The songs and how I kicked it

Final preparations are underway for my upcoming marathon, which will take place Sunday.  I am in the tail end of my taper – and thank dog for that, because it has really wrecked havoc with my sense of well-being! – and I’m packing up all of my gear in anticipation of my travels.  (Did I mention that I’m running this marathon in the Bahamas?  Well, I am.  Yes, I know how stupidly, ridonkulously, almost unfairly privileged I am.)

The only things left to do are select the perfect shade of nail polish to complement my sure-to-be-speedy feet – I’m leaning toward shiny gold as a hat tip to Michael Johnson, or hot pink because, hey, Bahamas – and to get my racing playlist in order.

The music I listen to when I race is one of the most critical parts of my racing gear, right up there with a quality sports bra that keeps the mams in place and a pair of shoes that won’t leave my toenails dangling by a corner.  I tried running Big Sur without music, to better experience “the full spiritual vibe” of the race or some hippie woo-woo shit like that, but by the time I made it to mile 21, my ears were aching for the sound of something, anything more musical than the sound of the race.  (And no, the guy who was dancing barefoot on the side of the road to the sounds of “Someone Like You” coming out of his car stereo with a cigarette in his hand totally did not count.)  I slipped in my earbuds and it was like someone had jackhammered an adrenaline shot directly in my heart, a la Uma Thurman in  Pulp Fiction.  The transformation was incredible.  In the space of ten seconds I had gone from “dehydrated slug” to “superhero.”

Lesson learned.

So now, because this is a much smaller marathon, with a couple hundred participants, the music will be even more critical than ever.  I will not have big-city energy to rev me up, nor will I have crowds of people cheering me on.  I’m not even sure I will have strange men with Adele fixations to motivate me.  Consequently I’m in the process of carefully curating the running playlist, which will carry me through the full 26.2 miles of the race and across the finish line, hopefully while the first number of the digital finish-line read-out is still a three.  I’m putting in some of my tried-and-true favorites, songs that have in the past helped me survive some of the toughest moments of my running career, and I figured, why not write about them?   That way you all can get some more ideas for your own workout playlists, and in exchange maybe you can hook me up with some new ideas to freshen up my playlist.  I’m all ears, hardy har har.

“Lose Yourself,” Eminem

I’m just getting the obvious one out of the way up front.  This song is the “Rocky” theme for people aged 35 and under.  The driving guitar, the minor beats, the increasing urgency of those aggressive rhymes with the emphasis on the off-beat – everything about it is, like, scientifically designed to get you all jacked up and ready to fight. I first tapped into the power of this song during the 2011 Gasparilla Classic’s Ultra Challenge, which is a four-some of races conducted over the course of a single weekend: a 15K and a 5K on Saturday, followed by a half-marathon and an 8K on Sunday for a total of…well, a fuckload of miles.  When we did this, I was seriously undertrained, mainly because I was in the throes of my first-ever bout of the kind of seasonal allergies that make you feel like someone dunked your head in a vat of snot and then held it there for two months.  I hung in through the first three races, but by the time we hit the fourth race, I was so sick of seeing Bayshore Boulevard, I was dying from heat and everything ached like someone had just worked me over with a hammer.  At one point my cramp-riddled legs stumbled and I screamed “FUCK ME!” with no regard for the hordes of children around me.  But then this song came on my iPod.  My heart began pumping in time to the beat, and that fresh blood was like power and energy heading straight to my muscles.  I put the song on repeat and listened to it through the last four miles of my self-chosen ordeal.  Bless you, Eminem.  Even though you’ve made a butt load of money making the kind of music that makes my feminist hackles rise up so hard they practically pop off my back, I will always love you for this song.

“Freedom ’90” – George Michael

Scroll back up to the paragraph where I talk about the Big Sur International Marathon, and how my iPod saved me at mile 21.  I had just been sandblasted by 30 mph gusts of wind which knocked me to a dead standstill as I tried to make my way through the notch in the mountains toward Carmel.  I was starting a six-mile stretch of rolling hills – which mind you, no one ever talks about because they are too busy bugging out over Hurricane Point – and I was fighting the urge to lay down in the middle of the road and take a nap.  I turned on my iPod and this song was the first song that came on.   It was as if the heavens opened up and a host of long-limbed angels clad in studded bras and oversized sweaters descended upon me and lifted my poor, wretched body upon their bony little shoulders, then carried me through the next mile.  Since then, I have never not listened to this song while racing.

“C’mon (Catch ‘Em By Surprise)” – Tiesto vs. Diplo feat. Busta Rhymes

This song isn’t necessarily a running-only song. I listen to it whenever I have to do something physically difficult, like picking up heavy weights and putting them down or push-ups or planks.  There’s something about the combo of the driving beats and the motorboat-on-crank rhymes of Busta Rhymes that turns me into the Incredible Hulk.  I could be sitting in traffic when this song comes on, and all I want to do is get out and deadlift my car.  A total asskicker if there ever was one.

“Bang On” – Propellerheads

The first time I heard this song, I was standing in the dark in front of the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami, trying to get myself all psyched up for the ING Miami Half-Marathon.  I was still new to the distance – still in the days when I Gallowalked everything longer than a 12K – and half-marathons terrified me.  I’d sit there and go, “Oh my god, thirteen miles is so long, I can’t even believe I signed up to run that far, this is going to hurt so bad, why do I do this why why why whyyyyyy?”  But then this song came on my iPod and I found myself bouncing up and down, like I wanted to go dance or something.  That was out of the question, even though I’m sure that if I really wanted to I could have found some club in South Beach that was still hosting some coked-out party-stragglers at that ungodly hour, so instead, I decided to run.

“Sinnerman” – Nina Simone and Felix da Housecat

It took me a few years to figure out my own personal runner-person nutrition, including the appropriate ingestion of dairy.  In my case, I can’t eat dairy at all, not when I’m going to run.  Evidently all the up-and-down and the heat churns the dairy into curdled funk, which in turn prompts my stomach to discard of it in the most rapid fashion possible.  One particularly steamy September morning, I was halfway through a 10K when the cereal I’d eaten this morning started clamoring to get out, so I pulled off the trail, bent over and projectile-vomited a tsunami of milk and half-digested raisin bran.  A couple of teenage boys running by me were like, “That was gross and so bad ass.”  After that I was like, fuck this, I’m done, so I rinsed out my mouth and started trotting along, thinking I was just going to hang in there long enough to finish.  But then miraculously, I felt better.  And then this song came on.  And I started running faster, the kind of effortless running that doesn’t feel like running as much as it feels like gliding.  I ended up taking third in my age group.  Not too shabby for a lady who was puking her guts out not twenty minutes earlier.

“Sexy and I Know It” – LMFAO

I refuse to be ashamed of my love for this song.  I haven’t actually got a great story about how this song inspired me to kick it during a tough part of a race, but I wanted to include it because it has never failed to get me all excited when it comes on my iPod.  P.S. The video is rad.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a couple minutes and watch it. I promise it’s great.

Okay, so this post is already 1,500 words long, so I’ll just finish it up with a list of other songs that have kicked my ass in the best way possible:

  • “Rebel Girl” – Bikini Kill
  • “Step Aside” – Sleater-Kinney
  • “B.O.B.” – Outkast
  • “Bitch” – Rolling Stones
  • “Fergilicious” – Fergie
  • “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)” – Gnarls Barkley
  • “Good to Be Alive” – DJ Rap
  • “99 Problems” – Jay-Z
  • “Good Feeling” – Flo Rida
  • “Perfect Exceeder” – Princess Superstar vs. Mason
  • “Pro Nails” – Kid Sister

Okay, your turn.  What songs do you listen to that make you feel like you could take on the world with one hand tied behind your back?

23 responses to “The songs and how I kicked it

  1. There are three songs that never fail to get me pumped…

    “Hero” by Skillet – This one makes me think of my late Grandfather and always gives me this crazy surge of energy. I know he probably could care less if I finish my run, but I am always reminded of his undying faith in me when I hear this song.

    “You’re Going Down” by Sick Puppies – With a great, heavy rhythm and lyrics like, “It’ll be a long time coming, but you got the message now. Cause I was never going; Yeah, you’re the one that’s going down,” how can you not get psyched?

    This is a strange one, but “How Can We be Lovers?” by Michael Bolton always, ALWAYS gets me going. It reminds me of college and some great times I have had with friends. Happiness = endorphins and endorphins = great runs!

    • There is once a time when your last choice would have made me giggle, but a couple of weeks ago I was running and Heart’s “Alone” came on and I felt like soaring. Point is, I totally get it.

  2. Awesome list! I’d add Remember the Name-Fort Minor, ‘Till I Collapse-Eminem & Nate Dogg, My Body-Young the Giant & Gimme The Light-Sean Paul (amongst others!). Good luck and have a great trip!

  3. There are a few songs to which I love to run:
    1. Lights (Bassnectar mix) Ellie Goulding
    2. Anything by the Love Grenades but especially Genius of Fun
    3. Stronger by Kelly Clarkson
    4. Heavy Cross by Gossip
    and I love me some Ke$ha.

    Good luck in the race and I hope you hear the perfect song at the exact moment you need the pick me up- I’m sometimes really surprised by the song that really seems to help at any given moment.

    • I second Stronger, though I would never publicly admit to Kelly Clarkson. Also, Danish superstar Medina has a couple of *awesome* running tunes not often heard in the US: “Forever,” “Fool (I Feel Bad for You)”, and “Addiction” to name just 3.

  4. Great list. I hate that I kinda love Eminem! So many issues with his lyrics, but damn the music is so good! Right now I am loving “My Body” by Young the Giant for workouts. The chorus goes, “My body tells me no, but I won’t quit ’cause I want more, yeah I want more”. It’s alterna-rock-ish and just perfect lyrics for pushing your body. I also like running to “Dangerous” by Kardinall Offishall featuring Akon. “That girls is so dangerous, so dangerous, yeah she’s a bad girl”. Kinda cheesy, but makes me feel good!

  5. Joan Jett – bed reputation
    CSS – alala
    System of a down – lots e.g.; radio/video byob, sugar, deer dance, bounce
    Let the bodies hit the floor (can’t remember who this was)
    Boom boom pow!

    But a lot of this is association of working out to these tracks I the past. Joan Jett though – totally awesome.

  6. Download “Summer’s Gone” by Odesza. Free album download (google “Odesza”). It’s chillwave and upbeat and should be good for about 40 minutes of running.

  7. Re: “Sexy and I Know It” — It’s totally on my not-so-guilty pleasure list, too. I’d always thought about it as a song that’s predominantly self-affirming. Superficially, sure — but how many pop radio songs do we have at all that assert self-confidence without putting other people down or otherwise adopting “better than you” implications?

    As for my own happy-making songs, I am a fan of this:

    [English lyrics here.]

  8. “Lose yourself” has gotten me through every race I’ve ever run, as well as through graduate school. (It was my thesis theme song… I even listened to it right before I went into my defense.) It makes my little, feminist heart die but it’s just my tried and true “makes me feel like a badass” song. (I realize how not cool this makes me but oh well.)

  9. I have never met another soul who runs to “Rebel Girl” so I tip my hat to you for that one!

    My criteria for songs are similar to most folks, I assume; I just want to feel like a total badass. Bonus points if the song is about kicking that man to the curb or career/financial success or overcoming some obstacle because, DUH. Here goes:

    Walk Away & Since You Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson
    I’m So Excited by Le Tigre
    Plastico by JD Natasha (Miami, represent!)
    Maniac by Michael Sambello (yes, from the Flashdance soundtrack!! She is a self-taught dancer who makes it into the City Ballet– so this is really a song about about the critical success of outsider art, amiright?)
    Cherry Bomb by the Runaways
    Kelly Watch the Stars (Moog Cookbook remix) by Air (from the Splendor sntk– lousy movie, but this is an amazing song that has it’s own second wind in it that always works for me)
    Sing it Back (Boris Musical Mix) by Moloko
    Tear Me Down from the original cast recording of Hedwig & the Angry Inch
    Fighter by Christina Aguilera (DUH)
    Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger by Daft Punk & Stronger by Kanye West
    Give it 2 Me by Madonna
    Ring the Alarm by Beyonce
    Turn it On & Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney
    Bones by the Gossip
    Bulletproof by La Roux
    Big Exit by PJ Harvey

    I hope that helps 🙂

    Enjoy your marathon!

    • Dude, your playlist is amazing. I love so much stuff on this. And HEDWIG OMG. I forgot about that song and I need to put it on my iPod NOW.

  10. “‘Cuz It’s Hot” or just about anything by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, or anything off Wax Trax records for that matter, provides me with motivation to keep running. It has to be in the middle of the playlist; if it’s too close to the beginning it’s bad for pacing. Also Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner.”

  11. best of luck on your marathon this weekend!!!! 🙂 some of the songs that got me through mine:

    “Trip Like I Do” by the Crystal Method
    “Joy” VNV Nation (this was the anthem of my training)
    “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins
    “I Love the Bloody Beetroots” by the Bloody Beetroots (and really anything by them makes for a good kick in the pants when you need the boost)
    “Titanium” by Sia and David Guetta
    “Boys Wanna Be Her” by Peaches
    “Hanna’s Theme (vocal version)” by the Chemical Brothers

  12. Some songs that get me through….I often use them when I’m doing hill reps or anaerobic potential stuff.

    Smack My Bitch Up by Prodigy
    Power Trip by Monster Magnet
    Song 2 by Blur
    Come Out and Play by The Offspring
    You Can Do It by Ice cube

    Good luck for your marathon!

  13. Oh, thank you for this! I am going to download everything on this thread! My contributions:

    “The Distance” — Cake
    “Keep the Car Running” — Arcade Fire
    “Bleed it Out” — Linkin Park
    “Laces Out” — U.S.S.
    “The Northern” — Alexisonfire

    All of those are like a scream in the ear to keep going.

  14. I’ll admit to the love of “Sexy and I know it”… that song is just too funny. I had never heard the Busta Rhymes song, but dang it! it’s good! It’s in the ipod now 🙂

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