Training for a race is partly to do with conditioning the body and partly to do with trying things to see what works and what doesn't work. Ideally, you figure out what doesn't work weeks before race day. What areas need extra body glide, what food make your stomach lurch and what songs drive you batty from the first note.
I started running with music this time last year. I was running a half marathon and was feeling pretty worn down. I figured some upbeat tunes might help carry me over the finish line in one piece. So I borrowed Doug's shuffle, tossed some music on it and ran the race.
So I bought myself a blue shuffle. I had the words "I run for life" engraved on it and I spent a long time picking out songs for my running play list. I knew I needed songs that would inspire me, that would not get annoying when I heard them for the 30th time and that would not throw me too far off my pace because of their crazy beats or mellow rhythms.
I've been running to the same music all summer because, like food and chaffing, it takes a while to figure things out.
I discovered that Cindy Lauper is really really annoying when I'm running so I canned her pretty quickly. Surprisingly, so is Blue Rodeo.
I found that songs with a slower beat work well - Tiny Dancer, The Gambler, American Pie all keep me moving steadily along.
Corny songs from my childhood make me smile - the theme song from the Greatest American Hero, Eye of the Tiger, It's Not Unusual (Fresh Prince anyone?) or Holiday Road (from Vacation) are favourites.
Songs with a particularly pounding beat help me increase my pace just a bit or, when I'm slowing, help me get back on pace again - This Is War and Boulevard of Broken Dreams work particularly well.
But mostly, my playlist is full of songs that remind me of people. People who love me. People I love. People I miss. People who, just thinking about them, give me strength and courage when I need it. It's not about the beat or the singer - it's about the feeling the songs evoke.
Which means that, should anyone borrow my shuffle, they will be greeted by a crazy medley of music that probably makes very little sense to be listening to on race day.
But it works for me. Some songs bring a tear to my eye every single time they start. Some, from the first note, make me think "thank god, I needed a boost". Others make me think of my parents, my grandparents, my sisters, my lover, past loves and good friends.
Because one never runs a marathon alone.
Five hours is a long time to be by myself. So I bring everyone I care about with me and they whisper words of encouragement in my ear as I run.
Together, we will cross the finish line.