The Ultimate Running Playlist

Not all runners buy into the benefits of sound-tracking their sessions. Some prefer tuning into the rhythms of their bodies rather than being bounced along by a driving beat. You can add safety issues, race rules and heated debate on headphone etiquette to the mix, but no matter how vociferous the criticism, many of us would be lost without the motivational power in our iPods. And plenty of research has linked listening to music with improvements in performance. In 2003 a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found cyclists finished a 10K time trial significantly faster when listening to music. And in 2010, research at the University of Southern Queensland found music could increase runners’ energy efficiency by up to three per cent and lower perception of effort.

Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found runners recorded faster 5K times when they listened to music before and during their runs. However, interestingly, and somewhat counterintuitively, those who ran to slow music recorded the fastest times of all. Which is good news for all you Vangelis fans out there, and it also illustrates the fact that when it comes to your running playlist, finding what works for you is more important than following any set formula.

So what does work for you? Here at RW we set about discovering just that. First we created a shortlist of 50 classic running tracks, and then we asked you, our runners, to vote for your favourites. So, without further ado, here are the Running Top 20 as chosen by you.

20 Can’t Stop

Red Hot Chili Peppers (2002)

‘Kick-start the golden generator’

The evergreen LA funk rockers’ blend of rapped lyrics, melody and layered guitar kick-starts the countdown…

19 Gonna Fly Now (Rocky theme)

Bill Conti (1976)

‘Getting strong now, won’t be long now’

It’s almost impossible to listen to this stirring theme tune to a story of triumph against the odds without conjuring images of Rocky ‘The Italian Stallion’ Balboa pounding up those 72 steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One for your hill repeats?

18 You’ve Got the Love

The Source, ft. Candi Staton (1991)

‘You know it’s real’

The alchemic blend of Staton’s soaring a cappella vocal with Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle’s classic Chicago house instrumental Your Love evolves perfectly from 90s dance-floor filler to rousing running tune.

17 Don’t Stop Believin’

Journey (1981)

‘Hold on to that feeling’

The power ballad to end all power ballads also hits the right note as a power-running song. An anthem for all you PB chasing dreamers out there.

16 Teenage Kicks

The Undertones (1978)

‘I need excitement and I need it bad’

Two minutes and 28 seconds of John Peel-championed pop-punk perfection. Could it also be the ideal song to see you through an 800m repeat?

15 Chariots of Fire

Vangelis (1981)

Da dah dah dah daaah dah…

There’s precious little introduction needed for this one. Punchy and high tempo it certainly isn’t, but it seems this much-hummed electronic instrumental piece, which accompanies the beach-running sequence that kicks off the greatest running film of all time, continues to play an inspirational tune on runners’ heartstrings.

14 Beautiful Day

U2 (2000)

‘You’re on the road, but you’ve got no destination’

A perfect adherence to the running-track formula: big guitar, driving beat, uplifting and (slightly woolly) lyrics…it’s all there, waiting to blast its way from your earphones down to your soles.

13 Dog Days Are Over

Florence and the Machine (2008)

‘Run for your children, your sisters and brothers’

No huge mental leap required to draw running inspiration direct from the lyrics on this one. And is that post-run hair she’s sporting in the video?

12 Right here, Right Now

Fatboy Slim (1999) Erm,

‘Right here, right now’

That lyric, sampled (in case you didn’t know) from Angela Basset’s dialogue in the science-fiction thriller Strange Days, works as a perfect in-the-moment runners’ call to action alongside the constantly crescendo-ing music.

11 Highway to Hell

AC/DC (1979)

‘Nobody’s gonna slow me down’

More rock than a collision of tectonic plates, this is never going to put anyone in the mood to sit back with a nice cup of tea. It’s a classic fire-you-up number.

10 Firestarter

The Prodigy (1996)

‘I’m the pain you tasted, fell intoxicated’

Another decidedly – and relentlessly – energetic number takes us into the

Top 10. Certainly not one for your easy- paced sessions, it’s a slice of hardcore sonic motivation with a sporting connection that was officially endorsed when it featured in the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

09 Blue Monday

New Order (1983)

‘Tell me now how do I feel’

It seems the biggest- selling 12-inch single of all time’s seven-and-a-half-minute synth-and-drum-machine odyssey delivers a perfect motivational nudge for both those nostalgic forays onto the dance floor and our lactate-inducing 1K repeats.

08 Back in Black

AC/DC (1980)

‘Cause I’m back on the track and I’m beatin’ the flack’

The Aussie rockers are the only artists to have two tracks in our Top 20, showing that for many of you, stomping rock ranks high on your running playlists. This is one for ‘go hard or go home’ days.

07 Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen (1975)

‘We’ll run till we drop, baby we’ll never go back’

Perhaps the only surprise here is that The Boss’s epic tale of chasing the American dream doesn’t rank even higher. Often heard blaring from pre-race PA systems and a staple of race-side bands, the combo of guitar riff and chorus could rouse inanimate objects to forward motion.

06 Titanium

David Guetta ft. Sia (2011)

‘You shoot me down, but I won’t fall’

High-emotion vocals meet high-energy house-pop in a track that obviously strikes a big chord for many of you when you’re seeking an audio uplift.

05 Somebody Told Me

The Killers (2004)

‘Bring it back down, bring it back down tonight’

Powering us into the

Top Five, the second single from the Las Vegas outfit’s much-loved debut album runs to a shade over three minutes of driving indie pop-rock.

04 Lose Yourself

Eminem (2002)

‘Feet, fail me not, this may be the only opportunity that I got’

Not only the first rap song to receive an Oscar, but now a Top Five entry on the RW chart. Taken from the 8 Mile soundtrack and charged with determination to triumph over adversity, it’s a favoured companion on tough sessions.

03 Happy

Pharrell Williams (2013)

‘Can’t nothing bring me down’

Clapping along ‘if you feel like a room without a roof’ (does he mean a courtyard?) may require a somewhat abstract state of mind but no matter, the infectious feel-good anthem clearly works its mood-lifting magic on you.

02 Eye of the Tiger

Survivor (1982)

‘Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival’

One of the pre-poll favourites, this running classic came mighty close to taking the prize. The theme to the third instalment in the Rocky franchise is so overblown that it somehow seems to keep ‘risin’ up’ above parody and delivering a kick up the adrenaline receptors whenever you hear it played as you race. Which you will, often.

01 Don’t Stop Me Now

Queen (1979)

‘I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies’

So what’s the magic ingredient? Is it the relentless gravity- disrespecting bravado of the lyrics? The lush multi-track harmonies of the chorus? Maybe it’s Mercury’s rollicking piano playing? Or Brian May’s inevitable guitar solo? Whatever the secret, this is the track that rocks your running worlds more than any other. And we certainly won’t be stopping you any time soon.

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