Sunday, April 6, 2014

Boston Training Week 16, Music for Marathon Training

The longer title to this post should be "An Introvert (who actually enjoys running with other people sometimes...) and Selective Music Listener's Brief Guide to Not Getting Bored Out of Your Mind While Training for a Spring Marathon." 

But that wouldn't fit in a #tweet

As I started devoting thoughts to this topic, I quickly realized this could spiral into something way too long to fit in one post.  The topic of introversion versus extroversion and perspectives on Myers-Briggs, etc... I can easily save for another time.  Personality lives on a multi-dimensional continuum.  I'll leave it at that.

I could also write at length about marathon training and music, but to make this consumable I wanted to focus on the high points.

These are:

1) Don't train by yourself all the time

2) If you do run in groups or with others, don't listen to music

3) But if you need to run by yourself, music can help

  • a) "own" what music you like to run to
  • b) find music to suit your pace
  • c) keep it organized
  • d) change it up

If you want to cut to the chase and just see my playlists, scroll down - but you may miss some important qualifiers along the way, starting with....

Don't Run By Yourself All the Time

A marathon training cycle by most measures lasts about 18 weeks.  That comes out to 90+ training runs spanning over at least two seasons of the year.  Invariably, that leads to two situations:  having to do more than a few runs on your own and having to do more than a few runs in less than ideal weather or stuck on the treadmill.

Running on my own has never been a problem for me... but it has a limit.

But even I will hit a plateau of boredom without others to encourage/distract me along the way.  I make time to do one or two groups runs a week (the more social/casual "6 at Brixx" and interval workouts being the two frequent examples).  For my longer runs I'll try to reach out to someone I know will go my pace and/or keep me engaged in conversation.  Finding gregarious runners on my schedule who can also carry on conversation at mid-7s pace for 15+ miles is a challenge, needless to say.  You know who you are out there and I thank you.  

For me 2 to 3 runs a week with someone else is enough to keep it from growing too stale.  The rest of the time, I don't mind going out on my own with my headphones on.  Sometimes after a day of meetings at work or an evening of extended social interaction, I need this time to recharge.  So if you see me running by on the ATT heads down, give me a good wave, and if I see you in time - I'll smile and wave back (but don't be offended if I entirely miss you - it isn't intentional, I promise).

Don't Listen to Music If You are Running with Others

It's just rude and awkward for everyone else.  So just don't do it - enough said.

But if you are "stuck" by yourself...

Own What Music You Like to Run To

Both literally and figuratively.  The point is: as long as it gets you going - neither myself nor anyone else should ever pass judgment.  And what you like to run to may not be the artists you'll admit to your "really cool friends" who go to the Cradle or Saxapahaw for shows and read Pitchfork.

Case in point - my favorite album to run to this winter, hands down: Beyonce (as I went into great length in a previous post).  "Pretty Hurts" was the kickstart to more than few runs on my treadmill before or after a long day of work when it was 35 degrees and dark/raining outside.  And I loved it.  Sure it helps that it is critically acclaimed, but I know a fair number of guys who would never admit listening to this one.

The unlikely lead choice for running album of 2014

Others on rotation:  Lady GaGa.  Kanye West.  Yes, I still listen to some of the first albums I bought as an 8th grader when I signed up for one of those BMG or Columbia "Buy One, Get TEN FREE CDs!" promotions.  Siamese Dream.  Dookie.  Sixteen Stone.  Weezer (The Blue Album).  It was "alternative" music back then, but let's be honest - it is all "popular" music... and great to run to.

And anything I listen to regularly, I buy (i.e. pay money for) and save on a playlist for eternity.

Find Music to Fit Your Pace

Cadence, it's all about cadence.

Case in point, two new albums that came out this winter:

St. Vincent's "St. Vincent" and Future Island's "Singles"

St. Vincent's Annie Clark and Future Island's Sam Herring are both bizarre individuals with a "unique" or even "showy" stage presence (this article does a much better job describing Herring than I ever could).

Sam Herring knows the pain of the long run on Turkey Creek

St. Vincent:  always critically acclaimed, good for listening to in the car driving to work in the morning - a little too erratic to get into a good rhythm for running.

"Singles":  love or hate Herring's overdramatic voice or style - the first 5 songs of the Future Island's latest album really work for me*.  

*Caveat:  they might not work for you.

We all run at different paces.  What specifically works for me is not a universal.  Rock or electronic songs with a driving beat tend to work well in my training zone.  Most hip-hop and even a fair bit of alt-rock tends to be too slow.  Dubstep is too fast and frenetic.

And even within my set of playlists:

Keep it Organized

The truth is we are in media overload these days and it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all and get stuck in a rut as a result.

The first step is I scour the internet for likely candidates (NPR, Rdio, Paste, and Pitchfork are my go-to sources).  

Next, say I find an album that I think I may like.  If it is available to stream, I'll first listen to parts of each of the songs.  My rule of thumb - if I like 3 or more of the songs and find the rest of the album reasonably interesting, I'll buy the whole album.  Otherwise I'll just buy the songs I know I will listen to.

Then I update two sets of playlists in iTunes.  One has all of my new music.  This is the playlist I keep on my iPod and iPhone to listen to on my drives to and from work.  Then I keep a separate playlist of running lists that are more up tempo.  Each year I accumulate more "running songs" and append to the list of previous year's lists.  Some the playlists remind me of winter.  Others are better for the summer.  I'm not sure there is much rhyme or reason to it other than when I started listening to the song to begin with.  After 15 years of accumulating mp3s... that's a ton of music.  

Personally, I like keeping some order, but if you are more the spontaneous type, maybe you like putting songs on shuffle - but I at least try to keep everything that is roughly the same tempo on the same list.  This way I don't end up getting something really downbeat just when I am getting ready to pick up the pace.

Every now and then I need to do some pruning or re-organizing, which brings me to my 4th point.

Change It Up

Keep it fresh.

When the weather gets better in the spring, I do a massive purge.  The winter playlist goes into archive.  I bring out my "spring" playlist.

Just last Sunday it was 44 degrees and windy.  This week shot into the 80s and everything started blooming in the Triangle.  Winter is (I hope) behind us now.  First Fridays are back in Raleigh.  Spring house parties are gearing up.  Time to spend some time on a patio or eating dinner outside.  Also time to change up the playlist.

Spring at the infamous 15-501 landmark - the BCBSNC building

So goodbye Beyonce, Mates of State, and Phantogram.  I'll see you next winter.

With that here are (finally) some recommendations to close out your own spring marathon training or start on your summer plans.

The Spring Playlists:

I.  "Recent Music" - the morning 'pace' run

KMAG YOYO - Hayes Carll
Civilian - Wye Oak
Weight of the Sun - And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead
Butterfly - Delicate Steve
Little Lion Man - Mumford and Sons
Cave - Mumford and Songs
Born to Lose - Sleigh Bells
Crush - Sleigh Bells
Mute - Youth Lagoon
Waiting on You - Future Islands
Spirit - Future Islands

II.  "More Recent Music" - the afternoon run where you feel flat and need a little pick up

Safari Disco Club - Yelle
Bury Us Alive - Starfucker
various songs from The Strokes' Angles (Machu Piccu, Under Cover of Darkness, Two Kinds of Happiness, Taken for a Fool)
various songs from Morning Teleportation's Expanding Anyway (Expanding Anyway, Wholehearted Drifted Sense of Inertia, Just a Figment, Treble Chair)
Terrible Love - The National
Presidents Song - Adam Arcurgari
Our Hearts - Firehorse
Runaway - Imperial Teen
Bright Whites - Kishi Bashi

III.  The 90s/Early 00s Throwback

Geek Stink Breath - Green Day
Machinehead - Bush
Salvation - Cranberries
Spiderwebs - No Doubt
Hummer - Siamese Dream
Lady Picture Show - Stone Temple Pilots
Around the World - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Parallel Universe - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Velouria - The Pixies
Various songs from Placebo's Black Market Music

IV.  The 00s

Various songs from Dinosaur Jr's Beyond (Almost Ready, Crumble, Pick Me Up, We're Not Alone)
Intervention - Arcade Fire
Antichrist Television Blues - Arcade Fire
Various songs from British Sea Power's Do You Like Rock Music (first 4 songs)
Map of the Problematique - Muse
Stricken - Disturbed
My Curse - Killswitch Engage


Week 16

Monday:  much needed rest day after last weekend...

Tuesday:  6+ miles around Meadowmont, Finley GC

Wednesday:  7+ miles - interval workout at UNC - 4x800m (first 400 @ "5K pace", 200 @ "tempo" pace, 200 "fast") with 1 minute recovery

Thursday:  8 miles on Tobacco Trail

Friday:  rest

Saturday:  9+ at Duke with 4 miles at "tempo" pace around East Campus (15-30 sec per mile faster than target marathon pace)

Sunday:  15 miles on Tobacco Trail with a friend visiting from DC I hadn't talked to in 6 years - like a Christmas present for a marathon runner in week 16...

Total Miles:  ~46 miles and all down from here...

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