Theme: Give your goal race a personal theme song!

theme song
theme song

There are a few easy things that you can add to your personal “athletes bag-o-tricks.” One is smiling, and the other is music. Both will make your runs better, and since a good song ought to put a smile on your face as well as add spring to your step, music might well be the most important running tool that is also the most overlooked. (I plan to write about smiling in a later post.)

So let’s talk about one great way to leverage music to make your next race better. What follows are some thoughts on making music one of your greatest running assets (or in my words, “weaponizing music” to make you a more competitive runner), identifying the theme of your race build-up, selecting a theme song, and then putting that theme song to work for you throughout the rest of your build-up and into the race itself.

As a side note: For those who are just glossing over this article, be sure to read my comments on safety. It’ll make me feel better.

Weaponize your music

Drugs and certain shoes have been banned from running. Music hasn’t.

Now, there are those who poo-poo listening to music while running. For example, Amby Burfoot makes it pretty clear in his book Run Forever that he is decidedly in the “no music while running” camp. On the other hand, there are those who point to the fact that (A) most of us love music and (B) there’s all sorts of research that music makes workouts more productive, less painful, and therefore better; so therefore (C) why not listen to lots of music while running?

I’m in a third camp. I don’t want to merely “listen to music whilst running.” I say: Why not deliberately utilize music to make our running better, faster, and help us to conquer our favorite distances?

I say we should weaponize music to enable us to crush our goals!

Q: WTF, Daniel. How do we “weaponize music” for our running?

A: In truth, I don’t rightly know; and I’m being over the top for the purposes of this article. However! Giving your next big race a theme song is a great place to start.

“One good thing about music. When it hits, you feel no pain.”

~ Bob Marley

Step 1: Identify the theme of your build-up

Before you can select an appropriate theme song you’ll need to have a sense of the theme your life is in, in the general sense of the word. Therefore, during the build-up to your goal race, be present to the season of life that you are in during that time. That means, not keeping your running life walled off from the other aspects of your life.

That might seem like touchy-feely nonsense to some (and to be honest, that would have seemed like touchy-feely nonsense to me a decade ago), but running can only benefit all areas of our lives if we don’t isolate running from those other areas of our life.

To put it another way: In a recent interview, Jordan Hasay talked about how she deliberately “pulls from different life experiences and things that have happened to me along the way” toward her goal race1. She is deliberate to allowing every build-up to become themed by what’s going on in her life at the time. That theme, in turn, give her energy and purpose to draw on. She even creates mantras unique to that race2.

“Music is the weapon in the war against unhappiness.”

~ Jason Mraz

Step 2: Grab your theme song

One you know your theme, you can pick your theme song. How you go about that will be unique to you, of course. If you’re unsure of what one song to settle on, you might pay attention to:

  • Is there one song in a playlist that seems to consistently speak to you during your training runs? Pay special attention during your long runs. This might be the best way to zero in on a personal theme song.
  • What’s a song that seems to get get you moving early in the morning, or get you out the door when you are otherwise feeling unmotivated to run?
  • Is there a song that really encapsulates something that’s going on in your life, in an inspiring way?

As a side-note, you might also be on the look out for future theme songs. For example, while at a half marathon in Chattanooga the race DJ played “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” by the Dropkick Murphys and I was really in to the song. I’ve made a mental note to consider using that as my theme song when I feel ready to chase a BQ for the first time.

When you do settle on your theme song, I recommend playing the theme to Pokemon and saying out loud: “I choose you!”

“I see my life in terms of music.”

~ Albert Einstein

Step 3: Use it

Try your theme song out. Consider waking up to it on the mornings of your long runs, or play it (loudly!) as you get read for that run. After all, at least some of your long runs ought to be “dry runs” for race day3. So this is the best way to try out that theme song to be extra sure it’s working for ya’. If it isn’t working, revisit the second step.

Your theme song is your guide and your support throughout the rest of your training, during your race, and beyond. Your theme song is your weapon to get through the rough patches of your training. Be ready to reach for your theme song to help you blast through taper traps. Play your theme as you visualize yourself crossing that finish line within your goal time.

Of course you’ll be using the theme song on race day morning and during the race. Play it loud and often as you make your way to the starting line. And of course, have it in your playlist throughout the race.

Don’t forget to also play your theme often as your celebrate afterward. Victory is your’s, my friend. 🤘 😎

Happy running!

“Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer. So I began sleeping less to give her the time she needed.”

~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Quick word on safety

For safety reasons, some races ban or discourage headphone use, or ask that runners run with one ear open. So you’ll want to find out if your goal race has a headphone policy. Also, as open ear headphones become more common and affordable, those are of course the recommend way to go if you can. If you can’t afford those, just be smart in your headphone usage and be aware of your surroundings.


1. I’ll have another podcast: The discussion about theme is about thirty minutes in to the episode.

2. Hasay also employs the occasional mojo during a goal race! In her debut marathon, Boston, she ran with her mother’s ring. During the Olympic Marathon trials, she ran in purple and gold in honor of Kobe Bryant.

3. I’m thinking here of the very good advise I’ve heard / read over the years of using long run days as a rehearsal for race day. This means setting the alarm early if the target race is early in the morning, wearing whatever model shoes we’ll be running the race in, using the same hydration & nutrition, etc. Add to that list: Use the same theme song. This is a great strategy to follow because if anything ain’t working out during the build-up to the target race, there’s still time to make corrections.

Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash


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