Last year under influence of some wild hair (probably a gray one), and after running one of those nonsense urban 5k excuse-to-drink-beer events, I started running sporadic and entirely unserious miles here and there. Picking up running was initially a joyless and mostly miserable series of bloody-minded slogs, usually to the dulcet sounds of public radio. What can I say – I’m the most lazy music consumer on the planet probably; the library of my antique iPod looks more like the contents of the most boring and banal Storage Wars unit.
More recently equipped with an iPhone and Spotify to blaze a little sunlight into the dim dusty corners of my music habits, I ditched the podcasts and public radio in lieu of music – and lo, running became slightly less of a drag. However, I found it irksome to drop entirely rando new stuff onto my running lists then have to fidget with and skip tracks while running. And I found I would rather be paint drying than sift through the universe of music to pluck out tracks, vet them, then add them to run lists.
What saved my fledgling but faltering pursuit of running was chance stumbling on tracks like Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” with a beat that happened to fall in line with my body’s ideal pace. Under the influence of these perfect pace-car tracks my lizard brain would take over, compelling my feet to move to the metronome, and magically the blocks and miles started flying past.
I’m not going to take you on my entire vision quest of trying to achieve running playlist nirvana, nor detail theories of efficiencizing your run through BPM tweaking, as my betters (like Lifehacker) have previously and much more thoroughly done. I will simply sing the praises of the two tools that have worked best for my obsessive playlist needs and share my current week’s running playlist so you can try it on for size.
While jog.fm now has a slick app that will play tracks from your device’s music library “that best match your pace and intensity” while you’re actually running (how Skynet awesome is that?), the quick and dirtiest way of spitting out a list of tracks to fit your desired pace is to just drop to the jog.fm front page, enter your desired mile or km pace, and click Go. That’s it. Enter a 9:00 min mile, you get a list of over 3500 tracks within ½ min of a 9:00 minute pace, which they also helpfully translate to BPM.
As an aside: every body is different, so everyone’s stride is different (duh). What algorithm jog.fm uses to translate min/mile to BPM is anyone’s guess and I’m far too lazy to look into it, but unless you’re the prototype for whatever their pace-to-BPM is, it’s likely your actual pace will vary some from jog.fm’s even if your footfalls match the BPM perfectly over your mile(s) run. For instance, the current ideal BPM range I can hold for a 5 mile run that’s neither too fast to murder me, nor so slow as to cause me to take giant leaping strides (which is neither ideal physiologically nor a good life choice when winter running on deathtrap nightmare ice hellscapes) is roughly 160-180 (or 2×80 – 2×90). As per jog.fm, a BPM of 180 translates to a 7:00 minute mile, but I can tell you that even running straight 180 BPM tracks, I’m not pulling any 7:00 minute miles. So, your mileage will literally vary. I just recommend shooting for the BPM that keeps your feet moving at a pace you can hold and your min/mile pace will flow from there.
Overall, jog.fm is great if you a) maintain your own music library (you can also purchase tracks through jog.fm) and b) want jog.fm to generate your playlists on the fly (either dictated by your pace or by manually setting your desired pace).
2. Spotify + Sort Your Music
I’ve found Spotify a superior solution for music purveyance over maintaining my own digital library because it’s the future. So if you too embrace the future and want to build your own BPM-based Spotify lists, Sort Your Music is your new bestie. Sort Your Music pulls your Spotify playlists and displays/sorts by BPM (and a load of other really neato things that I don’t care about but maybe you do). You do have to pull whatever tracks you want assessed into a personal playlist for Sort Your Music to see them (it won’t see others’ lists you follow unless you copy them into a playlist of your own).
With Sort Your Music provided to me like fire from the gods to Prometheus, I’ve now given myself entirely over to the obsession of generating playlists in my just-right range of BPM, which clearly plays into my own brain’s gamification center: I can do endless combinations of sorting and Tetrising, where the game’s payoff is getting to unwrap a shiny Christmas present of a new playlist every time I run. (As an aside: gamifying running can come in the form of actual gaming. Zombies, Run! is a genius little app you should also try as a means for hacking your own personal hatred of running, but game-games just aren’t my brain’s crack.)
Added to the appeal that gamification of playlist creation has brought my running, I’ve found that “programming” my runs by BPM seems to create a sort of S.E.P. field around running for me by blissfully shifting responsibility for my running pace onto something else. I no longer have to make decisions on the fly about whether I should kick it in gear, nor am I allowed to start dragging my feet at mile 3 just because I feel like death. And it works because my brain for some reason complains far more loudly about my footfalls being out of sync with the beat than my body complains about feeling like death. And I am all for embracing whatever psychological shenanigans that make me feel like running is actually fun (even if it’s not).
Here’s this week’s playlist ranging from 154-178 BPM – a little old, a little new – with a nice cool down 150BPM of All I Do Is Win. You’re welcome.