I very rarely run to music.
I like music. I especially like music from the late ’90s. But running to music kind of bores me.
Every once in a while, I go through a playlist-creating phase and download a whole bunch of Kanye to get me really pumped up, but for the most part I listen to podcasts while I run.
I can think of plenty of good things about running to podcasts, but here are a few off the top of my head:
- They allow you to multitask. Not only are you running, but you’re simultaneously learning something. That something may be the difference between Vienna Sausages and Lit’l Smokies, but it’s something nonetheless. Knowledge is power, people.
- They’re always new. You can only listen to Katy Perry’s Firework so many times before it gets old. (I may or may not be there yet.) But your favorite podcast will probably come out every week and cover a different topic every time. Never-before-heard jokes, advice, and nuggets of wisdom. That’s running fuel for years.
- They can be funny. Sometimes it’s really nice to have something to laugh at while you’re running. Especially when you’re running uphill.
- They can be serious. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get my news from a physical newspaper these days. I get it through blogs, websites, Twitter, streaming through my phone, and, yes, podcasts. The information I process all day at work is rather narrow in scope, so I like to get a wide variety of current events coverage through my extracurricular media.
So, which podcasts get me running? These works of production genius are currently topping my charts.
The Jillian Michaels Show: I have been listening to this podcast since 2007, when it was a recorded version of a radio show on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles and I had to deal with really annoying commercials and terrible sound quality in order to get through a whole show. It was worth it then, and it’s improved in huge ways over the years. You probably know who Jillian Michaels is from her days on Biggest Loser, and you probably think you don’t like her. Give her podcast a shot. You might still not like her, but you just might fall in love like I did. Every week, Jilllian starts with a few segments on healthy living. Sometimes she has guest experts, usually doctors and nutritionists. Recent guests have included Maria Rodale (talking about the importance of eating organic) and Mark Izzo, one of the head food scientists for Post, (talking about the difficulties of healthify-ing products that are already on the market). Then she takes calls and answers questions.
What I like about it: Jillian has shifted her focus in recent years to combatting big agriculture and getting the word out about what’s actually in our food. If you care at all about nutrition, definitely check out what she has to say. She’s incredibly passionate and intelligent, and I find this podcast totally motivating.
Favorite episode: Jillian & General Mills, in which she talks about getting inside this food giant to talk to them about their “stealth health” plan for improving their products.
The Savage Lovecast: If you already like Dan Savage’s column in The Stranger and have yet to listen to his podcast, stop everything and go do that now. This was the first podcast I ever listened to, and I haven’t missed an episode since. It’s a call-in show in which Dan hands out his down-to-earth sex and relationship advice. Sometimes he comments on newsy things, especially if they involve (a) sex scandals or (b) equal rights.
What I like about it: Dan is known for his tell-it-like-it-is attitude and quick wit, so his responses to callers are always honest and often hilarious. Plus, his efforts with the It Gets Better Project put him squarely on top of my awesomest people list.
Favorite episode: This is a tough one, but I highly recommend starting with Episode 134, in which Dan gives evidence from some of the questions he’s received of just how damaging abstinence-only education is. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad and true.
The Dinner Party Download: This podcast is newer than the others listed but has grown in popularity really quickly, and for good reason. Promising to “help you win your next dinner party,” each episode includes an ice breaker (a joke from someone famous or hipster-famous), something funny from the week’s news to discuss with people (provided by various journalists from the public radio world), a history lesson (so you seem cultured), a drink to go with the history lesson (created by a different bartender each week), a main course (an interview with someone famous or hipster-famous and some food journalism), and a song to listen to “on your way to or departing from this weekend’s dinner party.”
What I like about it: It’s smart, funny, often literary, and always self-conscious. Hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Newnam are nerdy foodies who don’t take themselves too seriously. I almost always laugh aloud while listening to this one, and it’s turned me on to a few good bands as well.
Favorite episode: Episode 72: A Three-Course Thanksgiving, in which Rico samples a hot sauce with the spiciest ingredient in the world and Brendan attacks the undeserved popularity of the cupcake.
Spilled Milk: Speaking of awesome people who don’t take themselves too seriously, Molly Weizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton have done a fantastic job with their podcast. You probably know Molly from her blog Orangette, and if you’re familiar with her sophisticated, contemplative writing style and beautifully rustic recipes, you might also expect her podcast to scratch your itch for a serious auditory foodie fest. Well, it doesn’t. Molly and Matthew spend most of each podcast (in which they “make something, eat it all, and you can’t have any”) either indulging in junk food they would otherwise have no excuse to eat or making dirty jokes only vaguely related to said junk food. Every once in awhile they’ll do an informative episode on, say, the difference between long grain and short grain rice, but the for the most part they’re pretty much just having a good time.
What I like about it: The world of food blogging can get so darn somber sometimes. Molly and Matthew do a good job of reminding us what making food is all about: having a few laughs with people you really like, and eating what you feel like eating. Plus they actually do include fantastic recipes on the show’s site most of the time.
Favorite episode: Episode 39: Meat Sticks, in which Matthew and Molly try a variety of grocery store canned and packaged meat sticks. Disgusting, but hilarious.
This American Life: This is a no-brainer for me. I almost feel silly writing about this one, but apparently there are people out there who have not yet discovered the world of podcasts AT ALL, so in case you’re not familiar: each week delivers about an hour’s worth of various stories on a chosen topic. Humor pieces, works of investigative journalism, short stories, comedic sketches, interviews, soul-baring first person narratives… You get it all with this one. Host Ira Glass and co. are highly skilled at choosing relevant topics and forcing you to examine all facets of, basically, being human. I will go ahead and say it: listening to this podcast is pretty much guaranteed to make you a better person.
What I like about it: For getting through long runs, TAL is a gem. The stories are just long enough to get you involved and just short enough that you don’t get bored. And Ira’s nerdy voice is oh-so-comforting when you think you can’t take another step.
Favorite episode: This is a tie between Episode 203: Recordings for Someone, which seriously almost made me pee my pants on the subway one day last year, and Episode 361: Fear of Sleep, which features my favorite comedian Mike Birbiglia telling a hilarious story about my favorite motel La Quinta Inn.
The New Yorker Fiction Podcast: Each month, the New Yorker’s fiction editor Deborah Treisman sits down with a well known contemporary writer. Said writer chooses a short story from the New Yorker’s archives and reads it, and then s/he and Deborah have a little chat about it. Simple and straightforward, and I wish it came out more frequently.
What I like about it: I really like short stories and have discovered some favorites through this podcast that I never would have found on my own, since the featured writers usually choose pieces that they feel didn’t get enough attention when they were originally published. If you don’t like short stories, this podcast might not be for you, but try it out anyway. If nothing else, it’s fascinating to hear each writer’s personal reasons for choosing a specific story. These podcasts are good for the kind of thinking done on long, slow runs.
Favorite episode: Class Act, in which my all-time favorite novelist E. L. Doctorow reads and discusses “Graven Image,” a fantastic work by another of my favorites, John O’Hara. I really like the way Doctorow speaks, so I love coming across interviews with him, and his reading voice is just as wonderful.
There you have it, folks. If you’ve never run to a podcast before, give it a try and let me know how it goes. And if you have any recommendations for me, let me know. And I have a whole list of podcasts to which to, say, do the dishes, so tell me if you want more and I will deliver.