A few months ago, my best friend and I had the good sense to sign ourselves up for a competitive triathlon. 1.5km swim in the sea, 40km cycle, 10km run. We’re decent runners, decent cyclists, and terrible swimmers, so we figured why not. We like a challenge. I hadn’t swum aerobically for about six years before my first foray back in the murky blue a couple months ago. What an idiot. This shit is hard. And still is. We’re already much better than we were, but I’ll be honest, I’m fucking terrified of losing my cool in the ocean and pulling a Jack Dawson (sans the freezing cold and quiet, dignified death).
Anyway, I’m stuck in a little apartment in Vienna today listening to the rain rap its knuckles against the windows (fair enough after the beautiful week we’ve had here), trying to muster the energy to cycle out to the pool for another indecorous dip. But hey, procrastination seems so much more appealing, so instead I’m going to share a few tracks of my triathlon playlist with you all. Unfortunately, there can be no use of music during the actual event, so eventually I’ll start phasing out the usage so as not to become reliant. But, even if only in my head, I’ll still be keeping step to songs about the Holocaust as we round the last corner.
P.O.S – Let it Rattle
Well that’s a perfect starter. Worked perfectly on Never Better, works perfectly for setting off on a seven mile run round the airport. The smartly built structure, machine-house drumbeats and P.O.S’ furious poetry begin the long process of draining the legs of heavy jelly, simultaneously attacking the head with the appropriate mental state needed to set off with a competition in mind. What exactly do you do?
Japandroids – Young Hearts Spark Fire
“Writing well means having the courage to write badly.” I’m not sure of who wrote that exactly, but what I do know is that it holds true for more than just writing. Running, public speaking, pulling. From the back of their straining throats, Japandroids beam the essence of what it means to just try. Forget perfection. It’ll only hold you back. When I started running, I was dying after fifteen/twenty minutes. Now I can go for hours. But so much time was lost not starting because I knew I wouldn’t be shit hot. Stop worrying. I don’t wanna worry about dying. I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls.
Fall Out Boy – She’s My Winona
(The first of an embarrassing quantity of FOB). The drum beat here provides the perfect metre for when you’re struggling to find a rhythm (common for me before twenty minutes). It’s propulsive, catchy, and enough of a distraction that for a while you forget you’re picking up speed as the verse crashes into the chorus. Until you stumble over some horse shit.
Los Campesinos! – A Heat Rash…
Again, there’s a sparse but hard drum beat here which keeps up the rhythm from the song that came before. Except this track is a lot more fragile, a lot more jubilant, a lot more endorphin-happy. I’ve always loved Los Campesinos’ lyrics; so idiosyncratic, so full of original ways of saying unoriginal things. I find myself nodding along to the words more than the beat, stepping down harder against the lines that resonate.
Frank Turner – Peggy Sang the Blues
Here’s a track I usually like finding towards the end of my sessions. But it works well here too. Again, it’s words. I actually, contrary to most of you guys, find Frank a bit too melodramatic for a bit too much of the time. His delivery is fiery, passionate, everything I like. But the words, for me, often fall into that sneaky, leaf-covered pit of histrionic spikes. Peggy Sang the Blues, though, is perfect. It finds the balance. And how could those lines not inspire in a sport like this? It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go.
Nero – Crush on You
Not a fan of that jarring chorus, but the beat in those verses match perfectly to my running speed. And hey, it’s Nero. This is what the people almost falling flat on their faces on the treadmills in the gym are listening to. If anything, the beats and drops here fill you with an overconfidence: suddenly you’re Usain Bolt. In Walkabout.
Tyler, the Creator – Yonkers
And bring it back. A much slower, denser beat here. Darker, grimier, but there’s a focus and intensity both in Tyler’s lyrics and his production that bring you down to earth and push you into an automatic, almost numbing running rhythm. Doesn’t sound fun, but it can be nice at this stage to let yourself be gripped by the music and let it do its work. Damn.
Say Anything – …Alive with the Glory of Love
Because it’s nice to remember a time when this band was unbeatable, honest, inspiring. This song has so many little moments that push you that little bit harder. At home, I run by the airport, and that’s a special, sometimes profound place to push your limits. It can make you feel all-powerful. But it’s important to have a song like this remind you of how easily your life can be upended, so you’ve got to make the most of what you have.
Kanye West – POWER
I guess every superhero needs his theme music. Well, this is mine. The production is impeccable, the lyrics drip with infectious self-confidence, I find myself picking up speed to the feel of a smug smirk drawing itself across my face. I’m not one for tooting my own horn, but hey, I’m out here, working hard, and this is a track that reminds you that just that, by itself, can feel fucking good. And that’s okay.
Drake – Underground Kings
A perfect transition (thanks shuffle!). The same belief, the same smug, sit-down-shut-up delivery, and then that extra layer of bass introduced into the chorus… It’s probably the only song on Take Care that I care to listen to when I’m training, which is a little odd, but it’s the only one that really contains a beat that doesn’t drag me back. Hip-hop tracks, when running, are all about matching or pushing my rhythm. And this hits it step-for-step.
Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
Flash that buttery gold, jittery zeitgeist. I love Aesop’s words. They’re so scattershot and ridiculous, but because of that they intrigue and charm and provide a welcome distraction from the run. But the tempo is kept by the smart spacey melody which is propelled by an assured rhythm section. And I love that third verse. It has the sound of a song on the run.
Pavement – Gold Soundz
The perfect split from hip-hop. There’s nothing here which indicates it could be a great running song, but the thing is it’s just such a good song in general. It’s those first guitar strums and Malkamus’ unique, quietly bored vocals that instantly zap you with the good vibes needed to remind you that this exercise crap can actually be enjoyable. So drunk in the August sun, and you’re the kinda girl I like. Pavement always remind me of John Cusack and poorly fitted shirts.
Foo Fighters – Word Forward
The clue is in the title. That chorus is perfect for giving you that much-needed kick up the arse after the more chilled procession that came before it. Say what you like about the band, they’ve found a spot in every workout playlist I’ve ever made. The structure of their songs is cookie-cutter for sure, but that’s because it works.
Titus Andronicus – The Battle of Hampton Roads
What? Yes, really. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever found a better running song for when you’re about to find yourself on the home straight and your legs are about to give. The off-hand decimations of the decency of humanity, the slowly frothing rancour of Stickles and the angry music surrounding him, those fantastic one-liners (fantastic whole verses!), the cutaways to allow the guitars to breathe and gnarl and spit, that last sigh of death before the final jubilant surge to victory. Perfectly measured to get you over the line in record time, before you crash out, eagle-spread on the floor of your kitchen. Prepare to be told that shit’s gay dude...
So there we have it: just a portion of one of the the many possible playlists that could accompany me on my daily sweat-fests.
If anyone fancies sponsoring us, the charity we’re raising for is Help for Heroes. The page to donate is here: http://www.justgiving.com/Help-We-Cant-Swim (of course there was going to be a plug). Much thanks.