Not many people can claim that a Turkey Trot changed their life, but when I was 22, it happened for me. All throughout my youth, I avoided any form of exercise, especially running. When I got to college, I became a half-hearted elliptical machine user, but only because I thought I was fat and I knew how to strategically plan my workouts to coincide with my crush’s. So by the time I started working the front desk at the Tempe YMCA during grad school, I figured I was pretty much a lost cause for exercise, especially running. Somehow, though, even though I rarely worked out at the Y, one of my managers convinced me to participate in the branch’s Thanksgiving fun run. I spent a few weeks unenthusiastically slogging through my 12-minute-mile-paced training. When the big day came, I don’t recall having good form or an awesome finishing time, but one thing I remember well: as I approached the final leg of the race, my two managers picked up the tape the first place winner had broken through and held it up for me to break through. Then they led everyone at the finish line in cheering for me as I approached. Crossing that first-ever finish line was a magical moment of victory, camaraderie, and—appropriately—thanksgiving. It was also the first time I ever thought, “Wow, I actually enjoyed that” after running.
Since then, regular running and competing in short-distance races have gradually become a part of my life. I never, ever thought I’d say this, but I now genuinely look forward to the time I can spend sweatily pounding the pavement around my neighborhood like a mouth-breathing Saint Bernard. Yes, for the health benefits, like everyone tells you, and yes, for the weight control aspect, like everyone claims, but the thing they don’t tell you about running is this:
Running makes you feel strong.
I’m a small person. Small in stature—5’4” and 110 pounds—and also, I sometimes feel, small of heart and weak of courage. I’m the world’s most nonconfrontational humanoid with an irrational fear of cockroaches (I call my husband home from work to kill them) and people-pleasing streak the size of the Serengeti. Far too much of my time is spent ridden with anxiety. I want to change these things, though, and when I run, I feel like maybe I actually can. Running isn’t for wimps. It’s dang hard, even when you’re used to it. Your knees ache and your heart is petitioning to be expelled from your body. When it’s all said and done, you look like the worst version of yourself, like you just gave birth to triplets in a swamp. But pushing through the difficult and the unpleasant builds endurance and a strength of character that could—and hopefully does—trickle out to the rest of life. My favorite fitness instructor at my old gym used to say to motivate her classes, “How strong are you today?” I could be half dead on the floor, but every time she rolled that question out, I swear, I showed up in my own skin and gave those squats and curls my all. “So strong. That’s how strong I am today,” I wanted to say with my body. So strong for myself, for my kids, for my future. Unstoppably strong.
So a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Sia song “Unstoppable”—which, by the way, happened in the Target parking lot, where I rocked out like I was getting psyched up to fly to freaking MARS—I knew it was headed straight for the top of my running playlist. To a relentless beat, the words go: “Put my armor on, show you how strong I am… / I’m unstoppable / I’m a Porsche with no breaks / I’m so confident / Yeah, I win every single game / I’m so powerful / Don’t need batteries to play / I’m invincible / I’m unstoppable today.” Whoa. Sia needs to slap an “Ultimate Running Theme Song” trademark on this piece, like, immediately.
On my next go-round on the treadmill, I listened to several songs on Sia’s This Is Acting album and experienced one of the best runs of my life. The album is full of pounding, soaring empowerment ballads. Besides “Unstoppable,” the song “Reaper” had me basically sobbing with catharsis at a 6.7 mph pace. For the songwriter, it’s a song about coming back from the edge of a near attempt at suicide. As I listened and ran, though, it became an anthem in the face of the “reaper” in my own life: anxiety. “You tried to track me down / you followed me like the darkest cloud / But no, baby, no, baby not today.” No, anxiety, you’re not getting the best of me today. Not while I’m running. And maybe, after I’m done running, I’ll keep an edge that lets me resist you a little more today than I did yesterday.
Together, music and running are a heady concoction. The right song can mean the difference between giving up and pressing on. In light of my recent discovery of the Sia’s album, I thought I’d offer some of my favorites from my running playlist in case you’re in need of inspiration. (This may seem like a familiar post, since I’ve written about my workout playlist before. But there are so many great songs to use for running and all forms of aerobic exercise, this is a whole new batch! Also, if it seems a little Sia-heavy, that’s because it is.)
How will you be unstoppable today?
Unstoppable Exercise Playlist
- “Unstoppable” by Sia
- “Get That Body Back” by Pomplamoose
- “Easy” by Sheryl Crow
- “I Won’t Let You Down” by OK Go
- “Breakin’ Up” by Rilo Kiley
- “Reaper” by Sia
- “Greener” by Tally Hall
- “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
- “Tonight Tonight” by Hot Chelle Rae
- “Try Everything” by Shakira
- “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” by Adele
- “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore
- “Bird Set Free” by Sia
- “American Girl” by Tom Petty
- “Avalanche” by Walk the Moon
- “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
- “Eyes Wide Open” by Gotye
- “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush
- “Testify to Love” by Avalon
- “Cheap Thrills” by Sia
- “Just Like Fire” by P!nk
- “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Presidents of the United States of America
- “Heartbeat Song” by Kelly Clarkson
- “Waterloo” by ABBA
- “Upside Down and Inside Out” by OK Go
- “Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2
- “Wake Waka” by Shakira
- “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder
- “Mercy” by Duffy
- “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
- “Virus Alert” by Weird Al
- “Write Your Story” by Francesca Battistelli
- “My House” by Flo Rida
- “Alive” by Sia
- “Emergency” by Icona Pop
- “Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles
- “Good Time” by Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen
- “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
- “Take Me to the Pilot” (UK Release available on Spotify) by Elton John