It’s difficult to imagine, today, heroic sports achievement without a soundtrack. From the crunch-time organ rendition of Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets’ at Los Angeles Lakers home games to the hand-picked at-bat songs of Major League baseball players to an entire series of marathons set to a rock soundtrack, music is a proven motivational tool for athletes and spectators alike.
For those of us performing for significantly smaller crowds, music plays a similar – and perhaps even more-personal – role. As the Walkman became the mp3 player (which became the even-smaller mp3 player), we’ve been able to bring our music collections with us into the gym and onto the road, with meticulously-crafted playlists designed to put us in a frame of mind that will elicit peak performance, both before and during our workouts.
What is it, then, that gets us moving? We asked four elite athletes – and members of Team New Balance – to let us know what gets them motivated (and what’s on their headphones):
“I primarily listen to music while driving to workouts and doing core at home.” says the long-distance runner, who prefers to hit the road without headphones in-tow. “Music helps to get me into the right frame of mind before a big effort like a workout or race.” His tastes: upbeat songs, with heavy doses of hip hop that get him “ready for the heat of battle.”
A self-described ‘huge fan of music’, world-class ultramarathoner Krupicka leaves the music at home for his runs, preferring the serene views and opportunity for thought afforded by long training runs in the hills. Instead, Anton’s eclectic, indie-leaning tastes make up what he calls a ‘motivational playlist for life right now’.
Marathoner Carney takes a less-stringent approach to bringing headphones on the road, opting for music on his solo runs. “I go through periods where I listen to music on almost every run/workout and then I go for long stretches of time where I don’t listen to anything. Currently, I’m training in Flagstaff and have training partners on almost every run so I generally don’t listen to music. However, in Boulder, I train alone much of the time so I wear an iPod shuffle frequently.” With travel a big part of the job, James is prone to matching his soundtrack to his surroundings: “If it’s a tempo run or harder session I might listen to The Killers. If I’m up on the picturesque Switzerland trail high above Boulder, I love the mellow sounds of Radiohead.”
British middle distance runner Mark Draper, like Anton and Fasil, forgoes music while running, but takes pre-race music to a near-ritual:
“As I’m getting started I like to go with a slowish song. You know, the ones that put more emphasis on the lyrics than the melody or the beat. Something that has meaning to me at the time and makes me really listen. Then I like to go down the commercial rap and hip hop route. My favourites are Kanye West, Jay Z and more recently Tinie Tempah. I love this type of music because it mixes both meaningful lyrics and great beats.”
As the race approaches, Mark gets even more old-school, opting for classic House and dance music. “This genre for me is all about the beat. The tunes I like most are the ones that build up continually all the way through!” he says. “It doesn’t normally take much for me to get pumped up but if I time it right it’ll drop right as I’m walking out onto the track! With that I’m ready to roll.”