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(Originally Published Nov. 4, 2004)

Run to the Music

Carol Pope up the hill, Tom Cochrane down

The Dorian Gray of pop, Dick Clark, has observed that "music is the soundtrack of your life." It's a silly statement: if you're going to have a soundtrack, music is pretty much your No. 1 choice. But he's right about your life needing a soundtrack.

A year ago this month, I was required for medical reasons to begin a daily regimen of exercise. After a lifetime spent avoiding physical exercise, I started walking a 16-minute mile each day. I continued to progress to the point where I now do four miles a day at between 12:15 and 12:45 each, mixing fast walking with running. With warm-ups and cool-downs, that's something over one hour. And I do it at an agreeable park that features a creek along with cricket and soccer fields.

Some people might be able to do this with just the thoughts rattling inside their skull for entertainment. I found I needed music. But as the exercise evolved, so did the selection of music and its delivery method.

At the beginning, I would grab any old CD, pop it into the portable disc player, and head out. But the player was relatively heavy and all that bouncing caused it to skip. At the same time, sitting in your living room listening to an entire album is one thing but running to it is quite another. Dark Side of the Moon is great when you can sit and savour it but you can miss an awful lot of its subtleties when you're running.

The answer: a tiny MP3 player (with high-quality lightweight headphones) full of songs chosen to coincide with the landmarks on my run at the park.

The warm-up is courtesy Aerosmith's Sweet Emotion, an amiably goofy tune from 1975 with a good driving bass line you can use to pace yourself. And it lasts almost exactly five minutes, which is my warm-up time.

Two songs later, I get to the start of a steep hill that takes two minutes to climb at a brisk walk. This calls for Carol Pope's High School Confidential, a 1981 number with a mercilessly constant slow pounding of drums and bass that practically carries me up that slope.

After I've made that hill, and just to show that I'm not stuck in "oldies" mode, on comes the anthemic 1997 hit Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. The refrain -- "I get knocked down but I get up again" -- paces me to my best sprint times, usually close to seven MPH.

A couple of songs later, I've returned to that hill and now I run downhill at breakneck pace to Tom Cochrane's No Regrets, a 1991 ditty with rythms like martial music. This one leaves me laughing with delight at the end of the downhill sprint. It is also easier to understand how martial music can propel soldiers into battle.

Now we're in the home stretch. With less than three-quarters of a mile to go, here's Steve Earle and Copperhead Road, a 1987 tune about John Lee Pettimore's war with "the revenue man." When that song shifts into its first all-guns-blazing instrumental riff, it's impossible not to do 7 mph.

Sadly, as Gordon Lightfoot sang in The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, "the skies of November turn gloomy." And they turn cold, meaning there are precious few park days remaining before it becomes necessary to return to the (indoor) treadmill. But that's another soundtrack.

Email to joel@joelruimy.com

Copyright 2004 Joel Ruimy

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