Does the ultimate running playlist exist?
I tried to create my perfect 10k playlist once. 14 upbeat indie pop and rock stompers to guide me to a personal best. BPMs from 160 to 170 – my ideal race day cadence. Each tune handpicked for the perfect blend of tempo and tone.
There was no way it could fail. Or, so I thought, anyway.
It started with A Forest.
It was an ordinary day and I was enjoying a routine run. Four or five miles at a steady pace along the seafront. As I remember, the weather was pleasant, and the breeze was gentle.
Then The Cure popped into my ears. A Forest. The guitar riff kicks straight in, accompanied by the snappy snare that sets a metronomic rhythm.
My feet fell quickly in step. I didn’t notice at first, but my pace upped a couple of notches. Each step hit the beat. Light toes tickling the pavement as my I found my chi (I may not actually have found my chi. I’m not entirely sure what it is. But my form felt perfect). A kilometre whizzed by in under four and a half minutes. Not a blistering pace, I know, but it seemed so easy. I may even have smiled.
I’ve always considered 45 minutes to be a great time for 10k. My PB is 43:30, but I haven’t come close to that since. I remember thinking that, maybe, I’d been going about it all wrong. Maybe I needed the right stimulus. Maybe some aural energy could power me to a new PB – even though I’d crept onto the wrong side of 40 since the previous one.
The idea of the perfect running playlist was born on that day.
Over the coming weeks I began to mentally assemble my playlist. Ten to 12 songs should do it, I figured. Probably add a couple of extras; give myself some wiggle room. I had some tunes in mind and I turned to the internet to check tempos – the BPM was all important.
Before long I had my longlist. 20 or so songs that met the criteria of pace and feel. Plus, they were all great tunes (to my ears – I know not everyone would agree). I tweaked, cajoled and shuffled until I found my favourites. 14 songs. About 51 minutes. Sure, there were some extras. But that’s fine. Extras are good.
The Trial Run
I was conscience of overplaying the playlist. Some of these tunes had been with me for many years. I didn’t want to ruin any by playing them too often.
With that in mind, I waited until the conditions were right before the inaugural trial. I needed to be running well. I had to be injury free. And the weather played a big part, too. It gets breezy by the coast and it doesn’t take much to strip a few seconds off your pace.
In the end, it wasn’t long before the right day rolled around. I wouldn’t normally target a PB outside of a ‘race’. I’d miss the energy of my fellow runners and the support of the adoring crowds. Besides, there’s no guarantee my Garmin would be entirely accurate. But that’s okay. This was more about validating my playlist than bragging on a new fastest time.
There’s no point sugar-coating this – it wasn’t successful. I warmed up with a light jog to the promenade, then plugged myself in and hit play.
Moving to New York, the Wombats’ depression busting anthem, got me started.
It’s hard to find your rhythm straight off, I know that. But something was definitely wrong. I ran too fast, then too slow. My form was all over the place. It just wasn’t right.
Looking back, I recognise that I chose the wrong opener. It feels too fast and the beat’s too syncopated. There’s aggression in the guitar. The snare trips over a bouncy kick. It’s not the song’s fault. It’s a great tune with a fantastic, sing-out-loud chorus. But it was a bad choice and I struggled to match the rhythm.
From there, things didn’t improve. Whether it was me or my playlist, nothing went well.
I usually try not to check my pace while I run. My GPS watch is for post-run data nerdery (what? that’s definitely a word) and distance tracking. I typically run by feel. It’s rare that I’ll consult my watch other than a cursory glance as it announces each KM.
But that day I was too focussed on the music and too busy checking my pace. There was no ‘feel’ at all.
The Race Day
Race day hasn’t yet materialised. I should say, a race day where this playlist lifts my pace to a blistering PB, hasn’t yet materialised. This feels like a massive anti-climax, but it’s the truth.
I’m clearly no elite athlete. A PB for me is a rare and wonderful achievement. The necessary conditions would, realistically, need to be manufactured in a laboratory. Ideally with a strong breeze at my back.
Little niggles, poor fitness and some spare kilograms have ensured conditions haven’t been right. With this summer likely to be mullered by coronavirus, I don’t think this will be my year.
I’ll take the opportunity to tweak my running playlist. I’m tempted to go more electronic – perhaps some old school breaks might do the trick. Who knows? Right now, with a bit more belly than I need, PBs feel like the stuff of dreams. Younger, slimmer dreams.
The Ultimate Running Playlist?
Moving to New York – The Wombats
A Forest – The Cure – probably should have started with this song
Mansize Rooster – Supergrass
Sabotage – Beastie Boys
What do you think?
Do you have a PB playlist?
Are there certain songs that always lift your pace?
Would any of these make it into your selection?
Let me know in the comments.