Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Fight Songs: Tunes for the Longest Long Run I've Ever Done, the New York City Marathon

If a runner's playlist says a lot about her, a marathon runner's playlist says a whole lot.

I mean that literally—there are 83 songs on this bad boy.

I've known people who could get through a marathon listening to one Lady Gaga song on repeat. I know runners who prefer purely instrumental. My sister-in-law and fiancé like to run to the stylings of AC/DC and Henry Rollins, respectively. For some people, nothing can get them moving like a good, hard yell.

I myself like to guide my list by what part of the race I'm in at any given time (and I also have a penchant for male falsettos and badass female rappers). 

Here is the compilation I've gradually built over the past two years. It's what will keep me company as I push myself through all five boroughs of New York on foot, trying to reach Central Park in less than five hours. Trying to reach Central Park at all, God willing.

If this list and I part ways I will be lost. OK, so I'm being dramatic.

No, really, I won't know what to do.


Miles 1 through 4 (the Verrazano Bridge to Bay Ridge)

“A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay: My evergreen intro; I started using this when I ran my first half. It’s like a Winter Olympics commercial, any Winter Olympics commercial, as long as that commercial features the fresh sound of a skater on ice. It’s large, all-encompassing and gradually builds from a slower start…all things I’ll want to emulate when that gun goes off.

“New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel: It’s not like Frank’s “Theme From New York, New York”—now that’s an all-out celebration. This is a man sitting over his newspaper and coffee at a kitchen table, looking out the window, perhaps at the Verrazano Bridge, and thinking to himself, Yeah, this is my kinda place…

“We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus: Say what you will about Miley—this is the most motivating song on my list. Exhibit A) the bridge: “It’s our party, we can do what we want to/It’s our house, we can love who we want to/It’s our song, we can sing if we want to/It’s my mouth, I can say what I want to.” It’s all about personal power, man. If you want to run 26.2 miles, well then go run 26.2 miles. And go ahead and say whatever you goddamn please while you’re at it.

“Work” by Iggy Azalea: Those first couple miles are always rough when you have six months of accumulated muscle fatigue. At this point, it’s starting to feel like hard work. So it helps a whole lot to hear a badass rapping “I've been up all night, tryna get that rich/I've been work, work, work, work, working on my shit.” She later adds, “Too late, now I’m in this bitch.” It’s mile 2, so that’s pretty damn true.

“Dark Horse” by Katy Perry: Merriam-Webster’s definition of “dark horse”: “an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed.” That sounds familiar.

“The Night Is Still Young” by Nicki Minaj: That’s right—I put Nicki two songs away from Miley. Deal with it. Remember that muscle fatigue I mentioned? This is where I remember I’m about to add 24 more miles of it. But then Nicki sings, “What is the hurry? It's pretty early/It's OK, we'll take our time./The night is still young, the night is still young, the night is still young and so are we.” And I start to relax a little. Later in the song, she says, “My only motto in life is don’t lose.” I like that, too.

“On the Floor” by Jennifer Lopez, featuring Pitbull

“Where Are U Now” by Skrillex and Diplo, featuring Justin Bieber

“Chains” by Nick Jonas

“Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weeknd

“Take Me Home” by Cash Cash

“Beautiful Now” by Zedd, featuring Jon Bellion

Pompeii” by Bastille

These songs are all up-tempo filler I added in the past few weeks; no special meanings here. Just trying to keep my pace.

Miles 4 through 6 (Sunset Park)

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams: Obviously.

“Girls Chase Boys” by Ingrid Michaelson:
The lyrics I need to hear after mile 5: “I’m a little bit down, but I’m not dead/There’s a little bit more that has to be said.”

Timber” by Ke$ha, featuring Pitbull: At least two songs on this playlist feature Pitbull, whose wardrobe a friend of mine describes as “creepily geriatric—you know, since he’s 34.” I honestly have no idea how he ended up on this list twice. Ke$ha made it on twice, too, but that makes more sense.

Bend Ova” by Lil Jon: Huh? I know, I can’t believe it’s here either. But this one has the fastest pace and gets me going when I’m starting to lag. It also has the dirtiest lyrics, to the point where I’m almost offended. And yet it stays. I guess I just like being commanded to “bounce my ass like a yoga ball.”

“Only Girl (in the World)” by Rihanna:
Pure egotism, really.

“Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake: When this one comes on, I breathe a sigh of relief, because at six minutes, it’s just so gosh darn long. Also, it makes me imagine my wedding in the spring with the “other half of me,” who also incidentally helped me train for this race. And, well, it’s Justin Timberlake.

Miles 6 through 8 (Park Slope)

“Ho Hey” by the Lumineers

“Daylight” by Maroon 5:
I have a lot of Maroon 5 songs on here, for no real reason except that they were often played in my gym when I started doing 5Ks, and I seem to enjoy running to very high-pitched male voices—something about their relentless effort makes me want to put more effort into my run. That’s the truth.

“Shower” by Becky G

“All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor

“Scream & Shout” by, featuring Britney Spears:
Pretty much any song that includes the line “Britney, bitch” is a song I can run to. Also, this one celebrates screaming, which almost makes me also want to do hand gestures. More on that later.

Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea, featuring Rita Ora: There’s that Iggy again. This is one in a long line of “fuck my ex” songs.

Really Don’t Care” by Demi Lovato: This is another one.

Miles 8 through 12 (Williamsburg)

“Love Runs Out” by One Republic: “I’m gonna keep on running, keep on running, ’til the love runs out.” Repeat.

“Break Free” by Ariana Grande:
Another “fuck my ex” song, but it talks about independence in general, which I enjoy. “I’m stronger than I’ve been before,” she says.

“Maps” by Maroon 5: See?

“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift:
OK, so this is the beginning of what I like to call “the gestures.” I often find myself, by the time this song comes on, doing a motion with my right hand, as though I am shaking something off of my person. Letting something go. Is it pain? Is it the haters? Who’s to say? I know. I’m a weirdo.

“Photograph” by Ed Sheeran:
My only rationale for putting this song here is that Ed’s BFFs with Taylor. But to be serious, this is why it’s here: “Loving can heal./Loving can mend your soul./And it's the only thing that I know (know)./I swear it will get easier./Remember that with every piece of ya./And it's the only thing we take with us when we die.”

Much of my marathon training has been a grief journey for me. I spent several years after my father’s death being angry at the world, focusing in on how scary and unfair the event of his departure was. The way that it happened. That I didn’t get to say goodbye. That I didn’t know how scary it might have been for him.

As I’ve gotten physically stronger as a runner, I’ve also gotten emotionally stronger as my dad’s daughter. As me. That’s the most important part. I’ve gotten emotionally stronger as me. For the first time in the past 12 years, I now feel that I have spoken up and begun to make a difference in the community of people who’ve lost loved ones to distracted drivers. Unfortunately, there is a whole community of them. It’s a group of people who have to deal with the senselessness of a loss—and really, most losses are senseless, but this is something we all face every single day and never think anything could possibly go wrong when we use our phones. It just feels stupid, in a way. That it could cost someone their life. What a dumb way to go. But it happens…and for the first time, since I’ve taken action, I no longer feel that my dad's death could be seen as meaningless, ubiquitous, impersonal and dumb, or that I am somehow meaningless and dumb in connection to it…in other words, I no longer feel that the way he died has to convey his worth somehow. Because his life was worth a great deal, even if his death was probably the result of someone making a phone call.

And as long as I’m communicating that worth to the world, I’ve done part of what I’ve been put on this earth to do…and I am freed. I get to just be Laura again.

“First Flight Home” by Jake Miller: I listened to this one a lot when I used to run in Central Park. I’d run by Sheep’s Meadow, where I had one of my first dates with my fiancé, and think about the flights he took out to visit me when we first met. During my marathon training, this song made me realize that I'm the one who's never home now.

“Rhythm of Love” by Plain White T’s

“Team” by Lorde

“Problem” by Ariana Grande, featuring Iggy Azalea: It’s like the perfect equation for my running routine—a high-pitched, airy voice, a big “F you” to my ex, and Iggy Azalea. Add some sentiment to this, put a fork in me and I’m done.

“Die Young” by Ke$ha: I realize a lot of my songs talk about being young, and that’s OK. I’m 37. I’m still young, as far as I’m concerned. Also, she sings about “dirty socks” in this song. Also, its amazing rhythm.

“Chandelier” by Sia:
Over the summer, my cousin asked me what Sia is talking about in this song, as though she was sure I would absolutely know the answer to that. I can’t say I know, except that I was once a party girl, and party girls don’t get hurt, they don’t feel anything, when will I learn, I push it down, push it down…

Mostly I love this song because it starts out slow and gets huge, like most running songs I like, and Jim Carrey once sang it on the VMAs and I’m forced to picture him singing it every time I hear it.

“Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Miles 12 through 15 (Greenpoint, Pulaski Bridge, Long Island City)

“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley

“If You’re Not the One” by Daniel Bedingfield

“The Only Living Boy in New York” by Paul Simon

“The Great Intoxication” by David Byrne

“The Story” by Brandi Carlile

“Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina

“You’re My Home” by Billy Joel

“All of Me” by John Legend

“I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles

“Stay Young, Go Dancing” by Ben Gibbard

This is an especially grueling part of the course—the halfway point over the Pulaski Bridge. So I’ve chosen the songs that mean the most to me in the world, a chronology of my relationship with my fiancé. They start in 2003 when we met online (he was in Seattle and I was in New York) with Buckley, Bedingfield and Simon; move on to the 2005 to 2008 years, when we were long-distance again between Baltimore and Pennsylvania; segue into songs from when we had our first home together in 2008; and end in our most recent years, choosing to wed. These songs will be played at our wedding, if I have anything to say about it.

Mostly they remind me of how far we’ve come from those days when we used to roam the streets of New York and couldn’t afford to do a damn thing. We both lived in Queens when we were first dating, and that’s the part of the course where this portion starts.

Miles 15 through 18 (Queensboro Bridge, Dorrian’s Red Hand, Upper East Side)

“One More Night” by Maroon 5: There’s that Adam Levine again.

“Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera:
After the runners make it over the Queensboro Bridge, the quietest part of the course, they’re often faced with the roar of the crowds lining First Avenue. I haven’t run more than 16 miles in any one long run during training, so this is a scary threshold for me to cross. So I’ve chosen songs that make me feel brave, the songs my brothers and I love.

As the only girl in my family, I watched a lot of sports movies growing up. This song is from one of them. After we watched "Karate Kid II" for the first time, my younger brother started singing this song to himself every night as he fell asleep. Hearing it makes me feel misty and triumphant, and the lyrics are especially poignant because he will be my “Man of Honor” at my wedding later this year: “You keep me standing tall, you help me through it all/I'm always strong when you're beside me./I have always needed you, I could never make it alone./I am a man who will fight for your honor.”

“Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen: This one is here because my “girl cuzzes” and I used to sing it all the time. And it’s very upbeat. It makes me feel about 11.

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor:
My brother and stepbrothers love “Rocky.” We’re from Philly. Enough said.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi: When my mom started dating my stepdad, my brother and stepbrothers and I used to put on concerts for them in our basement rec room, and they were exclusively Bon Jovi concerts. Each one of the five of us had his or her signature song. This one was mine.

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA:
I’ve purposely placed this one to play around 84th Street, near the bar Dorrian’s Red Hand. A year after I first moved to New York, I got an apartment on the Upper East Side. It was cramped and tiny. My brother and one of my stepbrothers helped me move, which was somewhat of a disaster because I was very irresponsible and had barely packed. I couldn't get my act together. This was a year after my father died, and I wondered what I was still doing living in the city with no real job prospects.

My brothers were kind and helpful, and later that night, when we went out to a bar for the first time in my new neighborhood, this song came on and my brother danced with me. And for a moment, it was like everything was OK—I was a 20-something experiencing my glamorous new life in New York, in my own apartment (well I did have that random Craig’s List roommate, but anyway), and I was going to do something with my life. This song always makes me think of how he helped me celebrate that.

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by the Fugees:
My younger brother’s the karaoke king, and he often laughs at me when I say this song is “in my range,” whatever that means. It’s one we performed a duet to once in Boston.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey: My oldest stepbrother is not the karaoke king, but he sure does love getting drunk and singing on tables. That’s all I have to say about this one.

“Love Shack” by the B-52s:
This is from that time the five of us did karaoke in the Outer Banks and my brother and I brought down the house.

Miles 18 through 23 (the Bronx and potentially the Wall)

“Trumpets” by Jason DeRulo

“Fireflies” by Owl City

“Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys:
I will without a doubt be very emotional by the time I reach this point, so I’ve queued up these songs to match. I'll need to be reminded here exactly why I’m doing this.

By mile 19 I’m going to start to worry. So this song is the perfect choice. The Beach Boys number among the many singers who make me think of my dad, and I’m going to need his guidance here.

“Father and Daughter” by Paul Simon: This one has been on my playlist since I ran my first half a year ago. It came on randomly one day on the treadmill and I couldn’t get over how much it made me think of my father.

The lyrics:

If you leap awake in the mirror of a bad dream/And for a fraction of a second you can't remember where you are/Just open your window and follow your memory upstream/To the meadow in the mountain where we counted every falling star./I believe a light that shines on you will shine on you forever/And though I can't guarantee there's nothing scary hiding under your bed/I'm gonna stand guard like a postcard of a Golden Retriever/And never leave 'til I leave you with a sweet dream in your head./I'm gonna watch you shine/Gonna watch you grow/Gonna paint a sign/So you'll always know/As long as one and one is two/There could never be a father/Who loved his daughter more than I love you./Trust your intuition/It's just like goin' fishin'/You cast your line and hope you get a bite./But you don't need to waste your time/Worryin' about the marketplace./Try to help the human race/Struggling to survive its harshest night.”

After that the chorus repeats. My father died on August 8, and shortly thereafter, I decided any time I saw two 8’s, that was him saying hello. So the part about painting the signs, and the numbers, really resonates with me as something my dad would do. This is especially meaningful when I’m running a race and see the mile markers go by. I believe my father would want me to avoid wasting my time “worrying about the marketplace,” and “try to help the human race, struggling to survive its harshest night.” That’s why I’m running this race. It’s why I’m championing this cause.

“Africa” by Toto

“Forever Young” by Rod Stewart and “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas:
Now that I’ve gotten past the emotional part, I’m going to need a little help from my friends, and these two make me think of my closest friend, the one who lives the farthest away from me. Rod’s song is similar to Paul’s in its message—I imagine it’s the advice her father would give her, so I’m co-opting it here. And California dreaming is what I do often these days, since all the leaves are brown, and she’s all the way out there, not here. When I’m in the ghost town part of the Bronx I’ll feel that way especially.

“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac: This is the beginning of the “me songs” time line, the songs that have inspired me and motivated me at various times in my life. I went through a big Fleetwood Mac phase in college when they had the reunion tour. This was part of that. Also, this song is just filled with good advice from Lindsey Buckingham.

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles:
Another song with a huge crescendo, my running-song preference. This one is extra-special though, because by running for End Distracted Driving in honor of my dad, I am “taking a sad song and making it better.”

Also, this: “So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin/You're waiting for someone to perform with./And don't you know that it's just you, hey Jude, you'll do/The movement you need is on your shoulder./Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah yeah.”

I used to listen to that song when I was 24 and think about how badly I wanted someone to perform with. I’d try to realize that it was OK if he hadn’t arrived, because “the movement I needed was on my shoulder.” In interviews, Paul McCartney has said this was really one of John Lennon’s nonsense lines—it doesn’t mean anything, it just sounds good. But I think it’s very spiritual. Before I had someone to perform with, the movement I needed was on my shoulder. I have a band mate now…but the movement I need is still on my shoulder anyway.

I’m going to need that movement right at that very moment if I’m to finish this race. (And this playlist story…yeesh.)

“Summer, Highland Falls” by Billy Joel

“When I Was a Boy” by Dar Williams: This song is going to be extra motivating because it’s about tomboys who ride bikes topless and climb trees… and run marathons, maybe. I listened to this over and over again my last year of college, sad about contemplating my place in the world as a woman.

“I Hope You Dance” by JoAnn Womack:
My mother gave me a journal with the lyrics of this song on the cover to encourage me when I moved to New York by myself at 25 to become a writer. These lyrics helped me then, and will help me now, getting to mile 23: “I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,/Never settle for the path of least resistance./Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',/Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',/Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,/When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,/Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,/And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

I’m dancing, Mom.

“Prelude/Angry Young Man” by Billy Joel:
When I had a very hard time finding full-time work as a journalist in New York, I used to joke that I had become the “angry young man.” This was essentially my theme song. I hated the world. Everything was unfair. That time still motivates me to do things that are positive. I’m certain that it always will.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen: Self-explanatory. Look at the lyrics: “I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky/Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity./I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva/I'm gonna go go go,/There's no stopping me./I'm burnin' through the sky yeah./Two hundred degrees,/That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit./I'm trav'ling at the speed of light/I wanna make a supersonic man out of you.”

One last surge to the finish!!!

“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten:
If there were one song that could truly express what this marathon journey and my attempt to raise awareness about distracted-driving deaths has been like for me, it would be this one. I’ll just put the lyrics here. It has taken me two years to pull all of this together. And now I am reaching the end of the marathon portion.

“Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

Losing friends and I'm chasing sleep
Everybody's worried about me
In too deep
Say I'm in too deep (in too deep)
And it's been two years
I miss my home
But there's a fire burning in my bones
Still believe
Yeah, I still believe

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

A lot of fight left in me.”

Miles 23 through 26.2 (Central Park)

“Some Nights” by Fun.

“Roar” by Katy Perry

“What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” by Kelly Clarkson

“Work Bitch” by Britney Spears

“We Are Young” by Fun.

“Paradise” by Coldplay

“Applause” by Lady Gaga

This is my OG playlist. I started competing in 5Ks to this playlist two years ago, so I’ve kept it on my iPhone ever since. I’ve just built upon it as I’ve added miles. By now, hearing these songs induces a reaction in my legs much like a bell’s ring did for the salivary glands of Pavlov’s dogs. When Katy Perry says “Roar,” I run.

And that is the kind of robotic reaction I’m going to need in these last few miles through Central Park. The prettiest part of the route by far, and likely the part where I might hallucinate the Virgin Mary—hey, it’s happened to people! Please pray that this does not happen to me….

NB: My hand gestures extend to a few of these songs…I’ve been known to do a lot of fist-pumping to “Roar.” When Britney commands me to “put my hands up, fingers to the sky,” you'd better believe I do it. And when Gaga says she lives for the applause, applause, applause, I start clapping for myself. This is not a joke. I am the crazy lady clapping.

“Walk Like a Man” and “Medley: Stay/Let’s Hang On” by the cast of Jersey Boys:
These songs are tremendously effective. They just feel like the end of an album. Here you have the ultimate in high-pitched male voices. And “walk like a man” simply means, keep going—walk with dignity. You’re exhausted, but keep doing it. And “Let’s hang on to what we’ve got, don’t give up girl, we’ve got a lot,” well that just makes me want to refuse to give up what I’ve worked so hard for.

When I ran the half marathon in Virginia Beach, my old headphones crapped out and I only heard bits and pieces of songs. Only one sentence of this last Jersey Boys song came through, and it was “Go on and be his bride. Don’t you worry ’bout me.”

Running this race and feeling like I was doing something to honor my dad was something I decided to do after my fiancé proposed.

“Theme From New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra:
"These vagabond shoes....are longing to stray...right through the very heart of it...New York, New York!"

Time for some pasta, some chocolate milk and an ice bath, in no particular order. And a nap.

By the way, it's not too late to help out. Go to to donate.


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