Running on Classics

Tue, May 19, 2009

The Ecstatic Blog

Running on Classics

A few days ago, I almost flew off the treadmill running at full-sprint speed – that is, I was going at more than 10 miles per hour! Everyone in the gym threw a look my way, some gasping, as my running shoe made a loud, squeaking sound as it hit the part of the belt that DOESN’T move and I lurched forward like a game animal that had been hit with a tranquilizing dart. I pretended that there was something wrong with the machine, turned bright red from embarrassment, and told people that I was okay and that they should return to their workouts. But the real reason I almost flew off the device is that I was air conducting the finale of Brahms’s First Symphony and with a particularly bold downbeat I had lost my balance. I just missed a total wipeout, which would have been a very ugly (and bloody) scene indeed!

I’ve been jogging to the sound of classical music ever since the CD Walkman was new on the scene. Keeping the damn device from skipping was the crucial issue then, but with the advent of the iPod all obstacles to jogging while listening were removed.

It turns out that many symphonies and orchestral works are perfectly suited to jogging, even running at a very fast clip. I discovered jogging relatively late in life – I was just into my thirties – and I’m absolutely sure that being able to hear and enjoy my favorite music as I worked out is exactly what got me over the hump when I really hated running. The more I listened, the more it felt that symphonies were, by design, almost perfect for running, with various works being beautifully suited for various length jogs and time frames. There was something in the flow of a symphony – the mix of fast and slow, the steady beat, the pacing from measure to measure, and, often, the building to a final climax – that made me realize that the inner clock associated with music is closely related to the inner clock we go by when we are doing physical exercise.

What also makes listening to symphonies and other orchestral works while running so amazing is that it’s actually an ideal time to learn a new piece of music that you’re not familiar with. Listening at home, you can easily be distracted by e-mails, and phone calls and any number of other distractions (including boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and children, of course). But out on a run, with nothing else to distract you, an orchestra raging on your iPod is the gift that keeps on giving.

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Here below is the first playlist in a series that will accompany classics for jogging posts. You’ll find five recommended titles for 20+ to 70+ minute jogs. A few words of caution, though: DON’T air conduct while you’re on a treadmill. And don’t let your musical pleasure lessen your attention to cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians who might get in your way, especially if you’re a city jogger where you have to factor in potholes with the list of potential hazards.

Approximately 25 minutes – Haydn, Symphony No. 104, “London”. For a cheerful morning jog, just about any of Haydn’s 104 symphonies will do, but best to start with Haydn’s last and work your way backwards. Buy on Amazon

Approx. 34 minutes – Beethoven Symphony No. 7. Wagner called this symphony “the apotheosis of the dance,” but you’ll quickly consider it a must have for a fast-paced run. The finale FLIES, so save up a bit of juice for a proper sprint! Buy on Amazon

Approx 38 minutes – Dvorak, Symphony No. 8. This joyous energy-fest is sure to delight, especially along a country road (for this Czech composer, a Bohemian trail would have been the location of choice). Buy on Amazon

Approx. 52 minutes – Brahms Symphony No. 1. The pounding drums and brass that open the symphony will get you moving quickly, with plenty of variety and repose in the inner movements and a fabulous finale to carry you along the rest of the way. See my Ecstatic TV post on a Brahms 1 country jog! Buy on Amazon

Approx 75 minutes – Philip Glass: Powaqqatsi. Quite possibly my very favorite piece to run with! The powerful drumming, slowly built climaxes and super high energy of this work can give you just the right jolt to power you on a longer jog (6 – 8 miles). The word Powaqqatsi is a Hopi term for “life out of balance” (the work is a soundtrack to a powerful, path-breaking and prophetic – that is, pre-global warming awareness – film about the way technology and industry are destroying the planet and, with it, our humanity), but Glass’s music will put you in the zone for high achievement with the production of virtually no greenhouse gasses! Buy on Amazon

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- who has written 36 posts on Ecstatic Living Room.

Born in New York City in 1962. Graduated from Stanford University in 1984. Worked for record company 1987-2000. Co-founded music promotion company, 21C Media Group, in 2000.

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