The 13 Best Albums for Marathon Training

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Marathon training might sound like a drag to you–but it doesn’t have to! I understand why you’re skeptical. But, consider that I ran a marathon for the first time when I was 30 because I was disgusted with how inert I was. I did it, and sometimes my laziness resembles a bottomless pit, so you can do this! Here’s what you need to do to start training successfully for Brooklyn’s Airbnb Half Marathon, which will take place on the perfectly sunny and mild day of May 21, 2016. (Glorious weather conditions–even when imagined– can encourage training, too.)

First off, form a habit. We are creatures of habit, and if we do something for two weeks straight, we’ll keep doing that same thing indefinitely without too much extra thought. This holds true for morning coffee, video games and showering just as much as it does for running. So, try to go on a run every day for two weeks. You might be shocked to find yourself improving, and therefore even enjoying yourself along the way.

Second: Listen to some goddamn music. Some great music. Sure, you can run without earbuds—just kinda let all your one-note thoughts rattle around in your brain, silently. But why? Running is a wondrous escape from the monotony of a day. I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about whole albums that are excellent companions to long training runs; albums that you can put on and not think about too much—because all of it is pretty consistently good, and therefore allows you to stay safely in your zone—but are also chock-full of emotional energy that injects lovely spring into your training step. Here are some of my favorites. Happy trails.

Weezer—Pinkerton
When I was thirteen, “Tired of Sex” sounded, and felt, so bad-good! What did that even mean? It got me amped in mysterious ways, and made me do whatever I was doing with more energy and feeling. That sentiment, of course, transfers quite nicely to the activity of marathon training. “Tired of Sex” alone would be enough to put this album on the list. You want more? Ok. How about seriously every single other song on this album. “Getchoo,” “Why Bother,” “The Good Life,” “Across the Sea,” “Pink Triangle”… I mean I could actually just list every single other song. Instead, just put it on your own Spotify, go on a run, and feel great.

Lady Gaga—The Fame
This albums kicks off hard with “Just Dance,” which I also like to call one of the best songs of all time. There is not a single time I’ve listened to it that I have not wanted to exert all of my energy into a single activity, which works nicely for running. “Just Dance” also holds one of the best break downs in break down history. (“Go! / Use your muscle, carve it out, work it, hustle.. Don’t slow! Drive it, clean it, lights out, bleed it / Spend the lasto / In your pocko.”) Dude. Just tell me you do not want to kick it into high gear after you hear Gaga cheer you on like this, backed by fucking incredible bass synth that drives it all forward. The rest of the album does you more favors, especially “Poker Face,” the second-best Gaga song of all time. (PS: It was a difficult to choose between this and her album The Fame Monster. You’ll be fine with either. What up, “Bad Romance!” What up, “Telephone!”)

Pixies—Doolittle
Ok, listen: One of the best albums, from one of the best bands of all time, starts off with “Debaser.” And, “Debaser,” by all accounts (and for these purposes, my own) makes you feel like you’re at the beginning of something brand new, a journey that is a little different than one you’ve been on before; one that’s filled with exciting raw energy. Luckily, after “Debaser,” things don’t really let up. Ok, just once: “Silver” is a drag. But that’s the second-to-last song, and before it came more top-notch gold: “Dead,” “La La Love You,” “There Goes My Gun.” Plus, at the end, you’ve got a solid running closer, “Gouge Away.” So, count on this one. It will let you dig deep and kick out a great pace the whole way through.

Arcade Fire—Reflektor
The lead song, and album’s namesake, is, in my estimation, one of the best long distance running songs of all time. (See my deep thoughts about that here.) It is long, it is diverse and strange, it builds up and dies back down, only to re-gather all of its energy and more, and then leave you with some of the most inspired piano chords that ever got your legs moving forward at a running pace. I can, and have, listened to this one on repeat on a lot of runs. Each listen is its own journey, and gets you through about a mile. But, luckily, the rest of the album is loaded with equally–and reflectively–energetic tunes; perfect for zoning out and really digging in during longer runs. “Here Comes The Nighttime,” “You Already Know,” “Joan of Arc,” “Afterlife.” All of it gets you into that “in it for the long hall” mentality you need, while managing to keep you up, and ultimately optimistic.

ESG—ESG
I just learned about this band. And it wasn’t while running, it was on a road trip. But these songs kept getting stuck in my head—the stripped-down, post-punk beats by a group formed in the Bronx in the 80s who ultimately influenced a lot of bands ahead of them. I do not know why they are not more widely famous; they ought to be. But you can get to know them now, through bomb ass tracks like “Moody,” “U.F.O,” and “I Wanna Dance.” I listened to this shit while on a treadmill, and I may as well have been running through the grassy sprawling country hills of Austria. The music made me feel that good. When your music makes you feel good, the running itself starts to feel good, too. So add them to your running Spotify playlist.

Wolf Parade—Apologies To The Queen Mary
The first song on this album is for you: “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son.” You are a runner, and listening to this track—and really the rest of this album—will never be a mistake. I’ve run to this entire album around Brooklyn, Washington DC, Minneapolis, and indoors on the stupid treadmill. You can put this thing on and not think about skipping a single track. The album’s energy stays nice and up and helps you dig deep—in a consistent, even-keeled way—and just when you need them, lyrics like “Watching you run / into the high noon sun / you are a runner,” will inspire you to keep doing what you’re already happily in the middle of–running. After a few spins of this, soon you’ll even be eating GUtoo.

Elastica—Elastica
Just trust me on this one. If Elastica had more than one album (well, I guess they have two, but the second seems to be some kind of halfhearted effort five years after their awesome debut), I hope they’d be well enough known to be played everywhere, all the time. I first learned about them via an American car commercial that used “Connection” to showoff a lame SUV when I was fourteen; it was pure, dark, strong, powerful, uplifting energy, the whole way through. I’m telling you, when I first heard it, I just about lost my mind: music could be cool! It could make you feel more than sugar-coated crap. It could make you feel, yes, emo. This was very exciting. But the rest of the album is just like this! “Annie,” “Car Song,” “Smile,” “S.O.F.T.,” “Stutter” (and that one especially!); all will provide you with deep, wondrous energy to help you finish the rest of your goddamn, lovely, long training run.

LCD Soundsystem—Sound of Silver
Ok, I mostly picked this album for the song “Someone Great,” which I often run to. It is mellow but steady and fills you up from deep inside and keeps you going. And it’s six and a half minutes long, so you can almost fit in a whole mile while listening to it. But then! The rest of the album can thrill, too: “Get Innocuous!” is fun, “All My Friends” is easy and uplifting, “Sound of Silver” will get you there, too. Then, your cool down: “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” You could also listen to the album LCD Soundsystem made for the express purpose of working out: “45:33,” whose first song is exactly that long. There you go, one training run, one song. Easy. Done.

Beastie Boys—Ill Communication
I first heard this album when I was 12, and I was stunned: What? Music can be this? I thought. This music did not come from the great plains! It came from NYC—hectic, hip-hop heavy, dirty New York City. I freaking loved it. So this is not, through and through, an upper album, but it’s one that makes you feel stuff deeply, gets you to, you know, a place. And that’s what needs to happen when you run. You need to get to that place. Songs like “Get It Together,” “Root Down,” “Flute Loop,” and, of course, “Sabotage”—which will actually keep you nice and energized for all of its two minutes and fifty-eight seconds—will provide you with nice, amped up bursts, at any point, as you jog.

Radiohead—Hail to The Thief
I understand: maybe you would not have selected this particular Radiohead album for running, if you were to select one at all. But this one is great for one reason: because it is actually not the best Radiohead album—not by a long shot—but there are some hits on here that sound more like normal, catchy songs: “2 + 2 = 5,” “Where I End And You Begin,” “There There,” “A Punch Up At A Wedding.” All of these will do the trick. They’ll kind of let you stop paying attention to what song or album you’re even listening to—but also lull you into a nice runner’s mentality through nice, dark, driven, drone-y sounds, and some real beats.

CSS—Cansei De Ser Sexy
I am fairly certain I discovered this album from 2006 on a Pandora station at my first office job in New York City. “Alala” made me realize there was life beyond fluorescent lighting. And that maybe it could begin at 5:30 PM, when I went to the godforsaken gym (it was too late to travel all the way back to Brooklyn and run outside! You know, in my head.) But this song, it is just a fantastic running track: darkly upbeat, driving synth bass, backed by women that sound hot and alluring. It lays the groundwork for a nice little sprint,  somewhere along the course of your run. But then there are also these tracks: “CSS Suxxx,” “Meeting Paris Hilton,” “Off The Hook, Off The Hook.” All of them will do you right.

The Strokes—Room on Fire
There may be some moments when you don’t really feel like listening to the Strokes, but it can’t be that often. As one dude who plays music once told me, he loves them, in part, because, “First of all, the songs are like insanely catchy,” and also, “They all seem impossibly cool, and have like a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. It’s so strong.” It’s so true: they do seem to be that cool. The beat always hits the tone you’re looking for, and it’s never a drag. It’s simple, feel good, and energizing stuff. It is music for running. The song 12:51 on this album encapsulates this feeling—but all of them achieve this end, more or less. The album is long enough, but the songs are all pretty short. So they’ll also keep your attention rapt as you work your way through miles.

Ariana Grande—My Everything
Full disclosure: This album was off my radar. It is the kind of pop I usually cannot get down with. But if pop were ever good for anything—legit good pop—it would be running. And, gotta admit, when our esteemed music editor drew my attention to this one, it was not difficult for me to envision very happily making the loop around Prospect Park to “Be My Baby,” definitely to “Love Me Harder,” and certainly to “Break Free.” Trust me; I was skeptical. But good stuff is good no matter the genre. Ariana Grande is doing something right; it’s the thing that makes you wanna run.

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