The Marathon Diaries: How My iPod Saved the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

I wasn't sure I'd make it through the last four miles—and then Belinda Carlisle came up on my playlist.

Annie's all smiles after completing the Rock 'n' Roll Half.

Last week’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon is a major stop on the Philadelphia Marathon journey for a lot of runners. It’s a great way to test your training while still giving you enough time before the Big Day to tweak a few things in your plan. It’s not a surefire prediction of your marathon experience, but it’s definitely a huge help.

For this race, I had a finish time of 2:30 in my head. It would give me a 30-minute cushion for the marathon and a big confidence boost. With the pep talk from John Bingham fresh in my mind, a great long run the week before and perfect weather, I was itching to get moving.

I met up with my friend, Meghan, before the race. Even though we didn’t plan to run together, it was nice to have a buddy for all of the pre-race rituals, especially the never-ending Porta Potty line. It was in that line that we realized that Meghan had somehow lost her headphones between my apartment and the start line. The look of pure terror on our faces said it all: How would she run for the next two hours without an iPod? Luckily, I had stuck an extra pair of headphones in my Spibelt (if you do not have one of these really awesome fanny packs, get one) because I’m equally fanatical about my running playlist.

I know, I know—I’ve heard all the lectures: running with music is distracting and unsafe, and you shouldn’t do it. Thing is, sometimes it’s the only reason I make it through a run. I have a pre-race ritual of handcrafting a playlist tailored specifically to race day. This race was no different; I had an hours-long lineup of everything from Guns N’ Roses to Grease, and I knew it help me get through 13 miles.

I love the Rock ‘n’ Roll course because it winds its way through the same parts of the city that I visit every day, except the streets are filled with happy runners and bands. Between the crowds and live music, the first five miles of the race felt unreal; I was moving along at a pretty good pace, didn’t feel like my legs would fall off, and had a smile on my face. That’s really all I can ask for in a race.

This dream run lasted until mile nine, when my legs started to tighten up. The crowds were thinning then, too, the bands were fewer and further between, and happy runners were hard to come by. The tighter my legs got, the slower I ran; the slower I ran, the tighter my legs got. It was a vicious cycle and I knew I had to break it before I ended up in a contorted heap of muscle cramps and hunger pangs on Falls Bridge.

And here we are, back to my playlist. At the exact moment when the thought “This is the worst I have ever felt” raced through my head, Belinda Carlisle came blasting through my headphones. Thank god for ‘80s pop icons. I promised myself I’d run through this song, and then I could slow down. But the Belinda was followed up with Brooks and Dunn, and then West Side Story, and then Kanye. How are you going to slow down when Kanye West is telling you you’re a monster? Answer: you’re not.

The last four miles of the race definitely were’t as easy as the first nine, but after blocking out everything and listening only to my music, I was suddenly at the finish line. My smile came back pretty quickly—another 13 miles on the books!

While I didn’t quite hit my goal of 2:30, I was able to take 15 minutes off my PR with a 2:41 finish. It’s impossible to be really disappointed in yourself if you’ve beaten your PR by over a minute per mile. I finished strong and knew that I had more in me. I also knew that these next few weeks of training are going to be seriously important. It’s one thing to have to push yourself through another four miles, but I’ll be running double the distance in two months.

This gives me 56 days to cook up a killer playlist to power me through the marathon. What do you guys listen to while you run? If you don’t listen to music, how do you distract yourself? I need some help!


Annie Acri is an administrative assistant at the Drexel University College of Medicine and is working toward her master’s of communication degree. The 2012 Philadelphia Marathon will be her second marathon. Follow along every Tuesday as Annie posts about the ups and downs of training as she prepares for the big race on November 18th. Catch up on the series here.