“Can you hear the road from this place? can you hear footsteps? voices? can you see the blood on my sleeve? I have fallen in the forest. did you hear me?” – The Loneliness and the Scream, Frightened Rabbit
Running with music is an oddly controversial subject, with purists believing that it’s an unnecessary distraction, and ruins the detachment from the modern world that running brings. Whilst I’m not averse to this, it doesn’t really apply when you’re going past lines of buses, people talking needlessly loudly on their phones and yoots playing whatever it is they listen to nowadays at top volume out of their phones (alright, Granddad).
I also love music, but don’t get enough time to enjoy it, so listening while running through London allows me to drown out the noise of the city, and combine two of my favourite things. The trouble is that my preferred genre would most accurately be described as “miserable men with guitars and beards” (being a miserable man with a beard myself), which is not really conducive to prolonged physical exertion.
While there is definitely a time and a place for cheese, and I completely understand why Eye of the Tiger is on so many people’s exercise playlists, it doesn’t work for me for two reasons. In the interests of brutal honesty, I’ve got nothing against a bit of S Club 7, Daniel Beddingfield or a fat slice of Thin Lizzy*, but they are not songs that I would choose to listen to without booze, friends and terrible dancing. As I’ve said, running for me is all about isolation, and getting into my own cozy homemade void.
Secondly, for me a running playlist needs to strike a delicate balance between relaxation and distraction, and focus and motivation. This is why my chosen songs are a mix between euphoric, melancholy, angry and adrenaline-inducing. Again, I blame the bipolar.
So, after much experimentation, I’ve come up with a list of songs that work for me, and some of the highlights are below.
A few have made the list because they are suited to running: Slow Hands by Interpol appears on a few running compilation albums, as does Enter Sandman, and apparently Where I End and You Begin has close to the optimal 180 beats per minute for running.
Although it’s definitely not about running, The Loneliness and the Scream really could be, and I’ve been known to let out a scream while listening to it. Particularly the above quote; “falling in the forest” accurately describes my approach to trail running.
Other songs are there because they have personal significance. From Born Slippy triggering reminiscences about my teenage years, My Number being perfectly timed with a massive endorphin rush near the end of my first Ultra (more on which later), to The ’59 Sound, which was playing on the radio when I left hospital for the first time after Freddie was born. You don’t need to tell me what a terribly inappropriate song this is to remind me of my son being born, as I’m the guy that wanted Fistful of Love by Anthony and the Johnsons as the first dance at our wedding (even his collaborator Nico Muhly [namedrop alert] told Camilla that it was a really weird choice).
The third category comprises of songs that are simply brilliant. I don’t need an excuse to listen to New Order, R.E.M., The National or The Twilight Sad, and I would happily listen to Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm from start to finish at any time.
Right, I’m off to do some falling in the forest, speak to you next week.
* Alan again, sorry (https://updownrunner.com/2015/05/04/mind-control-ii-overcoming-alan/)