Running isn’t just about putting one foot in front of the other. There are major physical and mental aspects involved. The sport is a feat of human will — requiring serious perseverance, positivity, and heart. But also… all of those qualities are meaningless garbage without a good musical playlist.
Seriously, 90 percent of my running motivation is music-based. If my phone dies while I’m in the middle of a run I just flop to the ground and curl up in a ball until the appropriate amount of hours go by for someone to file a missing person’s report. That’s how important good songs are to my running routine.
Hyperbole aside, without epic songs and good beats to push me to go further, run longer, and fight every urge to give up, I’m lost. Which is why crafting the perfect running playlist is both serious business and tough work. You need a variety of powerful songs that will motivate you through each aspect of your run. Songs that distract you when the going gets tough, inspire you when you need that extra push, and celebrate with you when you get to the top of the hill and are flying downwards with the wind at your back.
In hopes of helping you exceed your expectations, we compiled the best running playlist to throw on your Spotify. These songs will get you (and keep you!) moving through every stage of your run.
“Time to warm up! Let’s ease into this thing,” you think. But also: “Oh wow, I am hyped. I am going to kill this run.”
1. “Proud Mary,” Ike and Tina Turner
The intro says it all.
Y’ know, every now and then
I think you might like to hear something from us
Nice and easy
But there’s just one thing
You see we never ever do nothing
Nice and easy
We always do it nice and rough
So we’re gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy,
and then we’re gonna do the finish rough.
And that’s not just the preamble to an E.L. James novel. It’s also the intro to Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary”. And it’s a great metaphor for your run. Ease into it, but don’t keep it easy for yourself the whole time. Push yourself, get a little crazy, allow yourself the frenetic, brilliant, vibrant energy of “Proud Mary” to get into your bones, and move!
“Proud Mary” is the perfect warm up. It starts off smooth, then brings in an even beat to get you into a jog. By the time the beat picks up, pushing at a wild pace, you’re chomping at the bit to go a bit faster too. You’re ready.
“Yeah, now, I’m moving,” you say. “Let’s pick up speed.”
2. “Let’s Get It Started,” The Black Eyed Peas
“And the base keeps runnin’, runnin’.”
It’s great when a song tells you literally to keep running. But “Let’s Get It Started” is also one of those feel-good songs you can just never get sick of hearing (okay you can, but not in this setting). For a running playlist that you can listen to over and over again, every morning without fail, there’s no better pick.
“This is bringing up some emotions,” you think at this point. “I love running! I wonder what’s going to happen when I do this every day. I bet I’ll look so good that I’ll get some sort of acting career. Like I’ll just get discovered because of my washboard abs.”
3. “Anything Could Happen,” Ellie Goulding
This is the point in the run where you start to feel like you’re pretty good at running, and your mind drifts just a little to all of the many, many benefits you will get from being such a good runner. Weight loss! More endorphins! Running friends! And you should absolutely allow the daydream. It will pump you up.
“Anything Could Happen” is the kind of bouncy, uplifting tune that will make you feel like, “New year, New you!” It makes you want to get a new haircut and sell all of your possessions and live in a van on the beach by a waterfall. And the first step to that new life is getting into Instagram shape by running, you know?
This feels good. Really good, right? Why have I not been doing this every day? It’s like I’m back and I never left. Another sprint, another step. This. Is. Glorious. I was born for this.
4. “Glorious,” Macklemore ft. Skylar Grey
You’re going fast now, and it feels amazing. You need a song that makes it clear you really are turning over a new leaf. You made it through the darkest of the night. This is an epic new you. And this song builds in a way that truly feels epic. All your dreams are going to come true. And you’re finally on your way.
As the song says, you feel glorious, glorious.
“Ok. This is getting kind of hard,” you think. “I am really sweating up a storm. Must be the weather. Pretty hot out today. Oooo. Okay. A little hard to breathe, getting just a little bit hard to breathe.”
5. “All These Things That I’ve Done,” The Killers
This is the song that tells you to “hold on” — and at this point, you probably need that advice. You know intellectually that if you push through this challenging bit that you’ll get to the other side. You know that the running will become less hard if you keep going. But like 10-15 minutes in, you often hit a wall.
“All These Things That I’ve Done” is the perfect motivator. Its repetitive build up (that rises to a joyful crescendo near the end) makes you feel like you are one powerful person. And not to be messed with. You just have to keep fighting through.
“Getting a wave of energy back,” you think. “Okay. I’ve totally pushed through the part where I would’ve started walking and now I’m going to be fine. Nice and easy here. Let’s do this.”
6. “Baba O’Riley,” The Who
Look, you’re now rocking this run, and so it’s now time for a classic rock song. There’s a reason that “Baba O’Riley” is on basically every “best running song ever” list. The intro is epic and it makes you anticipate the beat drop (which flows into an upbeat tune that will keep you on a steady pace). You’re still not at the midpoint of this running journey yet, and so, while you have to keep going, you don’t want to burn all your energy and have none left for the second half!
The Who will keep you grooving along without expending everything you have.
“My mind is drifting but in a good way! It’s like I’m meditating! Did I leave the oven on? Nope. Doesn’t even matter. I’m in the ZONE.”
7. “Lose Yourself,” Eminem
This song is filled with feeling and reminders to give life your all. It’s basically the early Hamilton, reminding us not to blow our shot. Its aggressiveness will push you in your run while its heart will remind you that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. Eminem is a complicated dude.
8. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” Spoon.
It’s time to let your mind drift. Find the answer to the plot issue you’re having with your novel. Daydream about pizza. Plan out a vacation. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” keeps a nice steady and pretty mindless beat that is going to keep you from slowing down while your mind wanders to other places.
9. “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
You’ve been keeping it at about a five, but now it’s time to get your heart rate up. “Can’t Hold Us” brings everything up a notch. The beat is strong, and you’ll feel your body swaying and dancing as your feet begin moving faster and faster. The clapping and music dropouts will have you yell-singing as you cruise down the sidewalk (which won’t scare people around you. Not at all).
It’s fine because we’re not held in by the conventional rules of polite society. We’re runners now. We’ll fight til it’s over. The ceiling can’t hold us. Nothing can hold us.
“I am feeling good,” you begin to think. “Is that crazy? Am I practically an elite runner now? Should I try out for the Olympic team? I could, I’d bet. With like a few more practice sessions, I could be there.”
10. “You Make My Dreams,” Hall and Oates
You can’t full out sprint forever, and as you slowly fall back into your feel-good pace, you start noticing how beautiful the world around you is. The sun is shining, a cool breeze is keeping your body from overheating, and you feel like you’re in some sort of adorable movie montage with ice cream and playing with puppies and bicycle rides in the country. It’s not just the song that’s peppy, you’re peppy!
“I love running! I could do this forever,” you decide. “Ultramarathoners do 100 miles? I could do 500! How many have I done so far, I should check the app. 2.1 miles…. huh. Okay. WELL, THAT’S STILL PRETTY GOOD.”
11. “I’m gonna be (500 miles)” The Proclaimers
You’ve fallen in love with running. This is fun! Why did no one ever tell you this would be so fun! You could run forever. You want to yell it from the rooftops!
And isn’t love the best motivator for doing anything? You WOULD run 500 miles for love.
As a soul cycle instructor in the Hamptons once yelled at me in a room full of women, “Pedal like it’s the weekend and your husbands are on the way to see you.” And man, if that isn’t the most sexist, greatest motivation ever, I don’t know what is. Run in order to stay thin so that your partner won’t leave you when he/she sees you after a week apart. It’s just feminism.
12. “I Believe In a Thing Called Love,” The Darkness
Time to get back to a sprint! Change up any monotony! And this song immediately picks up the speed. It’s motivating, it’s fun, it’s insane. Everything you need to get your energy up when the mid-run slump starts to kick in.
13. “Crazy in Love,” Beyonce and Jay-Z
Mid-run you need something loud, bold, and pop-y. You need a song that is very happy to keep you going. Because let’s face it, things are starting to turn a little. The cool breeze is feeling a tad, warm, the sun, which was lovely a minute ago, is in your eyes, and if a few songs ago you were imagining playing with a basket full of puppies? Well, now, the puppies are still there, but they’ve peed everywhere. And you have to clean it all off the rug.
“I’m getting tired,” you think desperately. “I’m getting really tired. Maybe I should just walk. No. Push through it. Come on!”
14. “Under Pressure,” David Bowie & Queen
This is a time when you need some real motivation. You need someone who knows how it feels, man. And Bowie is there to tell you, “I get it.” The world is terrifying, and running is hard! Slow down for a second, take it to a three, and feel those feelings. Catch your breath, sip your water. Okay. Better? Now let’s snap as you snap out of it. I’m going to get real quiet, okay, okay? You’ve got this. LET’S GO. LA LA LA. Give yourself one MORE CHANCE.
And, against all odds, when you hear “Under Pressure” you start running harder. You keep going no matter how tired you are.
“I did it!” you cheer. “Okay, yeah. That was tough, but it’ll get easier. Sure, I’m getting tired. Sure, I’m getting sore. But I just have to keep a steady and even pace and…. Oh. God. No. No. It’s a hill. It’s a G*ddamn Hill.”
15. “S.O.B,” Nathanial Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Look, at some point,you’re going to swear and say a bunch of expletives in your own head. This is hard. And it’s okay to get angry.
“S.O.B” will not only satisfy your need to scream, “Son of a bitch, give me a drink!” but its low rhythmic start that builds into joyful outbursts, (and folksy, acapella riffs filled with clapping and stomping) will get you running faster and faster. Yeah, it’s pure venomous anger fueling you at the moment, but you can use that to get you to the top of this motherforking hill.
“I got down it! I did it,” you say. “Wait. Is that another hill? I mean Jesus. F. Christ. Another….ahhhhh…..This is bad. God, there’s no such thing as a runners high, is there? It’s a lie. IT’S ALL LIES!!!”
16. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” The Rolling Stones
Yeah, you’re getting a little despondent. But right now, you just have to keep throwing one foot in front of the other. The Rolling Stones will keep you at a reasonable and steady pace as you do this, and also, will echo the angsty feelings you’re having right at this point in the run. I mean, you’re doing your best. You try and you try and you try. But….at this point you’re just going to assume that all life is meaningless.
But you’re still running, and that has to count for SOMETHING, right?
“There’s another hill. I’m not even surprised at this point,” you realize. “I am going to die. This is it. This is what takes me. One effing run. Boy, I wish I had traveled more before I died! And I wish I had found love, and I really definitely wish I had erased my search history on my computer before my mom went through all my stuff. But oh well, goodbye cruel world.”
17. “Die Young,” Kesha
If you’re going to die on this hill, you might as well give this the last bit of energy you have. The electro beat of “Die Young” will push you right past your limits. Do you have that little bit of reserve energy you were keeping inside just in case you were chased by a lion at some point on this run? Use it. You’re going to die anyway. Make the most of things.
“Is this Heaven? Is my childhood dog here? No. Wait. My legs are still moving. I’m still running. How am I still running? It’s like I always have been running and always will be running. I get it now. This is Hell. There is no exit.”
18. “Dream On,” Aerosmith
Things have gotten bleak. But you have to find the part of your soul that can still do this. Don’t worry, “Dream On” is here to catch you before you fall. It slows to a crawl at the beginning. And sure, you’re running slower but You. Are. Full. Of. Fire. And. Fury.
“Dream on, dream on, dream on,” you scream to the heavens from the depths of pure despair. “Dream until your dreams come true.” And you build strength as you go. Like the song, you’re feeling very emotional and, you think, you can keep doing this. One minute at a time.
“I should just quit. No. Wait. NO. I’m not going to quit this the way I quit piano lessons. Or ice skating lessons. Or soccer. I could be a classical pianist doing triple axles while balancing a ball on my head. But I gave up. Just like I’ve given up everything. Well, not this. Not this time. I’ve got this. I can do it. I have so many dreams, and if I can do this I can do anything. Ignore the pain. Brush off the pain. And. Just. Keep. Running.”
19. “Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift
Look, Haters gonna hate… hate…hate. But Taylor has some damn, catchy songs. They’re perfect to run to! You went to some dark places in this running journey for a few songs, but it’s time to let all of that go. Embrace a pop song, and a new, happier you. Shake it off. Can’t stop, won’t stop… moving! Never!
“God, I’m strong,” you think. “Try harder next time universe! You can’t take me down!”
20. “Stronger,” Kanye West
Imma let you finish, but Kanye has the greatest running songs of all time. I didn’t even know what to choose, do I go with “Power” or what about “Jesus Walks”? And oh! “New Workout Plan”! Classic! I have gotten through so many workouts thanks to Kanye West that he should probably start sending me a personal training bill. Ultimately, I went with “Stronger” because the beat is so dope for running, and I run to it literally, every single time I go out. I have run to this song hundreds of times, and it. Is. Perfect.
“AHHHHHHH! I. Am. Picking. Up. Speed. This is amazing. I’m a beast! I am a God! I am Thor with his hammer. And I am doing whatever his hammer does. Like…shake things! Or electrocute things? Or like does it do something to gravity? Honestly- I’ve seen the movies, and I still don’t know. I AM INVINCIBLE.”
21. “Thunderstruck,” AC/DC
It’s time for a song with lyrics that scream the word THUNDER at you. It’s time for some hard rock. No one will help you. You are the change you wish to see in the world. Hardcore change. You are THE CHOSEN RUNNING ONE. This song harnesses all of your power and shoots it into you with the might of a mighty summer storm. You can not run to “Thunderstruck” without a determined grimace on your face. And that’s good, because you won’t just “get through” this run now, YOU WILL MURDER THIS AND EVERY CHALLENGE.
Side Note: Another fun (but less healthy) thing to do is to play this song at a party and make everyone drink a shot of beer every time they say the word “Thunder.” Spoiler: They say the word thunder A LOT.
“This is the final push, baby. Push it to 90 percent. No. 100. I’m so close to the finish line. It’s time. It’s time to give it everything like Nicolas Cage during literally any monologue no matter the subject matter.”
22. “Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor
It’s time to push yourself to your absolute limit. You have the runners’ high, and you could run another ten miles at this point because you are filled to the brim with endorphins. You’ve literally never felt so great. “Eye of the Tiger” really recounts the epic journey you just went on, you know? You rose up to the challenge and you’re a survivor. You’re the eye of Tiger. Your eyes are tiger eyes. Real yellow and stuff. Yeah, that’s right, you probably should be checked for liver disease they’re SO YELLOW. Tiger eyes!
“I can’t believe it’s already over! I could run forever! Cool down?! Impossible. I am the world’s hottest human. No one has ever had such a run as I!”
23. “Joyful, Joyful,” Lauryn Hill and various, Sister Act 2
It’s time to bring it f*cking home. When you’re finishing a run, you want a song that doesn’t just make you run, you want it to make you feel. You want a choir to come in at the end and raise their voices to the heavens.
It’s time to cry, it’s time to sing, and it’s time to do an extra victory lap, just because. YOU. FEEL. JOYFUL.
“You did it baby,” you tell yourself. Do you speak in the third person now? Yes. Of course, you do. You’re royalty. “You did it, baby” you repeat, arms lifted in the air in triumph to all the fans who are sitting at outdoor tables at Panera, eating cream of potato soup, and pretending they aren’t excited to see your victory. “Take off your robes,” you scream into the air with abandon as a busser gives you a dirty look because you’ve grabbed half eaten salad off of a plate and are flinging it into the air, sweet sesame-ginger dressing dripping down your powerful fingers. “YOUR TEACHER SAYS TAKE OFF YOUR ROBES!”
You leap into the air, the soggy, flying lettuce framing your glowing face as you vault towards the heavens. You did it!
So. When’s our next run?