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Music: A Performance Enhancer

by Sam Downing on July 01, 2024

It seems fraudulent to be writing this when it's been over a year now since I've trained with music in my ears. I made the decision to remove it from my setup. Most events now don't allow music, so therefore I'm not arriving out of my comfort zone when I don't have a constant 'four on the floor' come the big day. It also means, which ties in nicely with my recent efforts to be more present, that I'm able to engage with nature in a way that I wasn't experiencing prior.

 

All of this being said, music is an integral part to my very existence. My connection with my emotions, my connection with the world around me, my connection with others, and my connection with running and my inspiration to remain loyal to the very activity that keeps me on the right track (double pun most definitely intended).

 

My experience is that there is a song or genre for every type of run. Not to mention the pre-run motivator, or the ambient post-run reflective state. I've had to be brutal in my selection, and I could list them in their 1000s. But below I've divided my (current) favourite in ear choices and categorised them accordingly. Each one is accompanied by a small 'review'. Enjoy. Go give them a listen if you wish.

 

 

EASY RUN - The country of origin here was easy, the artist not so much. It has to be something from the African continent. On an easy-run, particularly on a Summer's evening, I don't think you can beat some Malian, Cameroonian or Nigerian grooves. 'Desert Blues' is really a genre, and if I'm bagging a rare (in the UK) topless run, with one of the pioneers of the sound in my ears, then it's desert running that I'm fantasising on. The last runner on earth, in it for the love, nowhere to be and no route to follow. If I could pick just one type of run to engage in for forever more, then this would probably be it.

Ali Farka Toure - "Erdi" (Album: Savane) - From the Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist's final album (track 1), written/recorded whilst he was suffering from cancer, and not released until after his death. It's an effortless, meditative, and spell-bounding piece featuring guitar, a four string lute, a one string violin, traditional percussion, a harmonica and brass. All played by Ali!

 

LONG RUN - For the long-run I've opted for an album. For me it's a great chance to drop the playlists and do a studio effort in full. After all, that is as they are usually intended!

Radiohead - "Kid A". Yup. One of the all-time classics from my all-time favourite bunch. One thing we're not going to get from any Radiohead album is a locked-in BPM that'll serve as a metronome for cadence - their track to track variation is too great for that. It's the atmospheric nature of their sound, and the loop on loop build throughout songs like 'Everything In Its Right Place', that I find particularly fitting for a longer jaunt through an epic landscape like the South West Coast Path. FUN FACT - The first two words of the aforementioned song served as the sole inspiration for English Art-Rockers 'Everything Everything' when naming their band.

As a wildcard go-to choice, I'm opting for "Motion Picture Soundtrack" and it's stripped back/organic feel as I near the end of the run and find myself in full appreciation mode for being outdoors and alive.

 

TEMPO RUN - What I have always tended to do for tempo runs/workouts/sessions (the list of titles could go on) in the past, is just pick a 'banger' and stick it on repeat. I'm looking for a tune here that's going to get me locked into a rhythm, whilst keeping me fired-up to hit some bigger numbers. As I write this, it does all sound a little hectic, but it only happens once (maybe twice) a week, so I think this approach has it's place.

I could go electronic - house, jungle, breakbeat, disco etc. But I'm a guitar-band man at heart...

Gilla Band - "I Was Away" (Album: Most Normal) - The noisy Irish 4-piece sight Chemical Brothers as one of their biggest influences, so I still have fingers in electronic pies here! Think disjointed and overdriven guitars, a faultless and pounding rhythm section that needs to be loud to be appreciated, and vocals reminiscent of the late and great Mark E Smith. A lot of Gilla Band's music is repetitive and building - which, for me, makes it the perfect companion to run around a track (or flat-ish housing estate) to. Not for everyone - check them out.

 

PRE-RUN - What type of music can take the place of pre-workout drink blends? For me, it has to be something that's going to get me 'in the mood', without getting me too excited. After all, most runs, workout or not, are meant to be preceded by a warm up period - right? Something that's reminiscent of embracing being outside, something that's possibly linked to someone or something that I find wholly inspiring. Something that's going to remind me why I went for the trails as my terrain of choice.

Does the above leave me with many other options? 

Eddie Vedder - "Rise" (Into The Wild (Music For The Motion Picture)) - An inspiring song, from an inspiring soundtrack, written for an inspiring film. If you're yet to watch the film, I would recommend that you do. If you've seen the film, but are yet to sit with Eddie Vedder's original soundtrack standalone, then I would recommend this also. All serving as a fitting insight into the life and adventures of Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp).

 

POST-RUN - What's the phrase? "You never regret a run" (I often try to talk myself out of starting one!). I think this seemingly common stance most definitely derives from (every time and without fail) experiencing that feeling when the endorphins hit. It's something else. It does it for me. It leaves me feeling like I've won the day. That I'm making positive life choices. I'm inadvertently feeling an intense amount of gratitude for all that I have in my life. If I can accelerate or enhance all of the above with music, then I'm going to do it...

 

Mick Turner - "Moth 3" (Album: Moth) - An instrumental and meditative piece. Think backward guitar loops and welcomed repetition. I would say this is for scenic driving, post-running. 

 

And there we have it, 4 songs and an album to keep my motivation up and my efforts in check. Now please excuse me whilst I plug these into a Spotify playlist and see where the algorithm takes me thereafter!

 

Stay dusty out there...

 

Sam.

 

Images by Will Harper-Penrose

 

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