It’s only 1.6 kilometers. 5,280 feet. 63,360 inches. And yet somehow, no matter how far you can run, the first mile often feels like it stretches on to infinity.
Sound familiar? First-mile malaise is a real thing. It takes your body time to transition from active rest to full-on road warrior—and coincidentally, that warm-up phase of approximately 7–10 minutes is about what it takes many of us to run a mile. But the secret to going the distance might be as simple as a kick-ass playlist at the ready.
Science shows that music makes a difference when it comes to athletic performance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2014 found that participants ran the first two laps of a 5k faster when they had a soundtrack—any soundtrack.
A study found that participants ran the first two laps of a 5k faster when they had a soundtrack.
And anecdotally, that plays out. Music helps writer (and member of London running collective Run Dem Crew) Jessica Noah Morgan set the pace during those initial minutes of a race. “Running can seem boring when you start out,” she admits. Her fix: pumped-up pop by Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and Destiny’s Child. “It’s a distraction from the muscle aches and irregular breathing. It definitely spurs me on.”
That’s true for runners of all experience levels. “Music helps me focus on positivity and ignore pain,” says long-distance runner and Olympic medalist Kara Goucher, who relies on Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik—basically, anything with a tempo that gets her invigorated to tackle her training.
The beat is indeed crucial when compiling your own song queue—Mile High Run Club coach Shodan Rodney often blasts EDM to kick off his classes. “I want [runners] to be hyped—the first song should be a pretty captivating song, something that draws them into it.”
Can’t remember the last time you went to a club (never mind enjoyed being at one)? You’re not completely out of luck. “It’s not always EDM—I’ve played a remix of ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman,” Rodney notes. He’s not alone in this thinking. “I don’t buy into ‘the faster the tempo, the faster you will run,’” says Charlie Dark, founder of Run Dem Crew. His pick: anything from jazz legend John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. “Running is more about mediation for me, especially in the early miles.”
Ready to test out that theory? Sync up this first-mile playlist, featuring songs that expert runners use to kick-start their workouts.
First Mile Motivational Running Playlist
1. “Slow Hands,” Niall Horan
“I love pop hits that have a good beat. I listen to it on my afternoon easy runs.” –Kara Goucher, long-distance runner and Olympic medalist
4. “Waterfall,” Stargate (Seeb Remix)
“It has a good flow to it. When the beat drops, you’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’” –Shodan Rodney, coach at Mile High Run Club
5. “Om Shanti” by Alice Coltrane
“It’s rocking, soulful gospel with the third eye-opening energy you might find on a mindfulness playlist at a yoga studio.” –Knox Robinson, co-founder of Black Roses running collective
For tunes to get you through mile two—and beyond—here are the songs that Spotify users swear are the most motivating. Or just listen to the workout playlist that everyone in Hollywood is obsessed with right now.