What’s Your Power Song?

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You know them instantly—those songs that always pump you up on a run, the songs you never skip when they pop up on your iPod, the songs that somehow get you to push just a little harder, even if for only three and a half minutes. I’m talking about power songs.

On Sunday, I subjected myself to almost four hours on an elliptical trainer in lieu of my last 20-mile long run before the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. I’m flirting with a knee injury and my doctor told me to play it safe. If not for my iPod and tried and true power songs, I might have gone mad.

So I began to wonder: What are the awesome, amazing power songs other runners turn to when they need an extra boost?

We all know the well-trod list of inspirational running songs: “Born to Run,” by Bruce Springsteen, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, and of course, the theme from “Chariots of Fire.”

But if you’re like me, I suspect your favorite running songs are random and varied and inspire you in different ways; my running songs span a range of genres and decades. I’m a singer, and I love—love—music. So running gives me a few dates a week with one of my favorite muses who does not discriminate.

So let’s put aside the “to headphone or not to headphone” debate for a moment. Even Deena Kastor, Olympic bronze medalist and the American record holder in the marathon, listens to music on runs from time to time. I’ve never run a race with headphones, but I often train with them—busy roads and tracks never, designated paths usually, treadmills always. Yes, I’m that crazy girl mouthing the lyrics and dancing with my hands while I’m running on the treadmill. I think there’s a time and place for music in my training.

So I’ll go first. Here are my Top 26.2 power songs for running. Why 26.2? In honor of the 26.2 miles in a marathon, naturally.

Karla’s power songs

26.2) “Them There Eyes” by Ella Fitzgerald

Best Jazz

Okay, it’s not .2 of a song, it’s a whole song, but it’s a great one at that. Ella, Ella, Ella. My heart sings when I hear her voice, and I envy her mad scat skills. This song is an injection of happiness, even when you’re three hours into a workout.

26) “Waiting For That Day/You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by George Michael

Best sentimental song

This is my sentimental pick. It’s a song I’ve loved for nearly 20 years, and it still tugs at my heartstrings. Is it the most upbeat, the most rocking, or the most inspirational? No. But for the five minutes that it’s playing, I get lost in the lyrics and my running feels effortless. After all, running hurts a whole lot less than heartbreak.

25) “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad/Is to be High)” by Ryan Adams

Best (new) old-fashioned rock song

A rollicking alt-country rocker, this song is worthy of Chuck Berry himself. Guaranteed to get your feet moving underneath you, whether you’re running or dancing.

24) “Toxic” by Britney Spears

Best song that I’m embarrassed to have on my iPod

Oh, Brit. I’ve never been a Brit fan. I rolled my eyes at all of my college roommates for buying her albums. But then “Toxic” came along. Maybe it’s the Bollywood sample or surf guitar. But I must whisper it from the rooftops: I love this song.

23) “The Underdog” by Spoon

Best horns

I love a song with a horn section, and there are so many goodies. But the boppy beat and blaring horns (not to mention spoons, claps and tambourine) make this my fave for running. “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass are a close second and third.

22) “Alright With Me” by Kris Allen

Best song by an American Idol alum

I know I’m in the minority here. Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and the rest of the winners have sold far more albums. But this is the first song I ever downloaded by an American Idol alum, and I’ve watched the show for many years. There’s just something about the guitar, the happy beat and Allen’s voice. I could listen to it on repeat for an entire run and still not be sick of it.

21) “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John

Best whistling (and shaker)

Anything by Andrew Bird and The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” are close behind, but “Young Folks” is just head-bopping fun.

20) “Fa-Fa-Fa” by Datarock

Best Neo-Disco

This is a dangerous song. It’s impossible not to run just a little faster when it’s pumping into my ear. “I need a shot—shot! I need a shot of ambition. I need a hit—hit! I need a hit of nutrition. I need a fix—fix! I need to fix my ignition. If you want to whip me into shape, I need a plan or a mission. Because I’m gonna ride fast!” Yeah, I am!

19) “Black and Gold” by Sam Sparro

Best So You Think You Can Dance song

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m slightly obsessed with SYTYCD. I even went to the national tour at Radio City Music Hall on Oct. 7. Naturally, a song or two from the show has made its way onto my iPod. The “Black & Gold” routine may have been forgettable (a rarity from Hip-Hop choreographers extraordinaire Tabitha & Napoleon, otherwise known as Nappytabs), but the song is a keeper.

18) “Any Which Way” by Scissor Sisters

Best Bee Gees impersonation

This is the only recent release on the list. I didn’t want to pick of-the-moment songs because, like most people, I suffer from song crushes—in and out of love when the next of-the-moment song comes along. But I have a sinking feeling I’ll be running to this for years to come.

17) “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens

Best ode to my hometown

There have been many a musical homage to the Windy City, but Sufjan Stevens seemed to tap into its heart best with his Come On Feel the Illinoise album. “Chicago” boasts jingle bells and a driving force that propels me forward. “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!” is a close second with its military drums and I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S chorus.

16) “Theme from New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra

Best ode to my new town

Sure, it’s a little slow, but it also kicks off the start of the ING New York City Marathon, and as a New Yorker, it’s hard to listen to this song and not be inspired. Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys is a close second.

15) “Illusion, Coma, Pimp and Circumstance” by Prince

Best Funk

I have long loved The Purple One, and he’s got many great songs for running. My favorite is this lesser known cut from Musicology. It never gets old with its classic electronic beats and trademark Prince story-telling.

14) “Do You Want To” by Franz Ferdinand

Best nouveau Duran Duran

Love me some FF for running. I swear they drink catchy juice and then crank out tunes. “Take Me Out” and “Lucid Dreams” are a close second and third.

13) “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” by The Beatles

Best cowbell

“I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell!” It’s a beloved Saturday Night Live skit for a reason. Everyone wants a little “More Cowbell!” in their lives, and The Beatles gave us plenty. It’s far from my favorite Beatles song, but definitely my favorite one to run to, followed closely by “Here Comes the Sun” and “I’m Looking Through You” (both the album and Anthology versions). More cowbell (or handbell as the case may be)!

12) “Hey Ya” by Outkast

Most likely to make me dance while running (also known at rancing)

Who doesn’t want to “Shake it like a Polaroid picture”? I sure do. This song is like happy juice. Sure, it’s made some lists as an earworm, but I still love it, especially when I’m running.

11) “Now” by Mates of State

Best harmonies

Songs with great harmonies never get old while I’m running. They give me something to focus on—that is, if I need something to focus on. I can always count on Mates of State for some fun, upbeat harmonies. And the repetitive mantra, “Now, now, now, now, now, now, now” sure helps me power up a hill.

10) “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake

Best song from an iPod commercial

The talk-singing that Cake so often perfected, along with the “Hey/Ho” back-up shouts and a “Na na na na na na” chorus, make this song a perennial fave; I’ve loved it for almost 10 years now. So I wasn’t surprised when Apple tapped it for their latest Nano commercial. I often find myself fist-pumping to the “Hey’s” and “Ho’s.” Yes, I’m that runner. If you ever see me doing it, chances are I’m listening to Cake.

9) “Hung Up” by Madonna

Best sampled track

Yes, sometimes “Time goes by so slowly” when I’m on a run, but not when “Hung Up” is blasting in my ear. The song borrows its main riff from ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” But unlike most sampled songs, Madge improved on the original. Yes, “Ray of Light” is still a Madonna running fave, but “Hung Up” is my go-to song.

8 ) “Idioteque” by Radiohead

Best Electronica

This song is for locking and loading. With its heavy beat, I imagine I am punching my way through mud with every step. Radiohead has a few other good runners, like “Everything In It’s Right Place,” but this once just keeps me surging forward.

7) “My New Philosophy” by Kristen Chenowith and Stanley Wayne Mathis

Best Show Tune (Stage)

For anyone who’s ever had a personal mantra, or just wanted to act like a brat, “My New Philosophy” is a delightful, up-beat rant. The song from the 1999 Broadway revival of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown made Chenowith a star. I fully recognize that it’s a pretty random pick for a power song, but something about all that yelling gets me pumped up. Call it the Broadway equivalent of Heavy Metal.

6) “Get Happy” by Judy Garland

Best Show Tune (Movie)

I get happy every time this song pops up on my running shuffle. I’ve been an official Judy Garland fan for about 20 years now, and this tune from “Summer Stock” is my all-time favorite Judy number (tied with “The Man That Got Away” from A Star is Born). Guaranteed to put you in a good mood.

5) “Don’t Rain on My Parade” by Bobby Darin

Best Vegas-style Swing

It’s one of the all-time best self-empowerment anthems. I happen to love the Bobby Darin version, but, of course, Barbra Streisand’s original from Funny Girl is great too. The kids from Glee tackled it as well, but borrowed rather heavily from Babs, whereas Darin gives it his own swingin’ spin. And because I’m a huge Bobby Darin fan, “As Long as I’m Singing” is my second place pick.

4) “I’m a Wheel” by Wilco

Best angry anthem

I’m generally a very positive person, a bright side Sally, if you will. So sometimes it puzzles me that I love this song with such a cynical hook: “I’m a wheel. I will … turn on you!” But man, it just pumps me up on runs. Incidentally, it’s also a great break-up song.

3) “Gamma Ray,” “Girl,” and “E-Pro” by Beck

Best Beck

Yes, he gets his own category. When it comes to running, Beck is my main man. I could make a Top 10 list of running songs just from Beck alone. Picking the best one is a Sisyphean task. I still can’t decide, so those are my top three. The faux-surfer vibe of “Gamma Ray” always gives me an energy surge, the Atari-esque intro of “Girl” always makes me happy—even during the worst of workouts—and the guitar riff on “E-Pro” always makes me want to rock out a run. Thank you, Beck, for being a friend to runners everywhere.

2) “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin

Best Classic Rock

The ultimate song for wanderlust sufferers, “Ramble On” is an anthem for road warriors everywhere. It’s easy to run with the wind in your face and rain on your back and keep on keeping on with lyrics like, “Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I’ve got one thing I got to do. Ramble On! And now’s the time, the time is now!” “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey is a close second for both Classic Rockers and wanderers.

1) “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay (Thunderpuss Mix)” by Whitney Houston

Best Club Mix

I don’t know what it is about this song. Maybe it’s the heavy-handed techno beat. Maybe it’s the girl-power lyrics. Maybe it’s Whitney’s soaring vocals. Whatever the reason, I can listen to this song over and over and over on a run, and it will always see me through.

What are your power songs?

For even more great running songs, I highly approve of Fitness magazine’s The FITNESS Top 100 Workout Songs, which includes more of my iPod staples like “TNT” by AC/DC, “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce, “Whip It” by Devo, “Sorry” by Madonna, “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite, “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliot, “Feel Good Inc.,” by Gorillaz, “Where are We Runnin’” by Lenny Kravitz, “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J, “Runnin’” by Pharcyde and lots of other goodies.

Now it’s your turn. What are your power songs?

Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes.

Photo by Dan McKay

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


10 2010

7 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    My favorites include:

    “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen
    “Distance” by Cake
    “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira
    “Eye of the Tiger” by Suvivor

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Awesome stuff! The Distance almost made my list too!

  2. Ian #

    “one more time” – daft punk

  3. 4

    During the Staten Island Half a guy that passed me was singing “I got soul but I’m not a soldier” top of his lungs. Judging by the kind of speed he was able to sustain by mile 10, that has to be a good power song.

    These are a few of my power songs:

    stereophonics “dakota”
    motley crue “kickstart my heart”
    band of horses “the funeral”
    whitesnake “still of the night”
    pulp “like a friend”
    limp bizkit “rearranged”
    placebo “black eyed”
    iron maiden “fear of the dark” “the trooper” and “wasted years”

    Last but not least, and definitely not a power song but just a great “running” song: bob seger “against the wind”

  4. Gabrielle #

    Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma”
    Madonna, “Holiday”
    Q-Tip, “Vivrant Thing”
    Sammy Hagar, “There’s Only One Way To Rock”
    AC-DC, “Back in Black”
    Beastie Boys, “Root Down”
    ZZ Top, “Gimme All Your Lovin'”
    Iron Maiden, “Run to the Hills”
    Van Halen, “Running with the Devil”
    Led Zeppelin, “Over the Hills and Far Away”
    and many more!!!

  5. 6

    Well done on the Radiohead and the Peter, Bjorn and John.

    I would say:
    “Animal” Miike Snow
    “Dog Days are Over” Florence and the Machine
    “Alligator” Tegan and Sara
    “Your English is Good” Tokyo Police Club

  6. 7

    Good call on the Zeppelin: Ramble On is my favorite!

    Some of my personal favorites:

    Teonova – Maynard Ferguson
    Use The Force – Jamiroquai
    Brooklyn – Youngblood Brass Band
    Earth Jam – Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
    You Had Me – Joss Stone
    More and More – Blood Sweat & Tears
    25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago
    Jupiter – Earth Wind & Fire

    And recently, my favorite has been “Underdog” by Sly and the Family Stone


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