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‘Born to Run': What heart-pumping tunes inspire Sun readers ahead of the Baltimore Running Festival

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Earphones in, Hallie Brokowsky trains around Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia for the upcoming Baltimore Running Festival half marathon.

Distance running tests runners mentally as much as physically, and, without music, many say, they’d never pass. The tunes help them tune out their labored breathing, their aching bodies, or the lousy weather.

“I have run without headphones — I just don’t always have as good a race,” says Hallie Brokowsky, an Ellicott City resident and seasoned long-distance runner who’s participating in the half-marathon in Saturday’s Baltimore Running Festival.


For others, music is more than just a distraction. A favorite song transports them to their high school days, and their feet feel lighter. A rhythmic song cues their steps, and their stride is steadier. The ear bones, it seems, are connected to the leg bones.

Ellicott City resident Hallie Brokowsky says her iPod Nano was an essential piece of equipment when training for Saturday's Baltimore Running Festival half-marathon. For her, music can be a motivator, as well as an escape.

Like the one we’ve assembled here of some Baltimore runners’ favorite running songs, playlists are as diverse as the reasons for curating them. Some athletes seek quick, straightforward tempos that set the pace of their run (think “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco or Rihanna’s “Disturbia”) while others prefer to move to slower, less predictable beats that keep their minds occupied through the ups and downs of a course (like "Run Like An Antelope” by Phish or “Echo” by Nas and Swizz Beatz).


For the record, Baltimore Running Festival directors discourage participants from wearing headphones on race day. Keeping your ears attuned to any instructions from officials, signals from passing runners, and spectators’ cheers, they say, makes races safer and more enjoyable. Plenty of runners forego music anyway, even during training, preferring to focus on the task at hand as well as their surroundings.

Cockeysville resident Maggie Smith says she swore off headphones since a pair of incidents while exercising. In one, she says a group of young people shoved her off her bike and assaulted her. In the other, she says that while she was running someone sprang out of an alley holding a knife.

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“Having that happen was kind of crippling — it was devastating,” Smith, an avid runner and member of the military, says. “After that, I stopped wearing them. You can take in more of what’s happening.”

'Don't Stop Me Now'


“It has the right cadence (I found it looking for songs around 160 beats per minute) and it reminds you that you're having a good time! I listen when I need a boost. Being half way through a long run then turning on some tunes keeps me energized through the toughest parts." — Kathryn Knaus, Hampden

'Finlay's Anthem'

Dan Deacon

“It makes me think I can achieve anything!" — Adam Goldstein, Ellicott City



“The build-up beat and Chris Cornell's powerful voice will lift the energy of any run!" — Mark Viviano, Canton

'1/2/2016 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY'


“It keeps my mind occupied and can set a pretty interesting pace as you’re running outside." — Zach Wolfe, Manchester

'All These Things That I've Done'

The Killers

“It's upbeat and builds up to a pretty epic ending." — Elizabeth Harasty, Patterson Park

'High Hopes'

Panic! At The Disco

“The uptempo beat and lyrics give me the motivational push to keep going and it’s fun to dance/head bob to when I need a distraction." — Amy Misera, Hampden

For those who do listen, does it really help? Sports performance and endurance experts say while research has shown potential benefits, music generally isn’t used among highly trained athletes.

Tim Herzog, a counselor who specializes in mental performance, says music can be used as an associative or dissociative technique, meaning it can either help runners pay more attention to the run or assist them in finding another outlet for their thoughts. If they do use music, elite runners tend to favor associative techniques over dissociative ones.

“It’s an individual decision. I’d want to know what do you hope to gain, and what do you potentially lose,” he says.

It’s an individual decision. I’d want to know what do you hope to gain, and what do you potentially lose.

—  Annapolis-based counselor Tim Herzog on running with headphones

Alyssa Morrison, an endurance coach based in Washington, D.C., says that while she normally defers to the advice of race directors, every recreational runner’s preference is valid. She says many of her clients use music.

“Some athletes use headphones because there is a lot of injury involved in running,” she says, adding that many clients download or curate playlists with songs timed to specific beats-per-minute cadences. “People are actually using it as a means to minimize risk for injury."


For those on the fence, Dave Gell, director of communications for Corrigan Sports Enterprises — the group that oversees the running festival — suggests a compromise: Wear an earpiece in one ear and keep the other ear open.



“It helps pump me up while also not encouraging me to sprint like some of my favorite songs do." — John Flynn, Towson

'Close Your Eyes (And Count To F***)'

Run The Jewels

“It’ll get your blood moving right from the start." — Robbe Reddinger, Brewers Hill

''Till I Collapse'


“Good tempo and a little aggressive, which helps me to dig deep toward the end of a long run." — Dana Cline, Canton


Jamila Woods

“The bass, jazz percussion, and intense emotion works to increase my energy. It also breaks down into a smooth, funky hip hop beat to close." — Anonymous, Perry Hall

'Born to Run'

Emmylou Harris

“It speaks for itself!" — Elizabeth Burlington, Charles Village


Dr. Dre

“Great for pre-run motivation and to listen to on the spin bike." — Dustin Meeker