quiet to concentrate.

I take pride in some carefully crafted playlists I’ve posted on our site, such as Carpoolin’ Fools (for a half-marathon) and Marathon PR. Here are some playlist pointers if you’re looking to put together tunes to help you through an upcoming race.

-Don’t wait until the last minute (unless you’re reading this post at 11:36 p.m. the night before your big event!). Making a playlist is a great way to productively use the “extra” time you have during your taper, rather than pacing with nervous energy. I usually compile a playlist on Monday or Tuesday before the race, then I have time to make some tweaks if I remember a “must-hear” song. That said…

-Don’t play your playlist into the ground before the race. I love having a fresh, never-played playlist to crack open on race day morning. Sure, I’ve heard all the songs before, but never compiled in the same way.

Music makes me a happier runner.

-Put some new favorites on it. Get suggestions from friends, Facebook pals, Twitter peeps, iTunes store, and my favorite source, Entertainment Weekly magazine. I stay true to my race-genre—pop and dance music—but I like to throw a few surprises into a mix. Like when our AMR intern turned me on to Jessie J.’s “Price Tag” right before a half-marathon last April—it put a huge spring in my step around Mile 10 when it rotated on.

-Contemplate the order—or disorder. I’m all about hearing the songs in the order I place them: I start out with slower tunes, then have them amp up as the race goes on. If P!nk started encouraging me to raise my glass at Mile 2, I might come up empty at Mile 11. But maybe you prefer the element of surprise. Either way, make sure you have the “shuffle” feature on your iPod set to whichever setting you prefer. I nearly tripped in a pothole in first mile of a marathon, trying to turn off the shuffle feature.

-Share your playlist with your running pals. That Carpoolin’ Fools playlist? I made it for Molly and me to listen to as I pulled her to her half-marathon PR last April. And I made BFF Half when I ran 13.1 in Philly last November with my, you guessed it, bestest bud, Courtenay. We kept volume low enough so we could hear each other shout encouragement or ask a question, but loud enough to keep us hustling.

What songs are in heavy rotation on your playlist? These days I’m loving “Lost in My Mind” by The Head and the Heart for the early stages of a race, then groovin’ to David Guetta’s “Little Bad Girl” when I shift into fifth gear.



34 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: Making a Perfect Race Playlist

  1. I make a playlist, then set the playlist to “shuffle”, so I get all the songs I want, but the next song is always a surprise. I always think “I wonder which little gem is up next?” and then when it comes on I’m like “Yay! I LOVE this song!”
    I just ran a (first ever!) marathon, which was on the beach, and I thought of it as the old days when DH and I would make a mixed tape and take a road trip down the coast. I had my tunes, I had my snacks (Gu and jelly beans), only thing I didn’t have was a car!

  2. I made a playlist for my last half. When I was done, my kids asked if they could pick a song and surprise me with it. So, I let them put their song in the mix and I promised not to peek. Sure enough, around Mile 8 I heard the theme song from the movie “The Incredibles” and it cracked me up! Later, they said they picked it so that I would feel like I had a superhero soundtrack! 🙂

  3. Two song swith a really good running beat are La Grange, by ZZTop and Would I Lie to You by the Eurythmics. Give those a try! One last personal favorite is I Run for Life by Melissa Etheridge.

    I appreciate the suggestions of others as I like to switch up my playlists frequently. I do a lot of treadmill running just due to scheduling and timing of my days, so it’s important to vary my music a lot.

  4. My current power song on my iPod is “Feelin’ Satisfied” by Boston. I usually hit the button when I’ve got a mile left on a typical 5 mile run. Not so I can put the hammer down—you know, I don’t actually know what that means—but it makes me smile and sing along in my head and gets me through the last mile in a much better state of mind.

    Unfortunately, it also reminds me of high school stoner parties. So, there’s that.

    p.s. I love everything from Girl Talk’s “Feed the Animals”. It’s so nasty at times, but such great mash ups of songs for running.

  5. 4 minutes to save the world is an awesome song (Madonna and Justin Timberlake) that song picks me up- when I’m dragging on a run.

    I also love CHAMPION by Queen Latifah

    LOW byFlow Rider (awesome song)

    On the Floor (J-Lo)

    Circus (Brittany Spears)

    MORE (Usher)

    Anything by the Black Eyed Peas

    I need a beat when I run…..

  6. Lately I am loving disco: KC and the Sunshine Band and Bee Gees are in heavy rotation while I run. I also like old school rap: Vanilla Ice and Busta Rhymes. I think I just dated myself, LOL!

  7. My playlist depends on the type of run I’m doing. For my long runs, I like a slower tempo to keep me from moving to fast and burning out before the end of the run. So, I’ll pull out all my George Strait stuff or put on my classical play list (yes, like Bach). For that I need to pick up the speed, I am currently digging on Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars. Any song that makes me smile really motivates my feet: Dreams by the Cranberries; Crunchy Granola Suite by Neil Diamond; Bodyguard by Paul Simon; Dancing Queen by ABBA; 1234 by Feist; 1234 by The Plain White T’s; Sexy Chick by David Guetta….

  8. I don’t Feel Like Dancing by the Scissor Sisters never fails to get me moving and make me happy. Also, Empty Walls by Serj Tankian can be just what the doctor ordered if I am flagging (have to be careful with this one, it can speed you up too much)!

  9. I “shuffled” this morning to two albums from the Blue Man Group. We saw them last September here in town, and the memories of that night are great to think about as I’m playing the air drums while I’m running! ; )

  10. Team in Training doesn’t allow music on the team runs, so I’ve learned to run without. But I do rely heavily on pre-race/pre-run playlists to get me energized before I even take my first step. It actually works out pretty well, particularly since I only need about 10 songs in any given playlist.

    Right now I’m in a very 80s kick and discovered that they don’t necessarily have to be songs that have that race beat as much as songs that make me smile.

  11. I love reading others’ playlists, as I am constantly adding to mine. I’m about to run my first 10 miler and have been trying to put together a playlist that will carry me through. I see some great song suggestions! I wanted to add my favorite running song right now is Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People, or really anything by FTP. Helps me find my groove!

  12. I just added “I Like How it Feels” by Enrique Iglesias and “Assassin” by Muse to my half marathon playlist. The first is for early on, the latter is my Finish Line push song. 🙂 I timed it all out just right so I know when that last song comes on, I better be crossing the line if I want to make my time. Is anyone else a freak about their playlist like me? I study the course and try to put songs at the right “spots” to hit when I’m climbing a tough hill, or where I know I’ll need an extra boost, etc. LOL! I’m a dork.

  13. When I’m training, I like to listen to books (Matt Long’s The Long Run – awesome!), but I learned at my most recent half that books don’t cut it when you’re at the race.

    My favorites right now: Mandisa’s Good Morning, Singing in the Rain/Umbrella – Glee cast, Rise Up (from Dance Your Shoes Off), Getting Jiggy Wit It – Will Smith (oldie but goodie!), If I Die Young – The Band Perry, Teenage Dream – Katy Perry or Glee cast, Party Rock Anthem

  14. Okay, you will think this is crazy, but right in the middle of my playlist I have 2 slow songs. One from Josh Groban and one from Sade. I love the songs, they are beautiful, but they also are a reminder to check my breathing, my pace etc so I’m not out of juice toward the end. It’s like a mental pause in the middle of the run. But then it kicks back in with “Lost Highway” and “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” from BonJovi, with some other favs to finish off the run or race.

    1. I have a couple of slow ones too…I am, for whatever reason, a very even runner, so I can listen to a couple of slow ones in the middle and it not throw me off, so I put some on that no one else will ever let me listen to.

  15. To all those new runners or those running with music for the very first time: TURN OFF THE SHAKE TO SHUFFLE FEATURE BEFORE YOU RUN. I’m not sure how I know that. Ahem.

    Thanks for this post! I’m a country gal but that music isn’t necessarily conducive to running. I’m off to check out all of the links!

    1. I have a few country songs that work–Tim McGraw, “How Bad Do You Want It?” and Gretchen Wilson, “Redneck Woman,” plus lots of Dixie Chicks! But right now, “Trouble” and “Sober” by P!nk are two of my favorites. I also run to “Moves Like Jagger” and some old school Beastie Boys.

      This site is pretty fun to browse:

    2. I am really loving Sugarland right now “Stuck like Glue” and Taylor Swifts “Mean”. You can definately run to country. Old country is good too “Redneck girl” and “Babies got her blue jeans on”

  16. I miss my playlists, but running with a stroller near busy streets means no more music…or certain death. Los Angeles is awesome like that. But I would surely include Lighters by Em & Bruno Mars, Workout by Lmfao, Fidelity by Regina Spektor, Smoke Detector by Rilo Kiley and my alltime favorite, Jane Fonda by Mickey Avalon

  17. This is awesome and I will be back to check everyone’s suggestions. Shape Magazine has a great monthly feature where they tell you like 10 new songs to add to your playlist. I find lots of stuff there. I am still having a big time love affair with Katy Perry and my hubby just added Say Hey I Love You (Michael Franti) to my running player and I smile every time I hear it. I also keep a song or two on my playlist that remind me of my kids … they’re one of the biggest reason I run so that’s pretty motivating, especially at a race.

    1. Erin, that song came on my iPod at mile 11 of my first half marathon, just as I was starting up a very long hill (a bridge with a spectacular view that i always am amazed to cross). I hadn’t made a playlist for the race but when that song came on, it not only motivated me to increase my pace but got me all choked up thinking about what I was about to accomplish. LOVE that song! Whenever I hear it now, it brings me back to that moment.

  18. Oh, I love my playlists and running with music! I totally impress my friends with my air drum skills and an occasional dance move while running. 🙂 Right now, I love and can listen to Adele “I’ll Be Waiting” over and over again. Love the lyrics and the beat. When I need to run and just space out – Carmina Burana makes great background music.
    But as you know, even this slave to the music ditched my tunes for TCM in the starting corral and the soundtrack of the spectators cheering and the music from the parties along the way and the other runners talking was better then any playlist I could have ever come up with…. 🙂

  19. I use songs my students and my own children give me fir my marathon list every year. It is a good mix and a great distraction. I have time to think of each student as thier sing comes on. I also get some good new songs!

    Right now now power song is push it by garbage.

  20. oh, i was all about the playlist for a while but triathlon does not allow for ipods or mp3’s while racing (*gasp*!! I know!! sad…) so I had to train myself to run distance with only the music of my feet and my thoughts-
    but for straight out road racing, I love a good playlist. I will strategically place certain songs at certain points too.

    Another hint to making a great playlist: Add some songs that stir up that emotional fury and help you dig deep to really push you to finish strong. There are several songs that make me think of my own personal journey and help me think about how far I have come and not what my body may be feeling at the moment.

    One ever present song on my list is “Around the World (harder, better, faster, stronger)” by Daft Punk-it really helps me push hard and I love the word that is repeated in it “machine”. I use that as a mantra-that I am a machine.

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