My Unconventional Running Playlist

imageAs I type this, I am listening to Fiona Apple, circa 1997. This particular album was on repeat during my Sophomore year of college, back when life was so much easier yet felt so painful and complicated at the same time. This album immediately rockets me back to my younger self, my hot-mess self, my 40-versions-ago self.

I am not that person anymore. I am a 37- year-old wife and mother to two children with personalities larger than life. My weekend plans involve volunteering at my son’s wrestling tournament and taking my daughter to two birthday parties. This morning I fought with my husband about holy socks, rifled through laundry baskets, and poured coffee in my face. I am a more confident and stable version of that younger me in those formative years; yet at times that stability can feel predictable and boring.

While others choose their running tunes so that the beats-per-minutes align with a perfect cadence or pick anything with a heavy bass to muster the motivation required to push through all the miles in the training plan for the day, I choose music that makes me reflect and feel. 

Music has always been an important part of my life. Specific moments, years, even entire eras can be recalled by thinking about what album or artist I was listening to at the time. Certain songs trigger any number of emotions, and instantly I am back there. I don’t get a lot of time in life to just think. As a working mom of two young kids it’s rare that I get to simply be with my brain and remember; remember who I used to be, past fears, past successes, past failures. It seems that part of being a stable, predictable adult involves shutting down the crazy and pushing out the vulnerable to make room for the grown up me that thinks finding a new flavor of Greek yogurt is Tweet-worthy. But in quieting the past, I miss the chance to see how far I’ve come.

Some runners enjoy running without music, but I find that the hour or two on the pavement or treadmill is an opportunity to lose myself in a playlist that can only be described as eclectic, unconventional, and deeply personal. My running playlist would not play well in Dill’s circuit class or at da club, but it reverberates with moments from my past. A Beastie Boys song sends me back to high school, laughing and spending one of many weekends at my best friend’s cabin. Ani DiFranco plays and I’m 20-years-old looking for love, feeling the intense feels that only a naive college student can experience. Reel Big Fish reminds me of my big “Ska music phase” and of the road trips with friends in my cheap, sub-compact car.

As I listen, my playlist takes me on a wild rollercoaster, at times to places of joy and other times to places of darkness. Counting Crows’ lyrics “Round here, she’s always on my mind” fill my ears and suddenly I am back to that painful day when we had to remove life support from our 6-day-old daughter. As we held her during the final hour of her tiny life, I played my favorite music for her because otherwise the silence in the room was almost more overwhelming than the moment itself. Forevermore, these moments in life are bookmarked with music.


Why would I want to include this music on my playlist? Why would I purposely risk emotional fallout while I’m trying to push myself through a 15-mile-run? Many people say that running helps them to run away from whatever is stressing them out or causing them hurt. When I remember, sometimes I am running from it; the act of running, of being out of breath, and sometimes the physical pain itself provides a sense of catharsis.

More often, though, instead of running from the memories, my playlist allows me to run with them. I get to process my past with each song. I can look at that 20-year-old angry girl through the lens of my much happier, kinder 37-year-old self and appreciate that painful time for what it provides me today. I look back at that 16-year-old and smile, glad that she was able to find laughter during those formative teenage years. I am everything I am today because of my history.

Being able to remember how I’ve persevered provides me so much joy, confidence, and strength in my present day and reminds me that the strength and perseverance I need to get through many of my runs is relatively little, even when it feels like a lot. Music and running give me the time and space to reflect on where I’ve been, to draw strength from my past experiences, and to appreciate who I am today, even if that means the biggest excitement of my week is that I bought a new coffee mug.

If only my younger self could see me now.

What unconventional songs are on your playlist?


I'm a college mental health counselor, runner, cyclist, wife, and mom to two strong-willed children. I started running in 2011 after the birth of my last child after years of love-hate relationships with fitness. My favorite distance is the half marathon, but I love the challenge of tackling the marathon. My biggest challenge is the mental aspect of racing, but my greatest strength is I'm stubborn and never give up! I'm a free spirit, an open book, and try to be authentic both in real life as well as in my internet life. Running has given me a place to face my fears, chase goals, and stay humble. Side note: I love cats and coffee and tacos.

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  1. I love that music and running together help you process your emotions. I can’t imagine enjoying Fiona Apple of Reel Big Fish on the treadmill, though!!! HAHAHA. But in all seriousness, it’s truly amazing how running helps so many of us grieve our huge losses and deal with our pain. I’m glad it came into your life and you’ve found a way to make it even more therapeutic! Thanks for sharing this!!!

    As for my treadmill playlist, I am pretty stereotypical. I like upbeat house or dance pop. But when I was when I was going through some stuff when I first started seriously running I’d listen to Jeff Buckley or Radio Head albums and get all intensely feely.

  2. I don’t listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks when I run. I love that music and running can provide such powerful memories and healing and strength. And together, good for you!

  3. Love this. If I still ran with music, (maybe someday i’ll get over my fear of running with headphones) my list would probably be more eclectic than yours. My very first Ipod was the strangest mix of rap, van morission, barenaked ladies, country and who knows what else. It’s amazing how fast I used to be able to run to a “slow” song just because it would take me back to a great time, or a tough time that I got through. I’ve also found that playing “air drums” while running also improves performance.

  4. I can totally relate! It’s not necessarily the beat of the song…but the feelings and emotions it evokes. I’ve got everything from Alanis Morrisette to Ozzie Osborne, U2, My Chemical Romance, Pink, Van Morrison, Kenny Chesney…I often thought if anyone actually heard the mix they’d think I’m a head case!

  5. I’m a ‘feely’ person too when it comes to music; sometimes even if a song isn’t tied to a moment literally, the emotion it makes me feel will call up a memory and then I’m back there, just like you said. I’ve heard our memories are tied to our emotions, that we’re more likely to remember something if it makes us feel a strong emotion. I’m pretty sure that’s why we HAVE emotions, so that we remember the past and can get better, do better, change. Good share!

  6. I have a specific set of songs for workouts but for easy and long runs If I’m listening to music it is totally just random stuff. I might have some songs on there from high school, or even earlier (I totally found MP3’s of ace of base, and I promise you I listen to “the sign” more than most people. I might hear Christmas tunes (Trans siberian) in July and not care one bit. I might hear some newer songs, then 10 minutes later be listening to “love is a battelfield”. I like the mixture, it keep things interesting!