Taking classical music in stride, runners ‘beat Beethoven’

 (<a href=Jogger photo via ShutterStock) " title="joggerx338" width="600" height="336"/>

(Jogger photo via ShutterStock)

When runners choose something to put into their ears while they run, they commonly pick something that keeps them going — something with a driving beat and maybe inspiring lyrics.

Springsteen’s “Born to Run” may be a cliche, but it gets the job done.

So does the theme to “Chariots of Fire.” Don’t roll your eyes until you’ve tried it.

But most classical music does not work well as an exercise aide, with a few exceptions. For inspiration, many classical music lovers use the airy brass opening of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” For a driving beat, there are the racing strings in Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

This week, patrons of the Kennett Symphony ran en masse to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. They were asked to “beat Beethoven” by completing a 5K run before the 32-minute opus completed. The famous theme of the Fifth has enough propulsion to have been reimagined as a disco hit in the 1970s.

Getting runners to tune into classical music is a growing trend among orchestras. The Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio are just two others that have asked runners to “beat Beethoven.”

Even to classical music lovers, it can be a tough sell.

“Recently I’ve run to a recording of Gershwin overtures. I enjoy running to the faster movements of symphonies — Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich,” said Robert Hoch, a clarinetist with the Kennett Symphony for 30 years. “But I really found that I enjoy running to jazz, probably more than classical. It’s so much more upbeat — it sometimes help me increase my pace.”

For years, Hoch preferred running with no musical accompaniment. The 61-year-old is asthmatic, and he runs to keep his lungs strong enough to play clarinet. He uses classical music in his headphones when he is feeling mellow, sticking with his favorites.

“I don’t want to listen to a lot of new things when I’m running,” said Hoch. “If I want to listen to something new or something I’m not that familiar with, I prefer to do that at home in the quiet of my living room.”

Some runners prefer a musical mix

Classical music is rarely the only genre on an MP3 playlist. Todd Zalewski, an illustrator living in Philadelphia, mixes classical music with classic rock, hopping from Pearl Jam to the Winchester Cathedral Choir.

“The instrumental classical music will help me focus my mind, I’ll repeat my running mantras then — ‘You are stronger than you think, you can do more then you think you can,'” wrote Zalewski in an email.

Singer Suzanne DuPlantis, a mezzo-soprano in East Falls, uses classical music when she is multitasking. She runs to art song that she has to learn, so that while her legs are getting exercised, her brain can work through the new music.

Otherwise, she uses music to sort of tune out.

“Would it be too simplistic to say it’s a distraction?” said DuPlantis. “I feel like a different part of my brain is churning. It clicks off the, ‘Wow, this is uncomfortable and hurts,’ and turns on another sphere.”

“When I don’t have anything to do, no homework, I’ll listen to jazz. Sometimes James Taylor,” said DuPlantis, who does not run competitively and does not like to run in groups of any kind. “I’m going against the stream. I’m not trying to be fast — just be outdoors and do exercise. It’s not about speed. I don’t think I’m like other runners. Or maybe I am. I don’t know.”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal