Music to run to. Rawk or Rap? Or should I listen to Nike?

skreamRegular readers will know that I’m a die-hard iPod wearer with a taste for rock music of the most unfashionable ilk imaginable. Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple anyone? Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks? Classics, the pair of them, and just the things to match your pace to if you’re a slightly greying plodder like my good self.

However, times and fashions change; and I have been told many times that Rap beats Rock when it comes to keeping you motivated while running. So, always being willing to ‘get down with the kids’ (though not in a Wacko Jacko sort of way, obviously), I’ve recently borrowed a couple of CDs by such luminaries of the modern music scene as Eminem and 50 Cent (or Arfur Dollar as he’s known round here) with a view to testing modern music against classic rock as an aid to recreational running.

Well, first off, I couldn’t quite get my head around rappers’ obsession with, I presume, dog obedience classes and gardening respectively. It’s all bitches and hoes and I really couldn’t see the point.

Secondly, I run for a bit of feel-good factor…you know, the wind in your hair, that sweet rush of endorphins, the blessed relief when it stops…and I just couldn’t get my running mojo to go to its happy place with ‘Many Men (Wish Death)’ assaulting my delicate sensibilities. So, sorry rap fans, but that was the end of that experiment.

And then, those nice people at Nike+ sent me a voucher for one of 1,000 free tracks featuring someone called Skream. It was billed as ‘over 30 minutes of bespoke motivational music’ and that sounded just great. And it was a free download from iTunes, and that sounded even better. And then I put it on my iPod nano, and it sounded just awful!

No, really. When did making music simply become a matter of turning on the drum machine and going off for a lie-down? Can’t read music? No need. If you’ve got a drum machine, a keyboard with some annoying sounds on it, a pan lid to clank with a rusty fork and an absolute hatred of all things harmonic or rhythmic, you can now have a music career. So, cutting to the chase for a second, ‘Galassia’ by Skream fails utterly as a piece of music.

Is it any good as a motivational tool though? Well, kinda sorta. Once I’d run through the slow and aimless ‘warmup’ section of the track, then worked out that the 140 beats per minute was just that bit too quick to follow on a six mile run, I was able to tune it out slightly and not let it bother me too much. In fact, If I’d been running 4 miles instead of 6, this might even have been a useful ‘tool’ to run to, in much the same way that a metronome helps learners to play the piano.

What it certainly wasn’t was musical, far less enjoyable. In fact, the only bit of the track that sticks in my head is about 20 minutes in, when the annoying clanking sound alternates between your ears for a few seconds. But as that’s the kind of thing my 13-year-old does when he’s composing tracks on Garageband, I wasn’t exactly lost in admiration for the musicality of it all.

The long and the short of it is that the classic rock of my youth delivers roughly the kind of BPM I can run too, along with pretty high standards of musicality. Oh, and dreadful lyrics too, if I’m honest.

So look, if you really want great music to run to, start with Edge of Seventeen, Perfect Strangers, Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, Dreams I’ll Never See and Ride Like the Wind. Hell, with your headphones on, no-one will ever know.

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Calibrating your Nike+iPod. The idiot’s guide.

nike2First off, can I just ask you not to take offence at the title of this post, as the idiot in question is me, not you. And that’s because the first couple of times I tried to calibrate my Nike+ unit I made a dreadful hash of it, through a combination of 1. Failure to read the instructions and 2. Spectacular ineptitude.

However, as a result of this, I ended up putting far more thought than was necessary into getting the calibration right, and as a result, seem to have gotten the accuracy of the unit virtually perfect.

I should probably admit that my early failings were caused by trying to calibrate the unit over a measured mile, rather than the 400m which is the recommended distance, as well as by inverting the ‘sender’ part of the unit when I strapped it to my running shoes. Naturally, it doesn’t say in the instruction that the unit won’t work if it’s upside down, as they assume that you will have at least a room temperature IQ in order to buy the unit in the first place, but trust me, it doesn’t work upside down.

Where I finally stopped myself from getting a place on the Darwin Awards nominations was when I finally realised two important things: 1. You need to measure 400m accurately in order to use that distance for your calibration run. And even more importantly, 2. You need to have already run at least a mile or so before you attempt your 400m calibration run.

That’s because, no matter how much I love mine, at the end of the day the Nike+ is just a glorified pedometer. So when you calibrate it over 400m (I used mapmyrun.com to find a suitable street that’s exactly 400m long) what you’re actually doing is telling it how many strides it takes you to run 400m. The unit then uses this as a hard, fast guide to how many strides you will take to run each 400m, whatever the distance you run. So, obviously, if you’re as fresh as a daisy, you’re going to be able to run 400m reasonably quickly, and crucially, taking fairly large strides, which gives the unit a completely false impression of your usual stride length.

Consequently, you’ll then go off to run a few miles, during which natural fatigue and thoughts of energy conservation will cause you to take shorter strides than on your calibration run, meaning that when you finish a run you know to be exactly 4 miles, and the Nike+iPod unit tells you that you’ve run 4.4 miles, you will decide that it’s rubbish and lose all faith in it.

However, calibrate the unit when you’ve run off a bit of your youthful exuberance, and your stride length will be much more typical of the stride length you average on training runs, and the accuracy will be greatly improved.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Nike themselves didn’t think to include this recommendation in their own instructions, as I’m pretty sure that it works. But maybe I just missed my vocation. Maybe, instead of writing ads and books, I should be wearing a white lab coat over at Nike in Oregon? Maybe someone, somewhere is going to give me an honorary Phd for this discovery. Remember, you heard it here first…