Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: Songza's Marathon Workout Playlist

New music can inspire a runner in his or her training, as well as new apparatus to listen to it along the way: a new device, new earbuds, or some new way of feeling charged by fresh and fast-beat jams.

Last weekend, I was especially stoked for my long run at Central Park, and this time it was because of the music. I had the Songza app's Marathon Workout playlist for a personal half-marathon.

Elias Roman, CEO and co-founder at Queens-based Songza, had graciously emailed me the link when we met last week during his lecture in NYC. I wanted to make sure a review followed.

First of all, I have to harken back to 2007, my first full year of running after I quit smoking. We still used MySpace back then. I created a group called Athletes & iPods, and it grew to a sizable membership. We were runners who exchanged our latest training music. The premise worked great then as it does now. The big difference is the way the music is delivered, and back then, we were the playlist curators.

I love the Songza app because ethnomusicologists curate the playlists. The app learns about the user through continued usage, and then caters its playlists based on your moods at the time. When I found out there was an actual marathon-training playlist, I had to jump on it.

Last Saturday was rainy, but it was a lukewarm rain and that's the best kind of running. After the NYRR Team Championships were through, I started my way on 2+ loops of Central Park. My iPhone was strapped snugly into my Nike biceps band, earbuds in, ready to roll.

Songza delivered one fast-bpm hit after another, mainly blasts from the past. A lot of '90s music mixed with recent fare. Destiny's Child. Ciara. Lady Gaga. Lionel Richie/Commodores. Nelly. Spin Doctors. J-Lo. Christina Aguilera. Songs that made me think about the performers, and in some cases the memories they brought when they were hits, whiling away the tough miles including Cat Hill and the Harlem Hill.

The highlight by far for me came just after I completed my first 6-mile loop. As I was headed under the bridge at Strawberry Fields on the bridle path, in solitary bliss, Michael Jackson's "Bad" came on. It made me fly. I pumped my fist in the air a few times, along with the beat. I spread my arms out like wings, soaring. That moment made the playlist for me.

After two hours, I encountered my first and only issue with the Marathon Workout playlist. It's a big one, but fixable.

Justin Timberlake's voice came on, and I suddenly realized that I had heard that about 6 miles in. Then I heard the familiar "Bust A Move." It was great the first time. Then another, and another. It was repeat time.

That's cool if you're from Kenya. The marathon world record is 2:06, about the same length of the Songza Marathon Workout playlist with no repeating. My PR is 5:13 and I can only hope to do that again this November at the ING New York City Marathon.

Songza's curators need to at least double the amount of music on this playlist. Do this and I will be happy and will recommend it to all my fellow marathoners. Songza: please tweet me @marathoner if you do this.

Once I get into the 3- or 4-hour range, honestly I am frequently tugging at my earbuds, needing a respite from the beat. So I can't predict how closely and how often I will listen to a playlist at that point. But I still want the fresh music to be there that long, so each song is new at least for that day's run. After the playlist became clearly in repeat mode, I bailed on the playlist and listened to iTunes.

Another option would be to create a Marathon Workout 2, although that is less attractive to me, because after a couple of hours on the hills of Central Park in the rain I'm not into opening and closing apps. What I don't want is to be asked to choose a different playlist in the workout genre. Running is running, not weighlifting or spinning or aerobics. If it says Marathon Workout, I'm using it for marathon training.

For my recovery run two days later, I opened the Marathon Workout playlist again, thinking perhaps it would be all new music, a new day. The first three songs were ones I did not recall from the long run. But then came a long line of songs that had played on Saturday, so simply re-opening the playlist was not a solution. It definitely just needs more songs curated and they need to play continuously for 4 hours or so if needed.

I am gradually getting into #beastmode again now, ramping up my training program, long runs on the weekends and speedwork and tempo runs on trails and strength training at the gym. I will need power jams along the way, and Songza's playlist is very promising so far, bordering on just right with a little tweaking.

Follow me @marathoner on Twitter

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