Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top 10 List: 2011's Best Running Songs

My year in running through music...

The classic top 10 list. Entirely subjective.

10. "KMAG YOYO" by Hayes Carll

The south branch of the American Tobacco Trail in Durham starts near my house and slices through miles of pine forest to past US 64 in Apex. Trail purists cringe at the thought of this flat, admittedly repetitive route, but this run serves a distinct purpose for me: to zone out, put on headphones, listen to a good mix of songs both old and new, and run at the upper limit of what I can handle without falling short of breath. This track reminds me of a more modern version of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and is the perfect song for beginning one of my favorite workouts: the 'marathon pace' run.

9. "Two Kinds of Happiness" by The Strokes (Angles)

Like any Strokes album, I struggled with pinpointing the one song to choose here. Any of the first three would have worked, but this one was probably the best 'running/workout song' (after that, I wasn't crazy about the rest of the album). Still liking the Strokes may seem very 2001, but then again, so is living back in Durham for me...

8. "Trumpalump" by DELS

This British hip-hop track might be more of a "going to the gym" song versus a running song, but I spent most of July indoors this year lifting, hoping to get "stronger and faster"... and then all fall trying to lose all the extra weight I put on (turns out fast twitch muscle doesn't help very much with anything 10K or longer...) Funny how that works.

7. "Finale" by Funeral Party

Another upbeat song I listened to before Carolina Godiva's summer track meets, and my many inspiring but failed attempts at the elusive sub-1 minute 400...

6. "Generation" by Liturgy

This song has the intensity of an 800m run but it lasts 7 minutes. No lyrics, just layers and layers of thrashing guitar riffs. It reminds of the early Smashing Pumpkins' tracks from Siamese Dream I used to listen to when I first started running freshman year of high school -- absent Billy Corgan's whining (but admittedly endearing) vocals.

5. "Doors Unlocked and Open" by Death Cab for Cutie (Codes and Keys)

This is a song for a hazy day in late June, driving through rural parts of eastern NC on my way to the beach, watching the heat radiate off the asphalt, while behemoth sized insects smash into the grill of my car.

This is also a song for summer track meets -- the repetitiveness, the constant melody, the way it goes in circles on and on like a seemingly never ending 5000m run...

On a side note, I read Death Cab's lead Ben Gibbard stopped drinking after he met Zooey Deschanel and started training for marathons. I wonder if his running inspired this song? I wonder if he still runs now that they've split up?

4. "Wholehearted Drifted Sense of Inertia" by Morning Teleportation (Expanding Anyway)

Probably one of my more surprising finds of the year -- a little bit of Modest Mouse, a little bit of Flaming Lips... if you hate these bands, you will hate this too. They seem like the type of band that might be fun to see live, and I keep waiting for them to show up on Cat Cradle's list, but no luck yet.

This song is all over the place -- if you ever have a day where you just want to go out, and stick to no pace in particular, and just hammer it when you feel like it, this is the song for that type of run. Or if you hate running and just want to dance like a maniac for no good reason, this might be the song for you too.

3. "Civilian" by Wye Oak

Everyone who sticks with the sport long enough eventually has a race (or a few) where they hit some sort of transcendent space for a few miles, where a pace that would typically feel painful somehow becomes effortless. That is what happened to me at the Tobacco Road Half Marathon back in March.

I was in a pack of runners that were above my ability, and mile after mile we were ticking off 6:10s when all I had hoped to run was somewhere in the 6:30s. I came back down to earth when the pack took off (I guess 6:10s really were slow for them), but I still finished well under my old PR despite struggling hard over the last 3 miles. This song reminds of that race for several reasons -- the steadiness of the beat and crescendo, and the timing of when I discovered it (just before this race in March).

2. "Under My Nose" by F&#@!*d Up (David Comes to Life)

I gave this song rave reviews in my last post. All I know is I listened to this song on my way to Couch Mountain a few weeks ago and I wasn't even planning to race that day, but just run hard. I ended up getting this caught in my head and running really well and feeling great. I wish that would happen more often in races that cost more than $5 to enter.

1. "I Am Disappeared" by Frank Turner (England Keep My Bones)

This is a song for summer. For beach bound road trips. For catching up with friends over a cold drink during the insanely hot days in late July. For driving to the UNC track after work on NC 54 with the sun tucking behind billowing clouds, coloring the sky in hues of orange. The lyrics are reminiscent of Springsteen, but Frank Turner is about as British as they come, and he lets us know this repeatedly during this album (which is pretty solid throughout). My favorite song of the album, and from any new album this year -- for running or by any other measure.


  1. Shoot. Narrowing down to 10 is just too hard... bound to miss a few potential "classics"