Top 5 Songs for a Runner!

For those of you who only know me, Mike McHenry, in passing, or as the ‘guy who DJed your wedding’, you might not know that I’m an avid runner. I used to weigh in about 80 pounds heavier, but after I saw my wedding pictures, believe it or not, I made the decision to lose weight and make myself into the guy that I wanted to be for my wife (at least physically.)

It wasn’t easy. This isn’t an excercise blog, so I’ll spare you the details, but I lost about thirty pounds doing things the wrong way, and about another 50 doing things the right way. Doing things the right way is the way to do it, and that means diet and exercise. Anyone who tells you that there is some new diet or 5-minute a day exercise plan that will strip pounds of body fat is feeding you a line of bull. It takes pools of sweat, tears, and hours upon hours of time to make this kind of life change happen, and you have to really, really want it. A marathoner buddy of mine turned me on to a book at the right time in my life called “Born to Run” that got me to actually enjoy running, but I still need to listen to music to truly get my mind into the right place. I’m a musician, so I’m driven by rhythm, melody, and harmony. Hearing music while I run helps me zone into the art of running faster than just listening to my own breathing.

I’m a marathoner, too, and one things marathons (and training sessions thereof) are good at doing is really wringing every last little bit of gumption from you, leaving you in a lifeless puddle of sweat along the side of the trail or treadmill. I use the following five songs to turn on the heat in the final stretches of a training run or race – each one comes with a personal guarantee to get the blood flowing (faster), the legs thrashing (faster), and the sweat dripping (faster.)

Keep in mind that in order for me to really write this post, I had to comb back through hundreds of Pandora bookmarks, my personal Spotify playlist JUST for running, and really pick just five songs that I’d be able to trust to get me to the end of a run or race. I am sitting on a library of songs that could and would carry a person through a run, so if you’re interested in me basically DJ-ing your next run, hit me up and I’ll send you a Spotify playlist based on what I know about your musical tastes, etc. This is just my personal recipe after a few years of seeing what works, and picking five was really tough. I wanted to get one or two new tracks in there so people understand that I see the value in Top40 dance tracks. Hear me now, and thank me later – “When in doubt, download the Billboard Top 40 and just use that as a launching pad for playlisting”… if it gets people dancing, it’ll get you running and keep you running.


Stay with me here. Any person out there who likes rock and grew up in the 1990’s will remember the hook of this track. Forget the guitar, forget the vocals. This track is all about the drums. Anyone who’s seen me run knows that I like to air drum, and this song has almost thrown me from the treadmill on more than one occasion. I love it and refuse to apologize.

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This is kind of a heavy song to run to, but when you’re in the final moments of a long sprint you need something meaningful to drag performance out of you. This song is about the loss of a friend, and not being there when it matters. I tend to think about how unhealthy I was when I was overweight and what it would be like if I passed away because of an unhealthy lifestyle, leaving my wife behind in the process. When that thought crosses my mind, I always manage to give it another 30 seconds of fight.

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Quite literally, this song asks me to give more.  Again, you’ll find the same drum hook as the Korn track during the chorus of this song, so I definitely have a soft spot for the offbeat hi-hat and dance snare tracks while I’m running – maybe because they are particularly easy to air-drum? The lyrics to this song are really appropriate for the last moments of a run, too, and I tend to lip-synch (or scream) them while they’re happening :  Know y’all been patiently waiting, I know you need me, I can feel it / I’m a beast, I’m an animal, I’m that monster in the mirror / The headliner, finisher, I’m the closer, winner / Best when under pressure with second’s left I show up…

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This one might surprise you.  I tend to not really gravitate towards country music, but lately there’s been a whole batch of country artists that I love. Zac Brown, Lady Antebellum, Sugarland… there’s a bunch. Makes me want to be in a country band, to be honest. The thing that I love about this song is that the tempo, while slower, is still really strongly established, and that the song BUILDS. It’s easy to air-drum, and there are a slew of great guitar fills. The lyrics are easy to remember, and when I crank the song, all I can think about is how much my wife loves me… she drove with me and Eric to Bloomsburg to sit with us in the DJ booth all night… then drove with me another hour to Scranton, just so that she and I could get up early and she could sit and wait for me to finish a marathon. Then she drove me home. She’s my biggest fan and when I hear this song I imagine her at the finish line of every run, and every race.  The video to this song is pretty lame. Great band, though.

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Again, no apologies for this one.  I know every word and lip-synch it every single time no matter what part of a run I’m in. During the marathon, I listened to this song twice in a row right around miles 16-18… so you know it’s good. It’s good for near the end of a run because the hook is quite repetitive, yet infectious. I spent some time earlier in the summer in San Francisco, and while it may not have been the true subject of this song, running along the ‘Bay Area and Back Down’ / ‘Frisko’ to this song was really inspiring. Made me wish I could’a been there in Compton for all that cool stuff that happened in the 90’s…? Oh wait.

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So don’t take this list as a demonstration of what my musical preferences are – while I do like all these songs, they get a specific response from me, and that’s to get all kinds of jacked up at the end of a run. Right now there are a lot of great songs that didn’t quite make the cut, although they were really close. Yeah 3X is great, anything by Lady Gaga is worth playing, especially ‘Summerboy’ and ‘Edge of Glory’… and I’m a big fan of LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’ for the way it builds. The great thing about songs that build is that it’s really hard to maintain negative splits in a run – where your miles get faster as the race goes on – and songs that build up in intensity help coax extra performance out of you to make the negative splits happen when they otherwise might just coast out.

What songs do you like when you run? Hit us up and let us know, we’d love to start a big collaborative playlist on Spotify that helps us go the extra mile!

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