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.”
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?