Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 23 Sep 2006 08:15:09 -0400

Marathon Themes


"The world's oldest iPod user," I called myself in last week's column. But much as I love listening to these high-fidelity sounds, they don't go along on runs -- for the same reason no music plays (or radio talk, or TV) during writing time. I need to hear only the voices inside my head, without any outside interference.

One exception: during marathon training last winter, the iPod entertained me on the every-other-week long runs. I didn't have enough good thoughts to be alone with them for all those hours.

But the marathon itself was still music-free (not counting the boom-boxes set up along the Yakima course). I didn't want to tune out the voices of the many runners and few fans who talked with me along the way.

Whether or not the iPod plays, a musical sound-track accompanies my running. Certain songs speak perfectly to my thoughts on the sport.

That playlist now numbers more than 100. From it I picked 20 tunes to share with my Marathon Teams -- one for each of our Sundays together, plus one for race eve and a final selection for the first recovery week.

The first qualification for making this list is that the song be upbeat in tempo, message or both. I rejected several possible choices as too negative: "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" by Woody Guthrie, "Running Scared" by Roy Orbison, "Running on Empty" by The Eagles.

I debated seriously about including Warren Zevon's "Ain't That Pretty at All," despite its title. It has this great line: "I'm gonna hurl myself against the wall, 'cause I'd rather feel bad than not feel anything at all."

Others didn't qualify for being overused to the point of cliché: "Chariots of Fire" from the movie by that name, the "Rocky" song and the "Olympic Theme" from NBC's coverage of the Games. Plus those are instrumentals and I'm a word guy, moved more by lyrics than tune.

Most of my choices for the Marathon Team CD have "run" or "road" in the title. These lines weren't written to speak to runners, but do. The marathon music mix:

1. "Centerfield" by John Fogerty. It's about baseball but could be runners talking to their coach as the training begins. Most will wind up in the center of the marathon field: "Put me in, Coach, I'm ready to play. Look at me, I can be centerfield."

2. "Born to Run," the Emmylou Harris version and not Bruce Springsteen's (a different song but a fitting one itself): "Just to feel free and be someone, I was born to be fast, I was born to run."

3. "Let Your Light Shine" by Keb' Mo', a plea to being proud of whoever you are and whatever you can do. Here's a different verse from those quoted in RC 641: "This world is ready and waiting, or you to break on through. It's time to recognize, realize, no one else can do what you do."

4. "The 59th Street Bridge Song" by Simon & Garfunkel, a lesson in pacing (used to frame my first book) that begins: "Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the mornin' last."

5. "Miles from Nowhere" by Cat Stevens delivers a second message on pace: "Miles from nowhere, I guess I'll take my time, oh yeah, to reach there."

6. "The Long Run" by The Eagles, about the most important of our training runs: "Well, we're scared, but we ain't shakin', kinda bent, but we ain't breakin', in the long run."

7. "Jacob's Ladder," a traditional song performed here by Bruce Springsteen. We could say every RUN goes higher and higher: "Every rung goes higher and higher... every new one makes us stronger, sisters, brothers, all."

8. "Shady Grove" by Quicksilver Messenger Service, which says why we run long in a tree-shaded setting: "I used to walk on the city streets, now I wander far and wide, and I never found my happiness, till I moved to the countryside."

9. "Proud Mary" by Tina Turner, singing to us as we take most of each long run beside a river: "Big wheel keep on turnin', proud Mary keep on burnin'. Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river."

10. "All I Really Want to Do" by Bob Dylan, who says here that competition at best is cooperative rather than confrontational: "I ain't lookin' to compete with you, beat or cheat or mistreat you, simplify you, classify you, deny, defy or crucify you. All I really want to do is, baby, be friends with you."

11. "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson, an anthem to the joys of the road. Change his words "music" to "mileage": "On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again. The life I love is makin' music with my friends, and I can't wait to get on the road again."

12. "You've Got a Friend," with Carole King stating the best side-effect of this training, the friendships formed: "You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again."

13. "Hard Road to Travel" by Jimmy Cliff, to mark the 19-mile level of our training, the next-to-last step upward in distance: "It's a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go. But I can't turn back, my heart is fixed,
my mind's made up, I'll never stop. My faith will see, see me through."

14. "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty, another promise to persist: "Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around, and I'll keep this world from draggin' me down. Gonna stand my ground, and I won't back down."

15. "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler, which could be the coach talking about the runners as they finish their longest training run of 21 miles: "Did you ever know that you're my hero? You're everything I wish I could be. I could fly higher than an eagle, for you are the wind beneath my wings."

16. "Greatest American Hero" by Mike Post, as the runners look back in amazement at how far they've come the past few months: "Believe it or not I'm walking on air, I never thought I could feel so free. Flying away on a wing and prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not it's just me."

17. "Someday I'll Look Back" by Merle Haggard, with a reminder the week before the marathon that we're having fun here, even if we'll only see that by looking back later: "If we both pull together, tomorrow's sure to come. Someday we'll look back and say it was fun."

18. "Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow" by Fleetwood Mac, for marathon eve: "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. Don't stop, it'll soon be here. It'll be better than before. Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone."

19. "Run for the Roses" by Dan Fogelberg, for marathon day (for this team, at the Rose City of Portland): "It's breeding and it's training, and it's something unknown, that drives you and carries you home. And it's run for the roses, as fast as you can. Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand."

20. "Forever Young," sung here by Joan Baez. This post-marathon song is my way of wishing these runners well on the longer road ahead: "May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. And may you stay forever young."
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