The Perfect Running Playlist

Approximately ten per cent of my weekly single reviews are just a rephrasing of “this would be good to run to”.

I’ve been running for almost six years and in that time I’ve gradually developed the perfect formula for the perfect running playlist.

My current run time is between 30-50 minutes – I somehow used to go for an hour and a half, something I don’t know my knees could take anymore – and for me, there are five parts to every run: the warm up, beginners rush, the wall, cruise control, and, if I’m lucky, runner’s euphoria.

So why do you need a running playlist? Why not just stick a playlist you already have on shuffle?

Firstly, there is one rule for any running mix: nothing slow. You put one slow song in there and you’re dead. Running is about stamina and adrenaline and one ballad in there kill the whole run stone dead. Maybe as a warm down song if you really must

Secondly each of the five parts needs something a little different because of the motivation you’ll need in that exact stretch of the run.

And finally, it helps you track your progress. You might tweak your playlist over time, but you’ll be able to know where you’re supposed to be when you’re listening to a certain song, and you should be able to figure out what song you’ll finish on.

But what makes the perfect running playlist? Let’s break it down.

1) The Warm Up Song

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You really should do a little pre-run warming up. Whether this is some light stretching or power-walking for the first three minutes or so, it makes all the difference the next day.

Warm up Songs are the simplest of all to choose, because they can be literally anything you want – just make them relatively upbeat and definitely pacey to keep you in the running mindset. My last three Warm Up songs in memory have been Sam Fender’s Will We Talk?, Taylor Swift’s Don’t Blame Me, and the 5SOS cover of Killer Queen. Basically, choose your feel good song – one that you don’t want to ruin by having it play when your legs are complaining at you around mile three.

Final point – keep them short – they shouldn’t really be over 3 minutes because they’ll fill you with that momentum you need to actually get started.

2) Beginners Rush

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Beginners Rush marks the 2-4 song stretch that needs to be filled with complete, upbeat energy. No bummers. A fight song could also fit for this, angry vocals and heavy guitars fuel, but you might want to keep them for later. Just keep away from minor keys, and don’t go too heavy – you don’t want to expend all your energy just yet.

Music by bands or guys with guitars works well for this – anything with a light, full sound that can carry on the momentum created in your warm up. Pick your favourite alt-rock/indie-rock bands and choose their most cheerful songs. My current three song stretch is: OPTIMISTIC by X Ambassadors, Molly Malone by Louis Berry, and the cover of I Melt With You by Samestate.

3) The Wall

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The wall is the hardest parts to push through. This is the 3-5 song stretch in the middle where you realise you’re not even halfway, which can be massively demoralising.

Here you need 10/10 pop songs. It’s got to be pop – and that pop has to be structured. You need something to focus on, and that something is the six act structure of “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus”.

The go to for my playlist is to pick whatever high-energy female-led pop songs are the ones I’m listening to most. Right now they are: Raye’s Please Don’t Touch, a 2-for-1 on Dua Lipa with Don’t Start Now and Future Nostalgia – keeping the same artist two songs in a row is good for flow  – and Becky Hill’s latest Better Off Without You (feat. Shift K3Y).

4) Cruise Control

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When you’ve reached your turning point and you know the end is coming, you need song you love. Songs that will you are obsessive over. Songs that are pure energy. This is probably the longest stretch of your run, the bit that can go on for half an hour if you’re looking for something a bit longer.

Every song has to be completely solid. Songs that have moments you can’t wait to reach. Songs that push the musical boundaries you love most. Songs that you lose your mind to at 1am when you’re seven drinks deep.

They can be high bassy – Lose Control by MEDUZA and Becky Hill; Don’t Need Love by 220 Kid + GRACEY – high energy – Alone, Pt. II by Alan Walker and Ava Max – or encore songs – Cruel Summer by Taylor Swift.

These have to be songs that you really love. Songs that you gasp over when they come on. Songs that will make you dig deep and propel you into the final stage:

5) Runner’s Euphoria

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You know you’re almost there. Your endorphins are pumping round your entire body, and you’re about to start into your victory lap.

For me, there are four essential songs to this.

First you need an upbeat pop-rock number with a full sound – Deleter by Grouplove fills this current slot for me.

Second comes a roaring 80s-inspired ballad – something that will make you want to scream the words an feel like your entire body is ripping itself apart. Mine is RAIN by Ben Platt.

Thirdly, the penultimate tune – a dance-pop banger. Carrying on the momentum from the previous song, pushing you to spend those last bits of energy you have. The song? Ritual by Tiesto, Jonas Blue and Rita Ora.

And finally, the song to bring you home. The song you can slow your run down to if you want, or push you all the way to the end, still holding onto that feeling of triumph, that runners high. You know the song. The anthem that could lift you from even the lowest spirits. The staple running song that will close out your runs for months and years. For me over the years, those have been: Get Out While You Can by James Bay, I Need To Know by Tim Chadwick, and currently – High Hopes by Panic! At the Disco. 

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That’s it! That’s the mix. My songs are, of course, only suggestions. You might hate every single song I’ve just listed, that’s fine, I’m just trying to give you a couple tips.

Here’s my personal Running Playlist that I’m forever tweaking and updating. 

I hated running when I started. I did the couch to 5k back in second year of uni and it sucked. I was always getting angry at the person doing the voiceover, and when it got to the week where you were just to run for 20 minutes I decided I was sick of listening to recording and just made playlists of my own and I haven’t looked back.

Running is one of my favourite things in the world. When you reach that runners high there is nothing like the feeling of renewal that your body experiences. If you don’t run, I highly recommend giving it a go.

Make your own playlists, get a HiiT Timer to start you off and break it down into running and walking. Invest in a good pair of shoes. Do whatever gets you there, just do it.

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