The Perfect Running Playlist For Musical Theater Nerds

Grab your sneaks, Broadway geeks.

Author by Theresa Fisher
Art credit: Megan Schaller

I am an unremarkable, non-competitive runner. I don’t care about logging my runs or setting a personal record. But I do care, tremendously, about fueling my runs with carefully curated playlists. And almost all of them feature songs in the key of Broadway.

So, with help from the internet and Costas Karageorghis, a researcher at Brunel University London who’s an expert on the psychology of exercise music, I picked 11 show tunes that are begging to be belted out, jazz hands and all, next time you hit the pavement. 

I used two main criteria to narrow down my choices:

Rhythm response
Musical tempo is measured in BPM, or beats per minute. Workout remixes of songs are often touted as being “high BPM” (meaning about 128 or higher). But when it comes to making a running playlist, according to Karageorghis, who breaks down the particulars of choosing workout music in his newest book, Applying Music in Sport and Exercise, BPM is less important than rhythm response, meaning the pulse extracted by the runner’s brain. “It’s how one feels the beat that is the key criterion in all of this,” Karageorghis said, “regardless of what the tempo assignation might be.”

In fact, a song with too high a BPM (over 145-ish) might overload your brain during a run and increase the challenge of keeping your legs in sync with the tempo. “If a track has a slow tempo but a complex and pronounced beat,” Karageorghis said, “runners can take one stride cycle on each beat,” a rhythm that he’s found works particularly well.

Emotional power
When you feel emotionally connected to a song, listening to it can distract you from negative thoughts — I’m bored, what just cracked, why do I get up in the morning — and motivate you to keep moving. Songs that tell vivid, immersive, character-driven narratives are particularly adept at evoking strong feelings.

The Songs

Song: At The End Of The Day
Show: Les Miserables
Year: 1980
Duration: 4:53
Why: A warm-up song to drown out the mental chatter
Hear me out: In this cri de coeur of the working poor in 19th-century France, we meet Fantine, a slut-shamed single mom whose daughter “lives with an innkeeper man and his wife and she pays for the child. What’s the matter with that?” Nothing, Fantine, nothing at all. The song’s crisp, staccato beat will help you find a rhythm and Fantine’s tale of woe will tug at your heartstrings — unless you don’t have a heart and/or are not fond of exposition-heavy showstoppers. 

Song: My Shot
Show: Hamilton
Year: 2015
Duration: 5:33
Why: A high-octane pace-setter
Hear me out: There are entire Hamilton-themed workout classes. Which is to say, the soundtrack itself could be your running playlist. But this anthem of perseverance is practically engineered to make you stomp your feet. Karageorghis agrees: “Syncopation (emphasis of the main beat) and brass stabs, which characterize the rhythmic feel of “My Shot” imbue a track with energy and give it an inherently stimulative feel.'”  

Song: You Can’t Stop The Beat
Show: Hairspray
Year: 2002
Duration: 5:25
Why: To help you build speed
Hear me out: I once declared this song “more annoying than Snooki.” But this fast-paced, sugary ear-worm won me over. I, too, should not and cannot stop the beat.

Song: Dance: Ten; Looks: Three
Show: A Chorus Line
Year: 1975
Duration: 2:52
Why: Wildcard  
Hear me out: Originally called “Tits and Ass,” this song moves quickly and draws you into the story of Val, a once-floundering dancer whose career took off after she “had the bingo-bongoes done.” Val’s dreams, we learn, came true with “just a dash of silicone.” The ’70s must have been a swell time to be a woman.

Song: And The Money Kept Rolling In
Show: Evita
Year: 1978
Duration: 4:22
Why: Rhythm maintenance 
Hear me out: Evita is peak ALW/TR, IMHO. Caustic, clever, and catchy as hell, this zippy number goes after Eva Peron for exploiting and swindling the masses who worshipped her. Evita’s laundered charity funds kept rolling, rolling, rolling … in and out. You just keep running, running, running.

Song: Moving Too Fast
Show: The Last Five Years
Year: 2001
Duration: 4:05
: To get you over the mid-run hump 
Hear me out: This song finds Jamie, one of the play’s two characters, narrating his ascension from struggling writer to literary wunderkind. If you think Jamie is kind of insufferable, like I do, then hate-run your way through this boastful, beautiful song: The Atlantic Monthly’s printing my first chapter. Two thousand bucks without rewriting one word!” 

Shut up, Jamie.

Song: I Heard Your Voice In A Dream
Show: Hit List, from Smash
Year: 2013
Duration: 2:33
Why: To dredge up emotions
Hear me out: Hit List, an “edgy” musical in the vein of Rent, only made it to Broadway in the fictional world of ABC’s (canceled) musical camp-fest Smash. Let’s call that a technicality and move on. I’m not sure if this song is a tale of heartbreak, repentance, revelation, or something else. Regardless, it’s invigorating. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s sung by Jeremy Jordan, who could turn the The Facts of Life theme song into a stirring ballad. Cry-run your eyes/legs out/off.

Song: La Vie Boheme
Show: Rent
Year: 1996
Duration: 4:25
Why: Because it’s time to get buzzed on flow
Hear me out: Singing along to “La Vie Boheme” is one of the more accessible forms of pure joy I’ve found in life. Let the witty, zeitgeisty rhymes — “to apathy, to entropy, to empathy, ec-sta-sy, Vaclav Havel, The Sex Pistols, 8BC” — carry you into a flow state. (Note: The music picks up around :45)

Song: Anything Goes
Show: Anything Goes
Year: 1934
Duration: 5:48
Why: To make you smile during the dregs of your run
Hear me out: Sutton Foster (who played Reno Sweeney in the play’s 2011 revival) exhibits the full range of positive emotions in this snappy Cole Porter song-and-tap classic. The tightly constructed lyrics are cheeky in the best way — while also managing to be both hilariously outdated and, at times, so 2017. (The world has gone mad today, you guys.)

Song: One Day More
Show: Les Miserables
Year: 1980
Duration: 4:17
Why: A penultimate song that’s peak-everything
Hear me out: I promised myself I wouldn’t include more than one song from any show. But how can I not call attention to the run-extending magic of what’s arguably the most iconic number from Les Mis?  Play “One Day More” towards the end of a run, when your energy is starting to wane, and I guarantee that you will keep chugging along. For added motivation, consider throwing your arms up in victory and shouting “one miiiiiile morreeee.”  

Song: It’s Your Wedding Day
Show: The Wedding Singer
Year: 2006
Duration: 3:55
Why: Every run needs a happy ending
Hear me out: I only heard this song — the show’s opening number — for the first time a few days ago, on the recommendation of a coworker who takes his show tunes seriously. The song is flashy and bouncy and a little bit saccharine, just like an ’80s wedding standard should be. When it comes time to wrap up your run, let this song take you home tonight.

Here’s the full 48-minute playlist

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