Mixed Tape Magic: Creating a Half Marathon PR Playlist

Doesn’t matter if I’m going for a run, hosting a game night, or just plugging away cursing at my website code, it’s nice to have music in the background. It’s even nicer when the music sets the mood, matches up with the moment, augmenting the already-present emotion.

For years, I didn’t listen to music while running, but then I trained for a full marathon. With a training schedule of 20+ miles a week, multiplied by however many weeks you’re supposed to train, minus however many runs you were supposed to complete but binge-watching a new season on Netflix got in the way, and divided by seven days a week, that’s roughly A FUCK TON of hours in your head. I had planned out my life in at least half a million different ways by week 2, had memorized every detail of the streets around my house but was still no closer to the cure for cancer.

Sure you can run with people, but even someone as chatty as my husband ran out of things to talk about. So we would start a run talking and end listening to our own music devices. Talking about all the ways I experimented with music is for another blog (omg how many headphones do you have to try to find the PERFECT PAIR?!), so let’s just get to the good stuff: the playlist!

I have several running playlists for different types of run – Sprint Serenade with more upbeat tunes, Long Run with slower stuff because I’m not going anywhere fast anytime soon – and then there is The Race Day Playlist. Race Day lists must be carefully thought out and short but slightly longer than your planned goal time. You don’t want to be messing around changing songs or looking for that power song the last mile. You do need a buffer of about 2 – 3 songs so you can skip a song if you are not feeling it. So here are some quick guidelines for a half marathon playlist:

  • Miles 1 – 3 – You’ll probably feel really good at the beginning of the race, have lots of support, and notice the scenery. This part of the playlist should be good background music – ear pleasing, nothing too exciting or fast. Or you could go without music too.
  • Miles 4 -6 – You are getting bored but still feel good, there might be some interesting scenery, there’s usually a hill around here, so pleasing music but maybe something a little more interesting than your opening songs. Try and time a good power song for wherever that first hill appears.
  • Miles 7 – 9 – You are past the halfway point, things are starting to hurt. You’re usually outside of town at this point or looping back or going on a long down and back mile and it’s just mentally fucking with you. You haven’t totally lost it but you need some power jams, maybe even some newer tunes you haven’t heard a million times.
  • Mile 9 – this is the Bitch Mile. Mile 10 means you have a 5k left, and mentally and physically it is amazing how much you usually start to kick it in when you hit that mile. But mile 9 is weird. So weird. So you need a weird song. Something that keeps you moving, makes you laugh, probably something you don’t want to admit to listening to. Suggestions are songs by The Lonely Island (I’m On a Boat or Captain Jack Sparrow have a great beat), embarrassing pop songs (Taylor Swift, old 90s songs), Barbie Girl by Aqua, Gangnam Style by Psy, Downtown or Thrift Shop by Macklemore, or something very appropriate to the situation like I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor (or the Cake cover) or Stayin’ Alive by The BeeGees. I personally am a fan of The Motherf*cking Pterodactyl by Sarah Donner. This song is based on a comic by The Oatmeal (if you are a runner and have somehow missed out on the brilliant genius of Matthew Inman, go here now and read The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run and then eat some cake).
  • Mile 10 – 11 Upbeat songs, no more slow jams, put anything that makes you want to kick ass, feel like you are overcoming obstacles, or just like a fucking awesome OG runner. Gangster music always makes me feel like I have swagger – even if I no longer have speed, at least I’m still ballin’.
  • Mile 12 – You are fading, you are dying, you are so close though! Here is where cliche running songs / epic sports ballads come into play. Yes, they are cheesy and you have heard them a million times, but your endorphins have kicked in and so has the pain, and you are no longer as mentally coherent or musically discerning as you once were. Pump up anything by Queen, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, Fort Minor’s Remember the Name, DJ Kahled’s All I Do Is Win, Centuries by Fall Out Boy, etc. The time is now. The moment is here. You wish this half went as fast as a 80s sports movie montage.
  • Mile 13 – Power song. What is that one song that never fails to make you move? Mine changes every year because if it’s too stale, I won’t get quite the boost from the song I once did. So what is that one song you almost always play every run and want to sprint to like nobody’s business? Or what is a song that starts out slow and builds up to a mutherfucking fury to take you that last half mile? (The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, Dust Bowl Dance by Mumford & Sons, Knights of Cydonia by Muse).

Here is my Epic Playlist to End All Epic Playlists. I created it for the Eugene Half Marathon this past weekend, and for the first time really thought about the order of the songs, when the songs were going to come up during the race, and tried to time the most important songs when I would need them most. I have trained very hard the past year and half trying to get my half marathon PR, and I wanted everything to be perfect and good-to-go race morning so all that was left was me running the damn thing in under 1:49:23.

Post-race Notes: I wouldn’t change a thing about this list. I will probably use it for my next half in June but move some stuff around because Hospital Hill has some crazy hills throughout the race, and some power songs need to go elsewhere.

Mile 1 (0:00 – 8:10)
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers (besides being a damn good song, this was our first dance song at our wedding. We met through running and it was the perfect song! I could put this song later too when I need a boost.)
Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons

Mile 2 (8:10 – 16:20)
Counting Stars (or Love Runs Out) – One Republic
Lonely Boy – The Black Keys
Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon

Mile 3 (16:20 – 24:30)
The Mountain – Trans-Siberian Orchestra (timed with what I thought looked like a hill on the elevation map but turned out wasn’t really a hill, at least to me)
Little Black Submarines (full version NOT radio edit because the build up is SO important) – The Black Keys
Bad Habit – The Kooks

Mile 4 (24:30 – 32:40)
Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Confident – Demi Lavato
HandClap – Fitz & the Tantrums

Mile 5 (32:40 – 40:50)
Shake it Off – Taylor Swift (I hate myself for liking a TSwift song but here it is… it just makes you feel good and reminds you to shake off the race jitters and not let your doubts or your current splits get you down)
Run or Hide – Run River North
No Good – Kaleo (such a good jam session song; a lot of the newer songs on my list went in the middle to keep my mind awake; you don’t want to zone out too soon)

Mile 6 (40:50 – 49:00)
Trip Switch – Nothing but Thieves
All I Do is Win – DJ Kahled (feelin’ like a baller)
Dust Bowl Dance – Mumford & Sons

Mile 7 (49:00 – 57:20)
Hot Mess – Cobra Starship (this song came up at mile 8, right after the aid station where I slammed a Gu and right when the giant hill that appeared; going up that hill on a full stomach and starting to feel some pain, I WAS a Hot Mess but was lovin’ it HELL YES!)
My Type – Saint Motel (the trumpet in this song is just freaking fun)

Mile 8 (57:20 – 1:05:40)
Without Me – Eminem (I wasn’t feeling this one so it got skipped)
Welcome to the Black Parade – My Chemical Romance

Mile 9 (1:05:40 – 1:14:00)
What Does the Fox Say – Ylvis (this took me to Mile 10 when the real pain was starting to hit me; I love this song because I’m a dork, and it just has this awesome dance beat and makes my mind laugh)
All This Could Be Yours – Cold War Kids (GREAT driving beat)
Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time – Panic! At The Disco (this song is about being hungover and piecing together the next day, reliving what a great time you had, and at this point you aren’t feeling much better than being hungover)

Mile 10 (1:14:00 – 1:22:20)
Eye of the Tiger – Survivor (this hit at mile 11 – so needed it; we were on this concrete nature trail that was BORING AF, and I was really hurting and doing the math in my head like crazy watching my beautiful time deficit I had built up slowly disappearing each split I saw on my Garmin; have to hold on)
Right Round – Flo Rida’ (skipped this one – needed something more powerful)
Radioactive – Imagine Dragons w/ Kendrick Lamar version (because the rap part is so epic let’s kick some ass RIGHT NOW)

Mile 11(1:22:20 – 1:30:30)
Centuries – Fall Out Boy
What I’ve Done – Linkin Park

Mile 12 (1:30:30 – 1:38:40)
Na Na Na – My Chemical Romance (the past three songs were a blur of just push, push, push, finish, finish, finish. I was so close to getting a PR and NOT getting a PR; I had to push through the pain and get it done RIGHT NOW. This is the time. Everything was in place for this race to be my fastest. The only thing stopping me was me not wanting to push it and just give up. I couldn’t give up. I was NOT GOING TO TRY AND PR a few weeks later at Hospital Hill Half on all the hills in the terrible KS humidity. This PR had to happen RIGHT NOW KEEP MOVING. GO GO GO)
Victorious – Panic! At The Disco (last quarter mile, I had only a few minutes left to PR, I thought maybe I had lost it, then we hit Hayward Field Track with 200m left and I hit 1:48:00. From countless sprints on the track, I knew I could do 200m in under 1 min. I pushed so. fucking. hard. 1:48:51. YESSSSSSSS…[collapse on ground in a puddle of emotion and bodily fluids])

Mile 12.6 – 13.1 (1:38:40 – 1:46:50)
Knights of Cydonia – Muse (didn’t make it to this song but that was ok. Victorious was the perfect song to end on – it’s very upbeat, it was my power song all spring, and it’s about being Victorious and kicking ass, so I had to go for it. I wanted to be Victorious, get my PR, then move on with the rest of my life goals).

Share your running / workout jams in the comments!

Jenny and Jason Eugene Finish

I put my cross country nickname HillMaster on my bib, and then felt like a pretentious prick when I ran and realized how flat the course is (It looks hillier on the map!). I also registered Jason as you can tell by his bib name😉

Jason and Jenny Eugene Finish 2
Victory is Mine! And so are the Voodoo Donuts. Def thought about these A LOT during the race.

Victory is Mine! And so are the Voodoo Donuts. Def thought about these A LOT during the race.

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