Friday, January 6, 2012

How Arithmophobia Led Me to Music for Running

As you may know, one of my goals is to be healthier. As you probably don't know, I'm not big on numbers. Maybe it's the English major in me. Numbers are always so rigid, so foreboding. Yes, yes. I know there's abstract math and numbers are involved in amazingly complex and fluid representations. It's not that I don't value numbers. It's just that I get tangled up in them--sometimes stunted by them.

Numbers, in fact, were contributing to the problem I'm having with figuring out my views on fitness and weight loss. I spent many of my teen years equating fitness to numbers. If I lost 15 pounds, I'd be fit. If I could wear a size 8, I'd be happy.

Those numbers weren't the way to think about fitness (and definitely not the way to think about happiness). I've since revised my goals to be more action-based and less result-focused. But there are still all these numbers.

Take at least 10,000 steps 5 days a week.

Do 3 sets of 12 reps lifting 35 pounds.

Run for 2 minutes, walk for 1 minute.

Numbers. Numbers. Numbers.

I don't want to do away with them entirely, but they do wear me out sometimes. Especially that last one about running. When I set running goals based on time or distance, the number becomes an obsession. I can't help it. If I'm on a treadmill, and I've told myself I'll jog two miles, I watch every single tenth of a mile tick off on the screen. I've tried hiding the screen under a towel, but then I just obsess about what the numbers are doing under there. Slowing down, no doubt. Waiting me out. What if I lifted it after fifteen minutes and still had a mile and a half to go? Numbers are shifty, you know.

When I'm running the track (most common, lately), the numbers are unavoidable. They're hanging on multiple walls, staring me down. I'm in an early stage of increasing my running, so I'm doing a mix of walk/run, and doing it by time (1 minute walking, 2 minutes running) was making me miserable. So I switched to laps (1 lap walking, 2 laps running), but it became so monotonous, so fast.

So, I tried something new today. I made a playlist with a mix of fast and slow songs. I knew I wanted to run/walk for about half an hour, and I knew I wanted to run in longer bouts than I walked. Using that as a guideline, I went to my song library and created this:

1. (Walk) "Lesson Learned" by Alicia Keys 4:14
2. (Run) "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine 5:14
3. (Run) "Get Rid of that Girl" by the Donnas 1:41 (intentionally short)
4. (Walk) "Que Sera Sera" by Sly and the Family Stone 5:21
5. (Run) "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley 2:58
6. (Run) "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix 3:59
7. (Walk) "You Think You've Got it Bad" by Lyfe Jennings 4:18

Total time: 27.7 minutes

Then I headed to the gym. The results? Great! I had a fantastic workout. I ran the entire time I intended to and only started to get a little weary at the end of "All Along the Watchtower." I got lost in the music and didn't have to worry about what lap I was on, and I barely even glanced at the clock. A benefit I didn't anticipate was that it also helped me not compare my performance to the other runners on the track. When they passed me or switched from walking to running, I just told myself they weren't on my level (musically, that is--fitness wise they probably still have me beat).

I obviously can't listen to the same seven songs every day, so I'll have to make a few sets of these playlists. I'm hoping to use the different tempos as a way to slowly work up to running the entire 30 minutes and then going even longer.

Want to play? What would your list look like?


  1. I know exactly what you mean. I can't do treadmills or tracks for the very same reason - I can't keep my mind off the numbers, and it boggs me down. I think your on to something with the music thing. I would need to rotate playlists frequently, though. Listening to the same songs isn't good for "runner's morale" (that's not a thing, I just made it up).

    Also, it may not be an option during winter (although I hear Saint Louis is unseasonably warm lately), but I love to run somewhere there is something to look at - some scenery. I was running at Forest Park at night (maybe not so safe, but), and it's beautiful. I miss it actually. If you're jacked up on the music, and you have something interesting to look at like in a park or through the city or something, you don't notice how quickly the time goes by. I'm a freak for running, though. I haven't been able to in months because it's super cold here, and I reeeeally miss it. Anyway, keep me updated on how it works for you!

  2. I mean 'you're' on to something...

  3. During the odd occasions where the urge to run finds me, I find that a Girl Talk remix is just the thing. There's quite a few available for free download.

  4. I'm not one for mp3 players and playlists personally, but I am always interested in the different ways folks make running work for them -- and happy when it works out! :)

    1. Thanks! It seems that everyone I know who runs approaches it differently--maybe there's some running style personality test that can reveal the inner workings of our minds.