May 6, 2008

Why Music Matters To a Runner

There is something about music to a runner. At least this runner. I can run without music, and often do. I enjoy the natural sounds in the space around me. Yet a song, be it piercing or rhythmic, mystic or haunting, can pull my energy back from the arms of fatigue. The right song, at the right moment, can, even if only for a moment, overwhelm my exhaustion with euphoria. Bring a shiver to my soiled skin. Even relax my tense muscles.

One early morning last year I was getting dressed and ready for the Helen Klein 50 mile run. A song came into my head. It was Kid A by Radiohead. I don’t know why, but I just started humming the tune, its austere, serene rhythm. I quickly picked up my Ipod and searched for the song. I found it. As I walked toward the starting line of the race I was listening to it over and over. Normally I’m very nervous before a race, but at this moment I remember feeling a sense of calm, a stillness that seemed to come from the music.

Late in the race, as my legs were growing weary, I played a song list that I had prepared for that moment. These songs exude energy and carried me during earlier runs: “Crush” by Paul Van Dyke (one of my daughter’s favorites); “Harvey and the Old Ones” by Banco de Gaia; “Next is the E” by Moby; “Amo Bishop Roden” by Boards of Canada; and the ever-lifting “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters. I crested the last hill at mile 49 and could see the turn to the finish line. Every muscle in me was screaming to slow down. Somehow I didn’t. I made it to the finish, 10th place overall, a mere 5 seconds ahead of the next runner.

As the WS 100 mile race approaches another song enters my mind. It’s “Nude” by Radiohead, one of my favorite songs. I visualize myself coming through the finish line, stronger than I’ve ever felt as a runner. I clinch my fist in the air. Could this be? To finish WS 100 mile run through the mountains feeling on top of the world? Then I hear Nude playing in my head, I notice its tenderness, and the gradual, escalating tenor of Thom York’s piercing voice as he delivers the final lyric—“you’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking”.

A chill runs down my neck.

Control Click the Link below to play the Song “Nude”:


Frayed Laces said...

So totally agree. It's nice once in awhile to run sans music, but my KAM (Kick A$$ Motivation) propels me through my toughest intervals, and I have been known to let a few tears leak out while listening to an emotional song in the latter stages of a long run. It's so weird how powerful music can be on the psyche!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jeff. Radiohead is always on my iPod. Try The Arcade Fire, too. They are wonderful. Hope your training is going well. It sounds like it is!

Mountain Mayhem said...

I really like Thom York/Radiohead, although I have to discipline myself to not use music since you can't have music in triathlons :-( Great to see you at the track last week!! I think you can do an Ironman after Western States :-)(that is over 100 miles)LOL


Will Cooper said...

Cindy, thanks for the comment...good to see you as well and one of these days we have to find a trail in Big Bear to run together!

Dmitri said...

Great post! If I did not listen to music on the runs, I would probably never become a runner in the first place! I got addicted only after I started to take my iPod on my runs… Sometimes when you feel low at an ultra music is the only thing that can kick my butt and raise my spirit.

Kevin McGonigal said...

I used to think running with music distracted me from hearing my feet and my breathing. I also thought it didn't make sense to train with music if I wasn't going to race with it. Then my wife gave me some Lil' Wayne. Hip Hop makes me laugh and I love running with a smile. There is also some science out there that says music makes you train harder.