August 2, 2010

The Power of Music, The Power of You

I love music. I mean really love it.  It has always been a big part of my life. Not surprising when you have a dad who started playing guitar to you before you could even sit up by yourself (yes, this a pic of us). I learned to play a few different instruments in school, starting with the clarinet in 4th grade, ending with drums in 8th grade. Growing up, our living room was converted into a music studio essentially. Drum kit, guitars, synthesizer, amps, microphones, egg cartons on the walls to dampen the volume heard outside; you name it, we probably had it (or knew someone who did). Neighborhood kids would come over often. Most of us went to the same school, were about the same age and played various instruments for concert and jazz band. It was an amazing and unique experience for all of us. I was introduced to going to concerts at a very early age – KISS at age 6 with my BFF and Dad. I still remember Gene Simmons being hoisted up to the ceiling of a huge dome with fake blood pouring out of his mouth.  I think, on average, I saw at least 2-3 concerts a year growing up, usually with Dad and friends and neighbors.  That part has not changed much for me. My husband and I see about 5 concerts a year and XBox Rockband concerts can frequently be heard coming from our living room on a weekly basis.

For me, music is a motivator, a distraction and an escape. To provide just a few examples, I listen to music at work, at home, in the car, on an airplane, in the dentist’s chair and of course, during a run. I have multiple running play lists on my iPod, including a Kings of Leon live DVD that I love to watch when I’m on the treadmill and listen to when I’m out on the road (as long as it doesn’t exceed 2 hours – videos suck up a lot more battery life than just listening to music). I have found that I respond very positively to live songs, likely because of the charge I get listening to the crowd explode and the energy you can feel coming from the band.

30 Seconds to Mars @ The Greek Theater, May 15, 2010

I am constantly updating my “Current long run” playlist (around 4 hours of music).  Not dramatic changes – adding and removing a couple of songs here and there. I also enjoy listening to playlists I have created in the past (usually for specific races). Playlists for 5K and 10K races are much different than those created for half marathon races. The playlist I made for my first marathon is different from all of those. I do not try to put any order to the songs. I choose a playlist and select “randomize songs” to avoid too much predictability. I think I would get bored. My playlists are not timed to my expected finish times – this leaves room for extra time if the run doesn’t go as planned and room to skip songs that I’m just not feeling that particular day.

Music that drives me to push hard and fast are the name of the game for short races and speed work. I categorize these as “Driving” songs. Half marathon play lists have some driving songs, but also incorporate more “Cruising” and “Tempo” beats which help me work comfortably hard, but at a more relaxed steady pace. The marathon play list was changed up, adding in songs that remind me to relax and enjoy myself. I realize these preferences are entirely individual, not just due to overall tastes in music style, but also comes from what the songs mean to you as an individual. Maybe you have a special memory that pops into your head when you hear a particular song or band. A favorite song of one of your kids that even though you’ve heard it 3 million times, it brings a smile to your face when you’re alone on the road. Whether it be driving, relaxing, or just plain silly, if a song makes you feel good, consider adding it to your running playlist.

I would say that 85% of the music I listen to on a daily basis (outside of when I’m actually running) are songs straight off of these various playlists. All of them overlap to some degree – we all have songs we never get tired of hearing! And even though I listen to my running playlists in a variety of surroundings, I associate most of the songs with how I feel when I’m running. Back in the day when I was a step aerobics instructor, I worked a lot with beginners and often ended my classes by saying, “Remember how great you feel right now the next time you’re considering coming to the gym.”  It was a good motivator to keep beginners coming back for more. Think of what you tell yourself in those moments. “I did it”. “I’m so glad I made the effort to get here”. “That was tough but I feel great”! Being able to put myself in this mindset outside of training is a powerful tool.

All of this being said, I recommend turning your music completely off from time to time and really tune in to your body. Time to check in with yourself. How does your breathing sound? Are your feet slapping the pavement or the treadmill belt?  What thoughts are going through your head? I do this primarily when I know I’ll be on the road for at least 90 minutes, but for beginners, I highly recommend doing it every 20 minutes (just for 3 or 4 minutes at a time) until you can run for 60 minutes. Then once every 45 minutes or so.  If music is a driving force for you, it is also important to learn how YOU can be a driving force for yourself. By eliminating the distraction of the music, even for just a few minutes, you are giving yourself the opportunity to focus and become aware of your form and your thoughts. Get used to being with yourself. iPods and mp3 players die and/or short out – and more than likely, it will happen to you on a run or during a race.

Additionally, there is often entertainment along race courses that you may not want to miss. These aren’t sights and sounds you get to hear on your everyday runs. Cheerleaders, mariachi bands, high school and college marching bands, DJs, the Anaheim Angels announcer calling out your name as you run onto the field (referencing the Disneyland Half Marathon course here) and what about all those spectators cheering you on?!? Use music as a tool, not the end all be all that drives your performance.  Put yourself in the driver’s seat but don’t be afraid to let those backseat drivers (external motivators) take over the wheel. Bottom line is find the combination that works best for you, keeping in mind that a little flexibility can heighten your experience. 

Here are some songs I’m currently running with:

Cruisin: Where is the Love (Black Eyed Peas); Don’t Look Back (Boston); From Yesterday (30 Seconds to Mars); Jessie’s Girl (Rick Springfield); The Bucket (Kings of Leon); Jesus of Suburbia (Green Day [Live]); The Missing Frame (AFI [Live]); Coffee’s for Closers (Fall Out Boy)

Relax and Chill Out!: Animal (Def Leppard); One of the Boys (Katy Perry); Interstate Love Song (Stone Temple Pilots); Use Somebody (Kings of Leon); Kings and Queens (30 Seconds to Mars); Notion (Kings of Leon)

Tempo/Upbeat: Pump it (Black Eyed Peas); This is War (30 Seconds to Mars); Smokin’ (Boston); Wicked Garden (Stone Temple Pilots); Thnks Fr Th Mmrs (Fall Out Boy); Uprising (Muse); DOA (Foo Fighters);

Driving: Monkey Wrench (Foo Fighters); Medicate (AFI); Slither (Velvet Revolver); Lies (The Chimpz); Basket Case (Green Day [Live]); Burn it to the Ground (Nickelback); No Way Back (Foo Fighters); Pain (Jimmy Eat World); Dirty Little Rock Star (The Cult)

 What music motivates you? I’m always looking for new songs to add to my playlists!

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