How I Trick My Brain Into Thinking Running Isn't The Worst: A Recovering Fatass's Weekly iPod Playlist

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A weekly look at the iPod of a regular dude trying to run himself out of an early grave.

"Clavicle," Alkaline Trio

I've been running for almost a year now after years of doing everything I could not to run. I missed buses because trying to catch them meant I would have to run and then I would be not only a sweaty and gross guy, but a sweaty, gross guy on a city bus. No one wanted that, I figured. Then, for various reasons that are none of your business—I was fat—I arrived glacially at the realization that I'd have to change.


I was like any addict trying to fight off a jones. There were several relapses involved. I would run, and I would start to get regular about running, and then I'd get sick, or there'd be some other disruption, and it'd be back to sedentary living because sedentary living is so much easier. Finally, something clicked, and I stopped backsliding. I knew I had really changed when I ran on Christmas Eve. A fucking holiday; the fucking holiday. Holidays are meant for drinking and doing nothing except for drinking, and I ran anyway. And then I drank and did nothing but drink.

So, I've been running for a bit, and it's OK, and if this column is going to be about any one thing, it's going to be about achieving that OK—about how I distract my brain long enough so I don't give in to my laziest impulses. And music has a lot to do with that. I started listening to music while running indoors in the teeth of a Bronx winter. For the longest time I would watch SportsCenter, Bones, That Crazy Show On Univision, whatever. Then I realized: This is stupid and terrible and makes running, like, seven million times more arduous. So I started making iPod playlists. This one, depending on your pace (mine is: slow), is good for four miles.


There's going to be a lot of pop-punk here. It serves an important function for me as a dude running: long enough to mark some progress, but not so long as to drag on and make you think about how long it is and why hasn't it ended and oh my god I have how many songs left before I'm done? All I really want to know is how much longer I have to do this.

"Through the Fire and the Flames," DragonForce

I want to know how much longer I have to do this, but I also don't want to know if it's that long. You want some awareness of time, but not so much that you're smothered by it. I've developed little mental devices, because I am easily tricked. Pretty early on in a run, I will throw in a relatively long song, say six to eight minutes. The key is, it's got to be a song that really works for you. One that makes you forget it is so long. This way, when it's over, you've run for eight minutes without even realizing you were running for eight minutes. And that is the whole point: to distract my brain from constantly thinking about the terrible thing I am making my body do when all it wants to do is sit and cover itself in process food on the couch.

"All Things Ordinary," The Anniversary

"The Gael," Last of the Mohicans

Another stupid thing I do is to imagine myself running for a purpose; a real purpose—not something inconsequential like "fitness"—something for the greater good. To that end, I always think about tracking hobbits. This helps especially when you're feeling tired and want to slow down or give up altogether. In my mind, I am Aragorn, searching for the lost hobbits through fields of Rohan. (My wife does something similar, imagining herself in Mohicans, thus the song choice). Aragorn—Strider, even—ran non-stop looking for Frodo and Rudy. Even Gimli, a fucking cantankerous dwarf, ran through the night to find a couple hobbits he met, like, the week before. You can run another mile.


"Catamaran," Bear vs. Shark

Had an awful experience with bloody nips the other week. I was just chugging along on my long run for the week—kind of near the end, but still a couple miles left until I was done—when I looked down and saw that my green shirt had two fairly large red stains where a man's nipples would be. I had always heard stories. Nothing more than rumors, really. I never thought it could happen to me.


But it did, and it was mortifying and totally threw off my run. I had to start walking because, well, I don't know why it just seemed like the right thing to do and I was so out of sorts with the whole thing that I was distracted. After a while of walking, I thought I was good and put my sweatshirt on—normally I use the sweatshirt to cover the clock on the treadmill, so this was just a colossal fuck in terms of ever getting through this run, I was locked in on that clock now—and started running again. Shortly thereafter, it started to show through the sweatshirt, too. A complete fiasco. I essentially walked the last mile in shame. And then the shower. I've never given birth to a child, but I can almost guarantee the pain of the hot water on my raw nips was at least 3,000 times worse. At least. Now I've got some kind of friction reducing stick my wife gave me, that looks like a stick of deodorant a Roborovski hamster would use. Haven't had a relapse yet; keep you posted.

"In the Blood," Better Than Ezra

The dirty secret here is that all the tricks in the world can't keep me from periodically checking on my status. This is something I try my damndest not to do, but I am weak. There are times—at least once a run—where I reach to move the sweatshirt aside to look at my time and mileage and physically restrain myself from doing so with my other hand. I know I look like a crazy person. Or the victim of some voodoo shaman trying to break my spirit by revealing how little ground I've covered, but I won't let him win. I won't do it. Sip some water. Keep running. Oh, what's the harm?


I will tell you the harm. I have a terrible habit of grossly overestimating how far and for how long I have been running. Like, groooooooosly overestimating. I moved the sweatshirt once and I was not halfway through a seven-mile run. Devastating. Not only was I totally deflated and gassed, but I completely undid all my little tricks for the remainder of the run. Which, to recap, was closer to being started than finished.

"Incisions," Hot Water Music

If it's not clear by now, I am not a Runner. There are some words, when said a certain way by certain people, that you can hear the implied capitalization. Runner is one of those words and Runners are those kinds of people. They are the fucking worst. My Wife is a Runner; it's terrible. I'm not a Runner. I am a dude who is running to get back into shape. I don't do it because I want to or ohhh I get such a rush of endorphins and it really lets me clear my head. That's what a Runner says because he wants you to know he's a Runner. I run because for the better part of a decade I was a lazy, gluttonous jerk, and I've noticed that running has helped reverse a lot of the damage.


After doing a couple 5ks, however, I found myself losing motivation and needed something to up the ante. So I signed up for a half-marathon, and I'm now in the middle of a training schedule. The thing I noticed when I was looking into all of this stuff (and while married to a Runner) is that there is a lot bullshit around running. Like, “make sure you stretch before and after” or “buy new shoes every 300 miles.” The only time I ever stretched was when they made us do it in basketball practice. Don't stretch. And don't waste money on shoes “every 300-400 miles.” That is a scam. Lululemon? $175 yoga pants? Go fuck yourself.

Aragorn wore fucking boots and, like, jeans and a cape. He looked more or less like a drum tech for Rush. And he covered a hell of a lot more than "300-400 miles" looking for those guys without switching up. I buy new shoes when the soles wear flat and/or I have the disposable income to spend on sneakers. It all comes back to tracking hobbits.


"Sugar, We're Goin' Down," Fall Out Boy

Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals and finish. Running is purely Machiavellian, so you listen to Fall Out Boy.


"I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You," Black Kids

This misfired badly for me. I spent the entirety of the three-and-a-half minutes of this song watching the time bar slowly grow, which is the exact opposite of what we're looking for here, guys. It was like sitting in class back in high school and just staring at the clock, only much, much worse because I was running and sweating and running, man. But hey, teachable moment.


"Dammit," Blink 182

The treadmills at my gym cut off after an hour. I don't know if this is a common thing or not, but it is annoying. Since I don't run, like, six-minute miles, I often take longer than one hour on my long runs. I can't even describe how annoying it is to have to wait around for the treadmill to stop and then start back up again. I'm finally here—running—and I would still be running if it weren't for you and your stupid, arbitrary shutdown timer, Treadmill, and now I have to stop, only temporarily, and start back up again. You are keeping me from being done and that is unforgivable. The first time it happened I thought I was having a stroke. All of a sudden I just started running slower and, since I do the old sweatshirt over the console move, I had no idea why. I just assumed years of drinking, smoking, and eating my insides into coal had finally caught up with me. The next week, I totally forgot about it until it happened again. I cursed and hit the treadmill like a sane person does.


"Transatlantic Foe," At The Drive In

Another trick, I guess, is to save a song you know gets you fired up for the final push. It also serves as a mental mile marker.


"Degausser," Brand New

Usually by now I am either totally zoned out or completely obsessed with figuring out just how much time I have left and whatever song I've picked is wasted. I had a few others on the list but never made it to them—which is another useful trick. Make your playlist longer than you need it to be so you don't have any benchmarks along the way to help you figure out how long you have left. You can always figure it out (or just look, like a jackass) but don't make it easy.