Music to run a marathon by: 50 tracks and 26.2 miles of audiopedal power

Submitted for the Reeler Totally Unrelated Blog-a-Thon Just 10 days away from my debut at the ING New York City Marathon. As I enter my tapering period (avg. 2 miles per day instead of 5), I'm starting to cast my attention on other preparatory matters, like which $100 pair of running shoes to designate for marathon day (currently leaning towards Nike over Saucony). But the order of this post is to compile my official marathon iPod playlist, four plus hours of music to sustain me over the 26.2 mile jaunt through the five boroughs.

Some may roll their eyes at me for choosing to spend one of the largest and most boisterous public events in NYC with my head between two earphones. Aren't the cheers of hundreds of thousands of spectators all the aural motivation one needs? My friend Eric who ran it a few years ago ran with his name written on his shirt and got a thrill from having people yell his name out encouragingly throughout the run. I dunno. After hours of training to my Nike+ iPod system I just can't imagine running without music. And frankly the thought of strangers yelling my name kind of creeps me out.

So at the risk of reinforcing my solipsistic tendencies in one of the most public events I'll probably ever experience, I'm going to run with my iPod, which means that I need to program four hours of the most motivational music I have from the 12,000 tracks I have to choose from in my iTunes drive. I like to think of myself as having eclectic tastes, but compiling this playlist has been revealing in terms of what music gets me most pumped. It's also taken me back to the lost art of high school and college mixtapes, something that the iTunes era has rendered obsolete, at least for me.

I'm going to try to arrange these songs timed to estimated points along my run (based on a target split time of 9 minutes per mile). By the same token I'm going to try to place as many tracks as I can within certain neighborhoods that I think have some resonance, though I sheepishly admit this may amount to cheesy stereotypical profiling, so forgive me that... Well here goes:

Miles 1-2: Staten Island / Verazano-Narrows Bridge

1. "D's Car Jam / Anxious Mo-Fo," Minutemen. Double Nickels on the Dime is the perfect album for getting a road trip started, with the key turning the ignition that starts this track. Also a shout out to film critic and fellow first-time marathoner Ed Gonzalez, who is getting pretty anxious as the big day approaches.

2. "C.R.E.A.M." Wu-Tang Clan. Gotta represent Shaolin aka Staten Island. Also has a mellow beat to help me tolerate being stuck in a pack of 38,000 runners for the first mile or so.

3. "Shimmy She Wobble," Otha Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. From the Gangs of New York soundtrack - has a great anticipatory quality, like the biggest ass-kicking is waiting on the other end. No wonder Scorsese tapped it.

4. "Bo Diddley," Bo Diddley. The wobbly rhythm segues perfectly from the drumbeat of the previous track, and the song has a reassuring steadiness.

5. "Baba O'Reilly," The Who. Image of Pete Townshend ostentatiously strumming his guitar over this song's grandiose riffs will help me get into a stride as the pack stretches open.

6. "I Feel Free," Cream. Another song to open things up - especially when Clapton comes in with that seagull-in-flight guitar solo, which I expect will land me safely from the Verazano-Narrows onto Brooklyn.

Mile 3: Bay Ridge

7. "Kashmir," Led Zeppelin. If long-distance running did not exist, they would have invented it just so people could run to this song. This part of Brooklyn has a heavy Pakistani population - or at least it used to pre-9/11 before thousands were profiled, harassed and deported.

Mile 4: Sunset Park

Brooklyn's Chinatown, but sorry, there isn't a Chinese song that's sufficiently pumped for this occasion. Instead I'll pick:

8. "Firestarter," Prodigy - in honor of my students back in China and the amazing Christmas party we had in 1998 when I single-handedly introduced rave culture to the city of Jinan.

9. "Without Me," Eminem - in honor of MC Rei, the best rapper I know in Beijing and one of the most fascinating people I met when I was there last December.

Mile 5: Red Hook - no particular associations with this neighbohood so I'll just go with a couple tracks to bring out the high school trackstar in me:

10. "Hollaback Girl," Gwen Stefani - this should have been the climactic theme song of what would have been the best teen comedy ever.

11. "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry

Mile 6: Carroll Gardens/Park Slope

Two songs in honor of friend and longtime Carroll Garden resident Will Comerford:

13. "Can't Turn You Loose (Live)," Otis Redding - as featured in Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema. For the better part of a year Will and his wife used to have Otis playing every time I stopped by for dinner - it became a bit of a running joke

14. "Complete Control," The Clash

Mile 7: Boerum Hill For former resident Eric Sommerfeld, who turned me on to classic Jamaican music:

15. "54-46 (That's My Number)," The Maytals - Eric and I saw Toots & Co. at S.O.B.s back in 2003.

16. "Joggin," Freddie McGregor (which has the most outrageous rationalization for jogging - so that God's chosen people the Rastafari will be fit for Armageddon)

17. "Take It Easy," Hopetown Lewis

18. "Roadrunner," Jonathan Richman - in honor of Eric's Boston roots.

Mile 8: Downtown Brooklyn

19. "Beautiful Day," U2. For Grant Koo, who first introduced me to this neighborhood during my first week as a NYC resident. He once sang this during a karaoke outing ("TOOOOUCH me! Take me to a better place!")

20. "Tomorrow Never Knows," The Beatles - A dose of psychedelia 30 years ahead of its time to put me in a transcendental pace as I approach the 1/3 mark.

Mile 9: Clinton Hill

21. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" Michael Jackson - from the first album my family ever purchased for me, and for their generosity I was treated to many a car-bound lecture on the perils of homosexuality as the cassette accompanied us on weekend trips to Chinatown.

22. "Hypnotize," Notorious B.I.G. - courtesy of Brooklyn's finest, produced by my nemesis. On senior night of college graduation week I requested this song and it stopped the dance floor dead cold until someone's request of the B-52's "Love Shack" resuscitated it. 10 years later at reunion this was the first song they played and everyone was grinding. Sigh.

Miles 10-11: Williamsburg - entering hipsterville, ergo:

23. "Teen Age Riot," Sonic Youth - for Cindi, and not far from where she and I watched SY perform the entire Daydream Nation album earlier this summer

24. "Losing My Edge," LCD Soundsystem. The desperate clang-beats and flailing street-cred assertions of James Murphy add fuel to my fire... sadly because I identify with this song more than I should admit. Still this song has the perfect tempo to establish a mid-marathon stride.

25. "Finer Feelings," Spoon. One of my favorites of this year so far - this song takes 20 pounds off my shoulders just listening to it.

Miles 12-13: Greenpoint - I associate this neighborhood with having a strong trans-Atlantic flavor

26. "(There's Going to Be a) Borstal Breakout," Sham 69. I envision the non-existent video for this song consisting of a single Sam Raimi steadicam shot following the singer breaking out of prison, running across the North England countryside, stopping for twelve rounds of ale at his hometown pub and then crashing into his own house to greet his wife - except the cops are waiting there for him. Bloody brilliant track.

27. "Black Milk," Massive Attack. It was a toss-up between this and Daft Punk's "Da Funk" and I guess at this point I'd rather be soothed than pushed.

28. "Run Like Hell," Pink Floyd. This song is like a cool ocean breeze blowing through your hair when you run.

29. "Trans-Europe Express," Kraftwerk - perfect for crossing the Pulaski Bridge into Queens - and I am halfway there!

Miles 14-15: Long Island City - some gritty songs for this industrial stretch

30. "Down on the Street," - The Stooges - so many good Iggy Pop songs to run to (half of Raw Power alone could work), it's hard to pick just one. But I pick it in honor of the scene where this plays behind Meg and Jack White in Coffee and Cigarettes. Which leads to...

31. "The Hardest Button to Button," - The White Stripes - question: is it Riverside Park, Central Park, or some park in Jersey where they shot the video? Anyway, moving on to...

32. "Shake a Leg," AC/DC - which played along with half of Back in Black before the Stripes' show at Madison Square Garden this summer - which prompted me to play it on my iPod to remind myself of how much I loved this album in high school. Speaking of which...

33. "Jump Around," House of Pain - so many memories around this stupid song I couldn't begin to relate.

Mile 16: Queensborough Bridge

34. "Jump," Van Halen - the ascent to the zenith of the bridge is the hardest incline of the race - need to summon the power of Eddie and David Lee.

35. "Sweet Jane," The Velvet Underground - can't think of a better song with which to triumphantly enter Manhattan.

Mile 17-19: Upper East Side

36. "Once in a Lifetime," Talking Heads - a very strangely uplifting and soothing song, like riding on the back of a humpback whale through suburban desolation (or in this instance the Upper East Side).

From here on out, it's time to pull out the big guns - some of my favorite old-school hip hop to break through the wall:

37. "The Power," Snap - played to death in 10th grade, then revived nostalgically in David O. Russell's "Three Kings" - though maybe due to the Persian Gulf context of that film I can't disassociate this song from images of smart bombs exploding.

38. "Don't Believe the Hype," Public Enemy - The bassline and drums are so rock solid mellow it puts you in a trance despite the squealing samples.

39. "It Takes Two," Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock - The main hook is like being sat upon by a 800 pound gorilla named Sir Funky Bottom. "I wanna rock right now!" - greatest opening line to a song ever?

40. "Strictly Business," EPMD - Proof that you don't have to trade in gangbanging iconography to sound badass. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith Mos' Def'nitely outdo Eric Clapton trying to outdo Bob Marley.

41. "Follow the Leader," Eric B and Rakim - This video is wack - they should have had them in a spaceship navigating through an asteroid belt and blasting into hyperspeed. Taking hip hop on a journey to the cosmic. Rakim, the greatest rapper ever.

Mile 20: Spanish Harlem - my brother says

42. "Coulibaly," Amadou and Miriam (this neighborhood has seen a large influx of African immigrants) their Summerstage concert last year was one of the most joyous experiences I've had in NYC

43. "Ain't Nothing But a G Thang," Dr. Dre - I think if I get drunk enough I can still rap this verbatim. Memorizing this was how I spent my first semester of college - at least it helped flex my mind for memorizing Chaucer.

My brother writes: "Ain't Nothing But a G Thang in Spanish Harlem? How about reggaeton / salsa / cumbia?" Sorry, but "Gasolina" would probably give me a headache at mile 20 and if I run to salsa I might hurt my hips.

Mile 21: Bronx

44. "Pump Up the Volume," M/A/R/R/S ("Hey all you homeboys in the Bronx, this one's for you") - almost lost its coolnes factor by being featured in Michael J. Fox's Bright Lights Big City as well as many 80s sporting event timeouts, but time has been kind to it.

45. "What You Know," T.I. - apparently not enough, as Total Idiot got himself arrested last weekend for possession of an illegal firearm. Still, the hook on this track is like a golden carpet inviting you to run freely on it for miles...

Mile 22-23: Harlem

46. "Give It Up or Turn It Loose (Remix)," James Brown - From In a Jungle Groove - not the regular version but the juiced up with some unbelievably funky rolling thunder drumming, sounding live and cooler than David Holmes in an icebox, with JB's grunts and squeals goosing you on from start to finish like the godfather of drill sergeants.

47. "Bring It On Home to Me (Live)," Sam Cooke (from the Live at the Harlem Supper Club album) - this track was homaged in the immortal opening sequence of Michael Mann's Ali.

Mile 24-finish: Central Park

48. "Steppin' Out," Joe Jackson - my quintessential Upper Manhattan song. Heard it when I was in 2nd grade and it made me want to be a grown-up.

2 miles to go - time to pull out the big guns:

49. Opening medley from Ramones: Live NYC 1978: "Rockaway Beach," "Teenage Lobotomy," "Blitzkrieg Bop," "I Wanna Be Well," "Glad To See You Go," "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment," "You're Gonna Kill that Girl" Pure audio adrenaline.

And the final song for going across 59th St: Needs no introduction or justification.

And if they happen to be playing this over the loudspeakers of Central Park South I promise I will tear my iPod off my armband and toss it to the crowd.

Speaking of donations, thanks to all of you who helped me meet my fundraising goal for the cancer patient charity Team Continuum! I'm still welcoming contributions, just check out my athlete page for info. Or better yet help my buddy Ed Gonzalez meet his fundraising goal by visiting his page (and check out his "photo").