I was reminded of the importance of a good workout playlist last fall while running a 5-kilometer race in Seattle.
I was about 400 yards from the finish and needed a shot of lyrical inspiration to propel me past a racer I’d been gaining on for a mile. Then tragedy struck.
I almost fell over. Of all the luck, the shuffle feature on my iPod had picked that moment to pluck a song called “Banjo Boy” from the deepest recesses of its memory.
I yanked the buds out of my ears and finished to the decidedly uninspirational sound of my own heavy breathing.
At this point I feel obligated to point out that the only reason I had banjo music on my iPod was because it was a gift from a friend. (He will remain nameless to protect his reputation as the cool parent in his kids’ social circles.)
The song is actually pretty catchy, but there is a time and a place for banjo music (canoe trips, perhaps) and this was not it.
In pursuit of understanding the art of building a workout playlist, I recently dropped into a 6 a.m. spin class at the Morgan Family YMCA at the invitation of instructor Scott Candoo.
“Music is so important here because spinning is innately boring because there is only so much you can do on a bike,” Candoo said. “So anything you can do to change it up is what people want.”
Candoo says he became a spin instructor so he could choose the music. His Friday morning classes have grown to capacity, and he’s elevated playlist construction to an art.
As class started he poured out a small duffle bag filled with dozens of home-burned CDs, each from a different workout. Then he put in a sampler he called the “TNT Set” and the workout began.
Over the next hour, cyclists pedaled to everything from country (Delbert McClinton) to jazz (Al Di Meola) to rock (Queen) and even zydeco (Rockin’ Dopsie Jr.).
There were no complaints until the speakers started spitting out the painful tones of Frank Zappa’s “Truck Driver Divorce.”
“That’s an example of what not to play,” Candoo said.
Candoo says spin music should have one of three kinds of rhythm.
“You need a racing rhythm, which is flat out,” Candoo said. “Then you need a dancing rhythm where you can kind of cruise. And then you need a climbing rhythm, which is kind of mundane and slogging.”
Of course, no playlist is endearing to everybody.
As most of the class followed along to Candoo’s music, one rider blazed along listening to his iPod.
“I’m always afraid I’m going to offend Scott,” said Nate Angelo, a 31-year-old triathlete, whose musical taste clashes with Candoo’s. “ But it (Candoo’s music) can be a distraction for me.”
Angelo prefers contemporary Christian, alternative and fast-paced country.
“If somebody asked me to play my iPod in class, everybody would probably leave,” Angelo said.
Lynne Reder of Tacoma also takes her music playlists pretty seriously. When she ran a half marathon in San Francisco in October, she loaded her iPod with 32 running-themed songs such as “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd, “Runnin’ With the Devil” by Van Halen and, of course, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
“I’ve been making them (playlists) since they were called mixed tapes back in the ’80s,” said Reder, a former cross-country runner at Bellarmine Prep. “I made them on my double-tape boom box and listened to them on the big old Walkman I carried with me like a relay baton.”
Reder passed her love for running on to her daughter, Jordan Thurston, a freshman on Bellarmine’s cross-country team. However, Reder says her daughter prefers to run without music.
She’s not alone.
Tony Phillippi, who has run 198 marathons, never runs with music unless he’s on a treadmill.
“It takes away from running,” Phillippi said. “I like to have all my senses about me. I’m afraid if I started using my iPod, I’d become too dependant on it.”
Phillippi is a race director for the Tacoma City Marathon and has volunteered at many other races. “I’ve seen people come into the aid tent when their batteries die, and it just ruins the run for them,” Phillippi said.
Some events, such as bike rides and many running races, don’t permit iPods or similar devices unless they are on a closed course.
“It is a matter of insurance,” said Paul Morrison, a director of the Tacoma City Marathon, which doesn’t allow iPods.
However, many race directors say policing this rule is virtually impossible.
So too, for many, is the idea of running without music. And for good reason. As Reder said, “Running is much more fun if you can pretend that you are dancing.”
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View spinning instructor Scott Candoo’s “TNT Set” and runner Lynne Reder’s “Running Playlist” at blog.thenewstribune. com/adventureguys.