Maybe you’re starting off the year doing a Couch to 5K; maybe you’ve decided that 2016 is the perfect time to tackle a half marathon, marathon or even an ultramarathon. Regardless, you’ve got the essentials under control -- shoes calibrated perfectly for your stride, a wardrobe full of gear for all weather conditions, apps that allow you to map and brag your runs. Next up on the agenda -- something to listen to while you’re pounding the pavement!
Before we dive in, the usual “safety first” caveats and conditions. Skip the tunes if you’re running in the dark and always make sure the keep the volume low enough to be able to hear cars and cyclists. Leave the fancy noise canceling headphones at home, for obvious reasons, and keep your phone tucked away. And try to keep your phone in airplane mode on longer runs -- there’s nothing more annoying (or in some cases, dangerous) than a getting lost at the end of a 20-miler with a dead device.
There are countless options for soundtracking your run, all with their own benefits and drawbacks. Pandora is a great option for runners who don’t want to have to think about anything beyond entering one song and hitting the road -- the app will provide a playlist based on the initial track and take care of everything for you. Its catalog is limited, so you’re likely to hear repeats, and while you can skip tracks, that’s hard to do while you’re in motion. The ad-supported version is free, while it costs $4.99/month to skip the ads. You can’t save anything offline, so you’ll need a data connection the entire time you’re running, and it can drain the battery.
Spotify launched a dedicated running section inside its app last year that claims to match the beat of the music it serves with your footsteps. This is great for running on a treadmill or a track, but can sound odd if you’re starting and stopping frequently while running on the street. You can also choose from a number of genre specific running playlists or any of the hundreds of other playlists inside Spotify. If you want even more control, you can spend hours creating your own playlists or just listening to full albums. Spotify is free with ads and $9.99/month for the ad-free version that also allows you to save playlists offline -- great if you’re worried about battery life.
Apple Music doesn’t have a dedicated running feature, but does have a number of workout playlists. It also has a “For You” section that scans your taste and recommends playlists -- if you’re OK with some songs being slower than others, their selection of the best of certain genres broken down by year is hard to beat. Apple Music also has some streaming radio stations curated by DJs if you want a really old school experience. It offers many of the same features of Spotify in that you can listen to full albums and save playlists offline. Once your three month free trial is up, it costs $9.99/month.
If you’re in the market for something specific to running, workout music app Spring is worth checking out. Playlists are curated so you wind up running to the beat of the music, which some think allows you to use less oxygen and go further than you might have. There are plenty of genre and beat-specific playlists to choose from, but it’s similar to Pandora in that you very little control over the tracks and need to be connected to live stream. It costs $4.99/month after an initial free trial. Spring Moves is also a NYC company with a great team of people behind it. :-)
If you want a break from music, the exploding podcast market is definitely worth checking out. There are podcasts on almost every topic, of varying quality and regularity, but it’s pretty hard not to find a least a few you like. My personal favorites are KCRW’s To The Point, current affairs program that goes deep on a few issues a day and often has great guests; New York Magazine’s Vulture TV podcast, a smart and funny weekly take on the golden age of television; and Channel 33’s The Watch, featuring all sorts of smart commentary on pop culture. And, of course, there's always the ultrarunning podcast, fittingly named "Ultrarunner Podcast", that our obsessive ultrarunner friends love listening to.
The more you listen and run, the more you’ll find certain songs starting to connect to certain experiences. I still get choked up when I remember the song that was playing when I finished my first ultra; other songs seem to have a way of coming up exactly when I need them. No matter what you listen to, as long as it keeps you moving, it’s working.