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October 27, 2014

Name that Tune – What’s Playing at Your Next Goal Race?

Written by Dena Evans

Marathon-0013Over the course of a 13 or 26-mile effort, music can be a welcome distraction.  And after a few of these, bands or music along the course become a part of the day worth looking forward to.  Occasionally, there are some renegade bands or neighborhoods that will greet the athletes streaming by with some unexpected tunes, but more likely than not, there are some tested and true tropes that will appear like the daily mail.  See if this rings true for your next goal race or brings back fond memories of your last.

 

Fanfare

Goal races like marathons or half marathons are often signposts indicating the culmination of weeks and months, maybe years of hard work.  Race organizers know this, and rarely miss a chance to set the tone with music usually associated with the grandest stages and ultimate opportunities.  “Olympic Fanfare and Themecan set the mood, or in the case of the New York Marathon, a ritual playing of “New York, New York after the starting cannon sounds.  These songs mean to celebrate your achievement, and with a wink, remind you how awesome it is that you get to do such an amazing race as the one you are doing right now!

Movie Tunes

Without a scientific study it is hard to know for sure, but no experienced marathoner would be surprised if the Rocky theme was awarded the most played song award.  Those familiar notes are there to remind you that you are in a fight! You can win! All that training is going to pay off! “Rocky along with the song from the opening credits of Chariots of Fire, and “Eye of the Tiger” are not there for subtle encouragement and secondary meanings.   Those songs are played and received as direct reminders of your purpose and your ability.  Listen and heed - the finish line is coming!  While the Chariots of Fire tune is a good song for the first few miles when the runners and walkers are thick across the road and optimism is high, playing “Rocky” or “Eye of the Tiger” too early implies that you should be tired and need encouragement.  Those are best deployed for the second half of the race.


Cover Band Music With an Inspirational Sweet Spot

Any band signing up to play along a half or full marathon must consider what overtly or even vaguely inspirational songs are in their wheelhouse.   Failing that, they must consider if they can play any songs that have lyrics related to running or even just the word “running” anywhere in the song. For many cover bands, this list includes “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty,  “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, and  “Where the Streets Have no Name” by U2. For the guitar alone this last one works wonders on the tired spirit, but when you belt out “I wanna RUN” for that first line, you know you are legitimately helping people!  Urban selections might include “Runnin’” by the Pharcyde or “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae.  With a barely more subtle subtext than the overt anthems, these songs help to remind you (in case you forgot) that you should be running, moving, walking, progressing.  Just in case you did indeed forget.  Failing that, many of them have a good beat, which works just as well.

 

Highly inappropriate or sad songs

Sometimes, the best-laid plans go awry, and the playlist wasn’t quite as thoughtfully considered as it might have been.  For example, “Tears of a Clown” is probably not a winner (true story – it has been played), and other sad songs might greet a walker or runner who has the misfortune of passing a band who is now playing on vapors, exhausting the last drops of their repertoire.   Sometimes, a cheer station or a neighborhood lets loose with a song that nobody remembered had a line or two of completely inappropriate language or verbal imagery.  Better bet is to play the same solid songs three times each rather than a ballad, a sad song, or an explicit tune played over the loudspeaker to the entire neighborhood.  It might be boring to the band, but the runners and walkers only get the one moment.   A few depressing thoughts as well as a smile due to the randomness of the choice can occur as a result of these.  Even concurrently.  Additional note:  “We are the Champions” or “Celebration” by Kool ‘n’ the Gang should never be played unless the finish line is in sight.  That’s teasing!


High School Bands and Various Cultural Music Sources 

Sometimes school bands volunteer to support the local athletes in the big race or a band with a specific cultural musical specialty signs up to help.  What they may lack in anything resembling tunes that relate to running, they often contribute doubly in energy and spirit.  Sometimes it is their tunes and even the actual incongruence of the music with the situation that end up resonating as a fond memory in the days and weeks after the race.

 

Hype man

One of the many great informal traditions of a large running and walking event is the occasional neighborhood individual equipped with a microphone, a speaker, potentially some background music, and a great deal of energy.  Kudos to these folks, willing to just call out bib numbers, shirt colors, Sharpied names, and other filler for hours.  Never underestimate the power of having your name called over a loudspeaker, and never underestimate the ability of a well-timed musical distraction to make the finish line seem just a bit closer.

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