Tunes on Tuesday – The Greatest

Many studies have shown that working out to music can have a number of positive effects and help us to push ourselves further. Music is also strongly linked to personal memories and hearing certain tracks can transport us to a particular moment in time. In this occasional series of posts, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite tracks from my workout playlist and share some of the memories they have given me.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Tunes on Tuesday post, but a parkrun experience earlier this year inspired me to write about this particular song.

The Greatest – Sia

Picture the scene: it’s 2 weeks before my goal marathon, I really want to run a sub-24 minute parkrun to reassure myself that my fitness levels are at their peak and it’s the last opportunity for me to do so before the race. 2 weeks prior to this, I had narrowly (and frustratingly) missed it with a 24:01 and had since continued to ramp up the miles (and thus fatigue) in my legs with 18 and 20 mile runs on consecutive weekends. Could I do it?

On that particular occasion, we were still running on our alternative course due to the condition of the grass on our main route. With the intention of pushing the pace, I positioned myself near the front and shot out like a rocket as soon as the RD said go! I’ll admit, I thought the pace was a bit nippy and fully expected to pay for a first mile at 7:33, but was still hanging on as I embarked on my second lap of the park. It was during this lap, as I wondered if (when?) my legs might turn to jelly some time soon, that my iPhone shuffled serendipitously to this song and I knew I could keep digging in to reach the finish line.

Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I
Oh, I, I got stamina
Uh-oh, running now, I close my eyes
Well, oh, I got stamina

When you’re pushing the pace hard, breathing equally hard and willing the finish line closer, hearing, “I got stamina” is a great boost. I remember thinking, “yes, I do have stamina,” gritting my teeth and pushing on. I actually smiled to myself at the uncanny ability of the Apple device to play just the right track for the moment even when on shuffle. How does it manage?

The chorus, too, has just the right message for running a hard race:

Don’t give up, I won’t give up
Don’t give up, no no no
Don’t give up, I won’t give up
Don’t give up, no no no

And it was exactly what I needed to hear. With less than a mile to go, the temptation was there to slow down. I was running fast enough that a slight slowing would still see me reach my sub-24 goal that day (runner sums for the win!), but a big focus for me through this cycle of marathon training had been to improve my mental game, to make sure I didn’t mentally give up when the going got tough. The repetition of don’t give up spurred me on as it emphasised just the message I was needing at that point.

The remainder of the lyrics also have a distinctly celebratory feel to them. They’re the kind of lyrics that put you in mind of a big, movie-style finish of rousing music, heart-stopping (possibly slo-mo) action and cheering crowds as you defy the odds to reach your goal:

I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive
I’m free to be the greatest here tonight, the greatest
The greatest, the greatest alive
The greatest, the greatest alive

I know, I know, parkrun isn’t exactly the Olympics, but in that moment it was special to me and this is a great soundtrack to a visualisation, something I try to make use of as part of my mental training for an event. Even now, writing this a few weeks (er, months!) later, I can still picture exactly where I was on the parkrun course when this song began to play, still remember exactly how I felt and hearing the lyrics once more brings it all into much sharper focus. The mind is a powerful thing, and training it to believe that success will happen is a fantastic tool in your race armour.

Did it work? It most certainly did as I finished with a time of 23:26 that week. Running sub-23:30 is fairly exceptional for me (I’ve only done it on 2 previous occasions) and it was exactly what I needed heading into my marathon taper. And while I know a big part of that success was the consistency in my training and the hard work I put in over weeks and weeks through the winter, some credit also has to be attributed to this song, as without it I may have backed off the pace and allowed my mind to give up once more. Instead I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of mental training and the tools we can use to help us out.

Please note that under UK Athletics rules, racing with headphones whilst on open roads is banned. If you choose to train with headphones, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Feel free to share your favourite workout tracks in the comments below…

2 thoughts on “Tunes on Tuesday – The Greatest

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