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Running down a beat: A not-so-definitive running playlist

| Friday, September 18, 2020

Jackie Junco | The Observer

I don’t know about you, but spending the last few months in quarantine really made me appreciate the outdoors — the view out the window, walks around the neighborhood with my siblings and parents and, most significantly, my daily runs. Before the shutdown, I preferred to use the treadmill. With gyms closed, of course, that wasn’t an option, so I had to resort to a technologically inferior way of getting my cardio in: the old-fashioned outdoor jog. 

In many ways, this was a positive change. I’m sure my skin appreciated the fresh air and extra vitamin D, and the combination of higher elevation and hilly terrain certainly increased the difficulty (and therefore the value) of my workouts. But there were — and are — downsides, too. For one, boredom. On the treadmill, I could watch TV, but this was impossible to do while I was on actual pavement navigating actual streets. And I needed the extra distraction, given the aforementioned difficulty of these outdoor runs. So I turned to music, supplementing my existing running playlist with songs that I thought would inspire me to run a little bit farther, a little bit faster, for a little bit longer. Here’s what I came up with.

1. “My Body” by Young the Giant 

Now, I’m going to be honest. This first song has been on my playlist for years (ever since I heard it on someone else’s pump-up playlist, in fact). But the lyrics and beat still combine for an effect that is both uplifting and stabilizing: “My body tells me no / But I won’t quit ‘cause I want more” — a little on-the-nose, maybe, but just the kind of encouragement I need when I’m six-and-a-half miles into a seven-mile run and need to summon the staying power to finish off those last few hundred meters.

2. “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers

Where the last song is perfect for the end of a tough workout, this addition is all tranquility and peace, injecting an early morning jog with the kind of ethereal fluidity that can make the empty streets feel alive in their barrenness.

3. “Dylan Thomas” by Better Oblivion Community Center, Conor Oberst & Phoebe Bridgers

This selection might not be as obvious as the first two. But mark my words, any attempt to dissect the song’s ambiguous, complex lyrics will make its three minutes and 36 seconds simply fly by. 

4. “I Always Knew” by The Vaccines

Upbeat drum line? Vivid electric guitar backing? Soaring lyrics sung with earnest enthusiasm? Enough changes in tempo to keep the listener engaged? What more could anyone ask for? It gets bonus points for having played during the moment when Nick and Jess of “New Girl” first become a couple.

5. “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers

This song oozes hope and love of life. Plus, the song’s emphatic refrain — ”I wanna get better” — can serve as a motivational mantra. Running is all about bettering yourself; make this song your self-improvement anthem.

6. “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service

Upbeat and breezy, this song is just wistful enough to make you feel like the main character of a coming-of-age film as you run down a secluded trail or through traffic.

7. “Jessica” by Major Lazer (feat. Ezra Koenig)

This song’s tempo isn’t particularly quick, and its chill, reggae-esque vibe might not seem to lend itself to exercise. But there’s just something about the general quirkiness of “Jessica,” Koenig’s hazy falsetto and the oddity of the layered sounds that make up the vocalists’ accompaniment that continues to enthrall me. Certainly an interesting way to spend half a mile.

8. “Pristine” by Snail Mail

If you’re on a run that doubles as an escape from the obligations of everyday life (it’s a thing, I promise), this song is the way to go. “And I know myself / And I’ll never love anyone else,” sings Lindsey Jordan, sounding somewhat euphoric in her expression of self-sufficiency. Listen and find yourself imbued with a similar power.

9. “Green Light” by Lorde

I’m sorry if this is cliche, but that chorus? Imagine the words, “I’m waiting for it / That green light / I want it,” blaring in your ears as you sprint the end of your last mile. Bonus points — again — for being the soundtrack to a pivotal “New Girl” scene.

10. “505” by Arctic Monkeys

The way this song builds ever so slowly to an utter explosion of tempo and texture almost three minutes in is, quite simply, a game changer on a run that’s starting to feel a little sluggish. It’s the perfect way to hit your second wind.

11. “I Can Lift a Car” by Walk the Moon

Talk about empowering. Another slow build that develops into a forceful, uptempo mantra of personal capability. 

That’s the magic of a good run, isn’t it? The euphoria that comes with knowing that your legs are capable of propelling you forward, that your lungs are capable of taking in enough air to fuel you, that your mind is capable of distancing itself from the pain in your muscles. Running is all capability; it’s all self-sufficiency. These songs, in one way or another, help me to access this inner potency. Hopefully, they can help you, too.

And in case you want more explicit motivation to get out there: 

  1. “Runnin’ (Lose It All)” by Naughty Boy ft. Beyonce, Arrow Benjamin
  2. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  3. “We Come Running” by Youngblood Hawke
  4. “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit — right energy, wrong form of cardio. I still count it.

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