Music Therapist – Heal Yourself
I started running about a year and a half ago and completed my first half marathon last August. When I started running, I used the treadmill in our basement. I decided to watch TV episodes that I normally don’t have time to watch while I logged the miles. Last January I thought that running with other people would keep me motivated, so I joined Itasca Runners. They are a large group of people who get together every Saturday morning to run five miles or more. The first time I went, I was just finishing three on the treadmill, but I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went.
Needless to say, it took a while to get to five miles with the pack and even longer at thirteen for a half marathon. The first few times I went for a run I took my iPod and put a file on it that I titled “Driving Hits.” This is a collection of songs that I like and actually know most of the words that I usually use to stay focused on long drives (hence the title). As a music therapist, this sounded like a great idea. After all, there is a wealth of research showing that the use of music can increase endurance, energy, and motivation during exercise. Why not practice what I preach?
Well, the marching band geek in me started to take over and I noticed that I changed my beat to match the tempo of each song. I’d barely get around 80’s power ballads and fly through alternative songs. While there is something to be said for interval training, I don’t think this was what they had in mind! I finally broke down and bought a separate smaller iPod for running (and recently transitioned to a Sony Walkman) and put on only those songs that matched the pace I wanted to keep up and had words that motivated me to keep running even when I preferred take the shortcut back to Starbucks.
Even with all my education and experience as a music therapist, I wondered how much music helped me run. To test this I started running with other groups. They ran at my general pace and were very chatty on the trails. Wow! What a difference! I found that I struggled more with my breathing, was less motivated to push on to the next mile, and was generally miserable when I was done. While I enjoyed their company, I found that running didn’t give me the same satisfaction that I found running with music. There really is something to be said for a favorite or uplifting song that comes at just the right time during a long run!
Here are my recommendations from an experienced music therapist, but novice runner for using music in a race:
• Choose songs that make you want to wiggle your toes or get up and dance. It shows that it motivates you.
• Listen to the words. I realized during a ten mile run that a song I like has horrible lyrics to try to make it through two hours of running. Nothing says hold on and cross the finish line like a song about giving up or being down!
• I like to have at least a few songs that I know all the words to. I know it sounds crazy, but I usually don’t know the words to the songs I like. Being able to “sing” while running can really help me stay focused and even help with my breathing. Being a music fanatic can help my musical brain not turn off the idea of phrasing for breath.
• Pay attention to the speed of your songs. If you’re like me, the tempo of the song can completely alter the pace at which you run. If you can’t separate your moves from what you hear, find songs that match your current beat. Through practice I have been able to separate the parts of my brain that listen and those that move, but I still find that a great tune at a faster tempo will give my step a bit of power and increase my pace.
Remember that these are just my “live and learn” suggestions and ideas that I have found through trial and error along the way and research through music therapy. The best thing you can do is find your own path and your own selections. Happy racing!
©R. Wellman 2011