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iPLOD: MY ULTIMATE MARATHON PLAYLIST

by Mike Sicard | published 01.10.07

You can run a marathon with no training as long as you have the right music! Science fact or fiction? Oh, I so hope fact.

I recently toed the line to complete my 60th marathon. I’d completed the 50 states and DC a while back, and when I achieved that goal I’ll admit I lost a bit of motivation and fitness. If I was to get through #60, I needed a lift. So, I drew on my past experiences and constructed the ultimate marathon playlist. My plan? Music-induced adrenaline would carry me through the day.

Pre-Race: “Ready to run” (Dixie Chicks)
I can do this. Sure, I’m not at my peak conditioning, but what others might call sedentary I prefer to think of as ‘extended tapering’. I’ll just rely on residual training, the accumulated fitness built up by the past 59 marathons. My body is like one of those batteries left in the utility drawer a little too long. Sure, it may have lost much of its charge, but if I just rub it in the right spot I can get a few more amps or miles out of it.

Call to the Start: “I Say A Little Prayer” (Aretha Franklin)
That’s the call to line up. Time for the pre-race prayer: “Let my feet be swift, my body be strong, my mind be focused, and my bowels be calm – for I fear that last night’s gas station chili dog and Slurpee chaser may perhaps have been imprudent.” Amen.

The Start: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (Elton John)
Being a ‘plus-size’ runner, I tend to think of finish time goals less in terms of minutes or seconds. Today, it’s me versus the cone truck. No, not the ice cream cone truck, though that would taste good right now. No, today’s foe is the traffic cone pickup truck – that relentless slow moving, course closing nemesis of the back of the pack runner. As long as I stay ahead of that sweep vehicle, I’ll consider today a success.

Mile 1: “Emotions in Motion” (Billy Squier)
Ah, the adrenaline of the initial stampede. Normally I’d try to bob and weave my way through the crowd for some early space. But today, energy conservation is key. Fortunately with my added weight gain and deteriorated cardio fitness I now produce a distinct and quite intimidating stomp and wheeze, the sound of which travels faster ahead than I do, thus clearing a nice little path so I don’t deplete precious energy stores stepping sideways.

Mile 2: “Beautiful Day” (U2)
Room to run now, and the first chance to get into a rhythm. I can hear my breathing get in synch as I take it all in – the crisp air, the morning sun, the pulse of the crowd, the squatting runners peeing behind those trees. Yup, this is going to be a beautiful day.

Mile 3: “Movin’ Right Along” (Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear - Muppet Movie)
First chance to grab a quick drink – got to stay hydrated. My plan is to drink heavily so as the sun heats up the water will turn to gas and I’ll float just above the pavement like a sweaty Hindenburg. I think I remember that right from high school science…

Mile 4: “On the Road Again” (Willie Nelson)
First pit stop, and now 16 ounces lighter. That pre-race water is running through me like, well, water.

Mile 5: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (Bobby McFerrin)
Is that a little twinge I feel in my calf? Is my ankle starting to throb a bit? Don’t worry, mind over matter. I just need to ignore these little aches now – plenty of pain to look forward to later.

Mile 6: “From a Distance” (Bette Midler)
Hooray, I’ve cracked the double digit distance, at least in “k”. On the other hand, I’ve come this far and the odometer-to-go still reads 20 miles. From a distance, that finish is looking like a world away right now. At least it’s only 20 miles though. If I were European I’d be facing over 30k still to complete. Evil metric system!

Mile 7: “More Than a Feeling” (Boston)
Ignoring the twinge and the throb doesn’t seem to be working anymore. I tried to put them down for a nap, hoping they’d nod off on their own, but they’re still restless and starting to cry for attention. I wish I could hire a pain babysitter – someone who will handle these for the next dozen or so miles for me. I’ll take them back right after the finish, I promise.

Mile 8: “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” (Carly Simon)
Alright, now the pain is like a puppy waiting at the front door with a toy in his mouth. I’ve ignored him all day and his patience is at an end. It’s time to play with the pain! Here boy!

Mile 9: “The Thrill is Gone” (BB King)
Whatever romantic notions I may have had about the marathon experience, they are now officially gone. In my mind I imagined “Chariots of Fire” with me winging across a beach, the triumphant theme pulsing in my ears as I flew. In reality, I got the beach theme right - it just feels more like treading water or being sucked under by an asphalt undertow.

Mile 10: “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” (George Thorogood)
Time to dip into my pouch of potions for an energy boost. Years ago poor marathoners were like prisoners with only water and bread (albeit in cookie form) to sustain them. Now, thanks to modern science, I’ve got a travel-size squirt of soylent green goo to suck down. It’s packed with nutrients, caffeine, and I think some kind of horse tranquilizer for the later miles.

Mile 11: “Back in the High Life Again” (Steve Winwood)
A few years ago I babysat a friend’s five year old daughter for the first time. I was supposed to feed her dinner, and didn’t see any particular harm in offering her a Dippin’ Dots appetizer before the main course. She was still running and screaming a continuous loop around the living room when her parents arrived home two hours later. With that last pack of gel I just ingested, I now know she felt. This is fantastic! I hope this never wears off!

Mile 12: “Long Time Gone” (Dixie Chicks)
Oh no, my goo buzz is wearing off. I’ve been out here a long time already, and I can’t believe I’m not even half way there yet. I feel like I’m in middle school again – the teens still seem a long way off, and the twenties might as well be a hundred.

Mile 13.1: “King of the Road” (Randy Travis)
What a difference a mile makes. Half way there now with a little boost in my step! It’s probably all downhill from here. This would be so much more fun if they allowed running shoes with little pop out wheels like the kids wear. I could harness a dozen of these fit, lightweight in-shape runners and Iditarod my way to the finish.

Mile 14: “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees)
Still riding the midpoint high. If I can stay alive and boogie my way across the second half of this run, I’ll get one of those big gold Bee Gee size medallions to drape across my hairy chest. Add platform running shoes, a white polyester singlet and feathered hair and you are looking at one hot dude if I can just run a sub-1979.

Mile 15: “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (Soggy Bottom Boys)
Positive thinking only goes so far. I’m now getting red, beeping warning lights from all stations. Reports of a mutiny are coming from the feet. The leg muscles are battling the lactic horde. Guerillas just blew up a major glycogen store. I’ve put an urgent call out to forcibly draft any able reserves.

Mile 16: “Bad to the Bone” (George Thorogood)
This is a major milestone in the battle. We’re about to enter single digit land for the first time today. But 9+ miles left is about 8.99 more than I feel like going at the moment. The good news is my muscles don’t hurt as much. I think they are AWOL. The pain is now down to the bone, which is what I assume I’m now running on.

Mile 17: “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (Blue Oyster Cult)
Time for contemplation: how bad could death really be? Even if it meant hell, which I assume would condemn me to an eternity of Britney Spears music and an all tofu menu, that still might be preferable to how I feel right now. I’ve got aches on top of pains on top of throbs on top of hurt.

Mile 18: “I Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash)
I’ve been caught. I’m RUI – running under the influence (of anguish at the moment). I just need to focus on the little white line on the shoulder of the road, put one foot in front of the other Dorothy-like, and pray for heart, courage, a brain or a giant house to fall on me quickly – whichever comes first.

Mile 19: “Anticipation” (Carly Simon)
I’m so close to the big 2-0. Once I’m in my twenties, there’s no stopping me. God I’ve hated the awkward teen miles. The little cliques of faster, better looking runners that wouldn’t let me join. My voice awkwardly cracking as I call for water, Gatorade, or the sweet release of death. Teen miles, I will not miss ye.

Mile 20: “The Wall” (Pink Floyd)
I did a team adventure race recently. It took about 6 hours, with the final obstacle a 10-foot wall right at the finish. My teammates were all over the wall. I was the last and alone. I first took a running start and managed to smash a wonderful full body likeness of myself into the pine boards. Next, I tried to grab a crack in the wood and pull myself up. Gravity and at least seven laws of physics precluded this from happening. So, for the moment, I stood and just stared hopelessly at this implacable 10 foot wall. Mile 20 of the marathon? Meet the 10 foot wall.

Mile 21: “Break on Through to the Other Side” (Doors)
Darnit, brain, where are those draft reserves I asked for a few miles back?! I’m getting slaughtered here. I’ll ingest anything I’ve got left to see if it does the trick. Pretzels? Good. Orange slice? Fine. Hard candy? Ok. If this doesn’t work I’m one step away from the Donner Party Diet.

Mile 22: “I’m So Tired” (Beatles)
Why 26.2 anyway? A 22 mile marathon would be really impressive - and be over right now. Heck, I probably have 4 miles of round trip walking to and from the parking lot to do as it is. If someone would just offer an early bird medal distribution I would find that particularly considerate at this stage.

Mile 23: “Dazed and Confused” (Led Zeppelin)
Who allowed a big red elephant to leave giant candy corn all over this course? Wait, that might be an ambulance and orange traffic cones. Ok, so I might be hallucinating a bit at this point, but as long as I keep seeing those giant white Chiclets on the horizon (er, mileage markers), I’ll be fine.

Mile 24: “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Big Chill Soundtrack)
For the final push, I need to shed all dead weight, so I’ve managed to evaporate all bodily moisture, including water and I believe most of the blood that was once coursing through my veins. At least that’s how I appear according to the horrified expressions on the faces of the race volunteers as I limp by their water station.

Mile 25: “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (Beatles)
Just take me away. I don’t care if it’s EMTs, God, aliens, or the cone truck. I am Old Yeller at movie’s end. Someone please come along and do the decent thing.

Mile 26: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Eric Clapton)
I’m going to make it! I can’t believe I’ve managed the mental and physical battle again. Just a tiny little point 2 left to go, hardly worth mentioning really. No more than a hopscotch away I presume. Probably just around that corner.

Mile 26.1: “Over the Hill and Far Away” (Led Zeppelin)
Almost there? Right over the hill? Really? Thanks enthusiastic spectator. It sure seems like it’s taking a long time to see the finish, but I’ll rely on your good judgment.

Mile 26.15: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (U2)
Where the hell is it?! And will all you people stop yelling “almost there”. Until that finish line is within site directly and I can read the numbers on the finish clock, I don’t want to hear “almost” coming out of anyone’s mouth. I’d like to officially nominate “almost finished” as forbidden oxymoronic phrases, right along with “jumbo shrimp” and “it’s just a little hill”.

Mile 26.2: “This is the End” (Doors)
I did it! I’ve made it! The feel of the ribbon on my neck, the Mylar on my shoulders, the medal on my chest – I’ve just willed my way through marathon #60, more guts than brains (my working autobiography title, by the way).

Post Race: “Hallelujah Chorus” (Handel’s Messiah)
Past the water bottles and banana slices, I spy the most precious treasure one could imagine. It’s beautiful, breathtaking really, and brings an actual tear to my eye as I approach. Gently, I reach out a hand to touch it, and then, slowly, we meet, butt to chair. Forget clouds and harps – sitting is truly heaven.

Driving Home: “Time of Your Life” (Green Day)
I keep the music playing on the drive home, and already the power of nostalgia begins to wipe away the bad feelings and bubble up the good, as I contemplate the next time. For me, the 26.2 mile road is littered with ups and downs, physically, mentally and emotionally. My playlist mirrors those swings, those challenges, and motivates me as I plod to the finish. Ok, so maybe music can’t replace actual training, but it sure does make my stupidity induced suffering much more bearable.

MIKE SICARD now lives in New York City. When this piece was written the self-confessed marathon junkie was a lecturer at Vanderbilt University's Owen School of Business.