There’s something about a great running song that has the power to transform a mediocre workout into an exceptional one.
Heck, the right song at the right time has the power to motivate you to get out the door in the first place. A good running song can even make you a better runner—a few years ago I solved my shin stress fracture problems by increasing my turnover rate to lessen the force of each impact. To do it, I found a bunch of songs with just the right tempo (180 beats per minute) and lined my strides up with the beats.
But what defines a good running song? It’s hard to say. Sometimes you love a song when you’re driving or at your desk, but when you take it out for a run, something just doesn’t jive. The key isn’t necessarily a fast tempo; sometimes slow songs are just as good as upbeat ones. A driving bass drum pulse might help, but on a two-hour run, that gets old quick.
Really, the only way to know a song works for running is to road-test it. Make a playlist and try it out; you’ll know right away what works and what doesn’t. Some will be surprisingly fit for running. And you’ll have an inexplicable urge to skip right past some other songs that you were sure would be keepers when you made the list.
In my seven years of running, I’ve found lots of great running songs. But there are certain ones that, no matter how many times I hear them, or how sick of them I am when I’m not running, make it onto my iPod every time. That’s what this list is—my top 10 favorite running songs of all time. (I went to high school and college from 1995-2003, so you’ll have to excuse my post-grunge bias.)
The Top 10 Songs for Running
10. Foo Fighters – My Hero. A little on the slow side, but with Dave Grohl’s thundering drums and motivating lyrics, this one’s perfect for pounding out hill repeats or for when you’re really worn out and the fast stuff’s not cutting it.
9. Kelly Clarkson – My Life Would Suck Without You. Alright, I’m little embarrassed about this one. If I’m ever listening to it in the car, I turn it down when someone walks by. But for running, it’s got a driving beat and enough attitude to keep you pushing hard.
8. Blink 182 – Anthem Part II. Say what you want about Blink 182, but man, can they churn out good running tunes. (And filthy lyrics.) I could make a whole list of “Best Blink 182 Running Songs,” but since you’re not all teenage boys, I didn’t. This song has a great build at the beginning is way up-tempo.
7. Pete Yorn – For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is). You might not recognize this one by name, but if you heard it, you’d probably know it. This one was popular when I was training for my very first marathon, so I have a soft spot for it.
6. Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People. My wife hates when she borrows my iPod and this one is on there. But I love this song for hill workouts. A band played a punk version of it when I was running the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, and I’ve been pretending to be a badass ever since.
5. Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover. Another one you might not know, but this song is a fantastic running track. There’s no vocal, so it’s easy to zone out and just listen to this guitar-god’s catchy little melody. I ran to this song over and over when I was trying to groove a faster turnover rate, and it worked. Try it to test out your turnover, it’s hard to keep up at first!
4. The Postal Service – Such Great Heights. A little bit electronica, a little bit sappy emo. But the beat is perfect for running and it just makes you feel awesome. Great lyrics don’t hurt either.
3. Death Cab for Cutie – The Sound of Settling. I know, I know… two Ben Gibbard songs in a row. But the hook is infectious, the tempo is perfect, and there’s something about this one that can pull you out of a funk like no other.
2. The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love. Hands down, my favorite song to run to. This guy is the greatest thing since Freddie Mercury (and I’m not talking about Adam Lambert, AI fans). This is my go-to song when I’m just feeling slow—it picks me up, speeds me up, and makes me feel happy.
1. ________________________________________. Ok, I’m tricky… I only compiled nine songs, and left the final spot open. Why? I want you to fill it in, because I need something new to listen to! What’s your all-time favorite running song?
Update for Women Runners: You might be interested in 1984 Olympic women’s marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson’s Women’s Marathon Mix, a two-volume set of upbeat marathon training songs that I just discovered. The songs are surprisingly non-girly, considering the title of the album.
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