How to create a marathon playlist

I rarely listen to music during my daily runs. Occasionally, I listen to  podcasts during my long run if there’s a particular episode I want to hear or if I am generally bored with my running route (Dear Sugars is my current fave). But that’s the exception, not the rule. I usually like to stay in the moment when I run, be aware of my surroundings and concentrate on what’s going on with my body.

Racing is another story. For most races longer than a 5K, I play music. Not only is it motivating to hear words of encouragement blaring in my ear, but it also muffles the sound of my heavy breathing and distracts me from pain. Plus, running a half or full marathon takes a long time, whether you run fast or slowly, so it keeps my mind occupied and focused.

There’s an unwritten rule which states that “serious” competitors do not wear earbuds when they race. Whatever. One of the great things about getting to this age is that I just don’t care.

My playlist for the St. George Marathon

Music is important to me, and I love almost all genres. At home and in the car, I listen to a lot of Brazilian (bossa nova, Samba, axe) and Latin music (salsa, bachata, mambo). I also love world music, singer songwriters like Shawn Colvin, some jazz, oldies from the 80s, and some pop.

If you looked at my running playlist and my Spotify history, you would not believe they came from the same person. The music I listen to while racing is not the music I would listen to in the car or at home while cooking dinner. My running music can border on absolutely cheesy or saccharine. But who cares? It’s all about the beat and motivating lyrics. There’s music for every occasion.

Here’s my St. George Marathon playlist, in no particular order. It contains 54 songs and comes in at 4 hours, which was way more songs than needed for my original goal time. Some songs remind me of what I overcame (like 32 Flavors by Ani DeFranco). Others remind me of people in my life (My boyfriend is a jazz musician and recommended the Pat Metheny tunes); others reminded me of people and situations in my past. I chose most songs for the motivating lyrics (like Stronger by Kanye West) and driving beats (like “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting-Tings), while I threw a few slower songs in the mix (like the haunting “Song About Traveling” which I listened to a lot as I drove through Utah) just to remind myself to change gears. I’m still kinda cringing that I put “Sexy Back” on here *rolls eyes* but it has a driving beat.

How to create a marathon playlist

Estimate the length of your playlist. Start by estimating your finishing time, then add 15 minutes of padding for pre- and post-race and or (heaven forbid) a slower time. For example, if you plan on finishing a marathon in 4 hours, you should have 4 hours and 15 minutes of tunes ready. Then divide by 4 and you’ll have a rough idea of the number of songs you’ll need to amass. Guessing that the average song is about 4 minutes means that for a 4-hour pace marathon, you would need about 63 songs for 255 minutes of running.

Start early. You’ll need a lot of songs, unless you don’t mind repeats. It takes time to figure out which ones you want to hear while running 26.2. So start early– I suggest one month before your race. You don’t want to scramble to put together a play list the night before your marathon. If you have a streaming service (I have Spotify), you can create a play list and add to it as you hear songs you like or remember songs you want to include. Then you can download it to your phone.

Match the tempo of your songs to the tempo of your desired pace. Go for upbeat, uptempo songs. If you are going for a fast time, you might want to save slower tunes, like Adele’s “Hello” or “The Wind Beneath My Wings” for your recovery run. You can get super technical about matching the songs’ beats per minute to your running pace. Just ask the oracle (Google). Personally, I think that’s too much work, plus it takes the fun out of both running and listening to music.

Be mindful of lyrics. I remember once running a 5K with a tremendous hill at the end. I did not have time to make a play list so I put my own music on shuffle. Just as I was climbing that hill, a Colbie Caillat song came on and she sang, “You don’t have to try, try, try…” just as I was climbing that hill. “Yes, you absolutely have to try, try, try!” I told myself, trying to block out her words. Something like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” would have been better. Go for motivational songs.

Ask your friends. When I was building my St George playlist, I asked my friends on Facebook for ideas. They suggested some great songs I never would have thought of. Also, Google “playlists” to get more ideas.

Let streaming music apps do the work. If you don’t care about a personalized list or you don’t have time to make one, several apps are available that do the work for you. Some streaming services, like Spotify, also have tons of running playlists, some of which are tailored to specific paces or types of workouts.

What’s your favorite running song?

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