Jodi Snowdon doesn’t run a step without her headphones. Podcasts keep her company some of the time, but more often than not it’s a constant musical beat that sets the tone for her runs. This holds true whether training or racing.
“The first run I did five years ago, I had no music and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole experience,” says the 40-year-old from Ontario. “But then my brother gave me an iPod, and we joke that that’s what turned me into a runner.”
Snowdon is in good company. Multiple studies link the benefits of combining the two. A 2015 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed that music can improve performance and accelerate recovery during and after a 5K. Another from Psychology of Sports and Exercise found that runners engaged in high-intensity running may benefit from music as a motivational tool. According to Running USA’s 2017 report, 55 percent of 7,000 runners surveyed listen to music during their miles.
Like Snowdon, 46-year-old Malinda Ann Hill, of Wynnewood, Pa., also likes bringing her tunes along. She has found it particularly useful during goal races. “When I was going for my BQ [Boston Marathon qualifier], I had a specific playlist set up to help when the going got tough,” she says. “I really tune into the lyrics, and they motivate me to work hard.”
Chris Lawhorn recognized the connection between running and music and launched an entire business around it a decade ago. RunHundred. com allows runners to tap into his vast database of songs and create playlists by tempo, genre, era or even time. With his site at 50,000 subscribers strong, Lawhorn has seen some trends develop. In terms of beats per minute (BPM), Lawhorn subscribes to the theory that 180 is ideal if you want to match steps per minute, but BPM isn’t the only factor.
“Men and women process music differently,” says the 39-year-old who is based in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Women tend to focus on the melodies, while men are more interested in the lyrics.” He says hip-hop ranks most popular among men, while women are after a faster tempo and more lighthearted lyrics. His largest subscriber demographic is women in their 30s.
Like Lawhorn, Adrienne Perez is a club DJ who is also a runner. Known as DJ Kinky Loops, she designs playlists for the popular, nationwide Orangetheory Fitness exercise classes, which contain a heavy dose of treadmill running.
“I tend to customize an intense, high-energy build before a big push in class and before all-out running speed on the treadmills,” says Perez, 30. “I think people work their hardest when they have a good mix of songs they can sing along to in their heads, or zone out to and forget the discomfort.”
While it works for many, music isn’t for every runner. Some might find it a distraction, certain races prohibit headphone use and safety is a consideration as music can shut out nearby noises.
Lawhorn wonders if music will stay at the forefront with runners or if podcasts may win out. “Historically, music has been the only accompaniment available,” he says. “But in 10 years, I wonder if it will still be at the top.”
But Hill, who has been bringing music along since the days of the Walkman, can’t imagine it any other way. “There’s a history to the songs I listen to and lyrics can mean so much to me,” she says. “Music can serve as both a solace and a motivator to me when I run.”