Be kind to your mind and make podcasts your new running buddy

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: August 15, 2018
  • Published August 15, 2018

I suppose the easiest route to triple-digit comments on a Facebook post is to spout an incendiary political commentary, or ask people about their favorite podcasts.

I asked about podcasts last week and watched, eyes widening, as the thread grew and grew.

It started because it was my long run day. I sat sipping my coffee extra-slowly, thinking about the hours stretching ahead of me on my feet. I'm training for the Equinox marathon in Fairbanks in mid-September, and the runs on my calendar have only gotten longer and hillier as my plan has progressed.

I run for a duration of time, not miles, and that Saturday my calendar told me I needed to run for between 4.5-5 hours. That's a road trip to Denali. That's a flight to California. That's when I'm most of the way through a work day and have waited too long to eat; it's a double-feature movie.

I was wringing my hands about what to do with my poor old brain. Sure, when race day rolls around I won't be plugged in. But then, unlike during my training runs, I'll have the high of race day and the energy of other runners to buoy me. As I run through those beautiful fall Fairbanks woods I've been picturing, I'll think about how every step and every minute gets me closer to the finish line. Closer to that unique form of post-marathon exhaustion beyond exhaustion combined with euphoria.

Typically I combine a few different tactics to keep myself motivated during long runs.

I may run with someone for all or part of the run. The downside to this for me is that while I love catching up with friends, I also covet the alone time I get from running. It can take all or most of my brain space to focus on moving forward and staying positive, and sometimes when I'm also focused on conversation it feels doubly draining. Still, going for part of a long run with someone helps me to break things up, shaving off an hour or two here or there, so the rest of it doesn't feel as long.

There's music, of course. But that gets old. And I hate that even one song that rubs me slightly the wrong way can impact my mood, which is a fragile and mission-critical thing when running.

So, enter podcasts.

I admit that podcast people, probably myself included, can be fanatical in their enthusiasm. Since the dawn of podcasts in the mid 2000s, genres have exploded. You can download and listen to these bite-sized (typically ranging from 30 minutes to an hour) audio files on topics ranging from current events, true crime, short stories, music, comedy and so much more.

Podcasts have made folding laundry enriching. I scrub down my bathroom to podcasts; I paint; I commute. And they've vastly improved my long runs.

While running, my mind is receptive to any level of stimulation. Listening to an episode of a favorite podcast while running can set off fireworks in my head. I feel synapses fire in concert with bursts of endorphin-fueled euphoria. I want to share what I've just heard with the world, convinced it'll be made a better place with whatever revelations have just poured into my brain.

Yes, it's like I said — it becomes fanatical. I try to convince other people to listen. Like any new hobby or habit, it can be hard to pick up listening to podcasts if it's not already a thing you do. So I try to share and convince people, like my grandma, my dad, my best friend, to just get over that first hump and listen to a damn podcast.

So, with that, podcasts are readily accessible via streaming on the internet and on a number of free podcast phone apps. You can even download podcasts for airplanes, or, say, for long runs that may not have great cell signal.

Like with anything else, I recommend being wary of where it's relatively safe in Alaska to have earbuds in, and where it's not. For my long runs along the Old Glenn Highway, I'm pretty confident I'm not going to run into any bears.

Here are some of my favorite shows:

This American Life. The exact same as the radio show on NPR, but you can download the full hour-long episodes to listen to when it's convenient.

99% Invisible. An incredible and varied series that takes deep dives into the design and thought behind everyday objects and phenomena in the world around us.

Rough Translation. Another NPR podcast, this beautiful series explores worldwide perspectives on issues we talk about in the United States.

Midnight Oil. Produced right here in Alaska via APRN, this excellent podcast delves into the complex history and impacts of oil development in Alaska.

Reply All. An entertaining podcast mostly about the internet.

Love + Radio. One of my very favorites even though it's often one of the most difficult, this show features in-depth interviews that often challenge my morality. Not for the faint of heart.

Some of the shows recommended to me:

Living Myth with Michael Meade. I listened to one episode, No. 82, and was absolutely sold. A stunning and straightforward reflection on life and spirituality.

In the Dark. A Peabody Award-winning true crime podcast.

Ear Hustle. Life inside San Quentin State Prison, produced by two inmates alongside a volunteer artist.

And those are just the ones I've been able to listen to.

Here's to many more miles with many more podcasts, something that have truly made the 21st century a pretty great time to live (and run).

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.