Speeding past the enormous golf ball-like geosphere of Epcot Center’s Spaceship Earth, sweat slicking off my burgundy running shirt, I get an encouraging thumbs up from Minnie Mouse. The sun continues to rise on Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort as thousands of racers from all over the world sprint toward the finish line of runDisney’s Race for the Taste 10K. The “Ratatouille”-inspired race takes us around World Showcase Lagoon and through Epcot’s mini recreations of Morocco, Japan, Mexico, China, etc. Darting around the so-called happiest place on Earth, I hit the six-mile mark after about an hour and finally see the end in sight.
Already, I want to do this again.
Bingeing two different series recently about health and longevity has made me massively grateful for my running journey. The Netflix docuseries “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” investigates the diet and lifestyles of people who live the longest around the world. Exercise, of course, is an essential factor. “Limitless,” another docuseries over on Disney+ (starring actor Chris Hemsworth, Marvel’s Thor), also explores how to combat aging and discover the full potential of the human body. One episode talks about endurance training and its importance in building up healthy mitochondria. My semi-regular running in New York City’s Central Park seems to qualify as endurance practice, so I’m thankful I’m into it.
Like any geek worth their stripes, I grew up dreading gym class. I had my baseball phase like any red-blooded American boy, but the only sport that ever meant anything to me was boxing, mainly because of charismatic pugilists like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. I never joined any teams throughout school. It was only when my wife started mentioning love handles that I decided to hit the asphalt way into my adulthood. Running made sense to me. I’d already been meditating for years. The disciplines feel very similar in that you’re one with your thoughts out there, solo. All you need are sneakers, stamina and a great playlist—music has always put a battery in my back.
My first time out, sometime in 2008, I ran a mile in the Parc Picasso (we were living in Paris at the time) — and kind of hated it. But I went jogging the next day anyway, up and down the super-long Avenue Raspail on a regular basis. Back then, a sensor in the sole of my Nike sneaker tracked my pace and distance, which appealed to the nerd in me. (Smartphones on the horizon soon made that tech obsolete; these days, I wear a pair of Hokas and an Apple Watch equipped with the Strava app.) Before long, I signed up for my first race: the 2009 Nike+ Human Race, a worldwide 10K with hundreds of thousands of runners. My wife and I ran a half marathon together through the French capital months later. At 37 years young, I’d found my fitness routine of choice.
Though I stopped running after we moved to Manhattan in 2011, the interruption didn’t last. Jogging through the busy streets uptown never appealed to me; instead, the six-mile loop inside Central Park became my new running track. Eventually, in November 2019, I joined the likes of Sean Combs, Alicia Keys, Kevin Hart and Oprah Winfrey by completing my first New York City Marathon at 48—in five-and-a-half hours, with a 12:38 pace.
What kept me motivated? Music.
For anyone needing a push into his or her own running routine, I recommend using music as a personal power source. With some sweat-resistant earbuds and a smartphone, any playlist you put together provides inspiration to put one foot in front of the other and stay the course. I ran my marathon wearing a pair of Powerbeats Pro, streaming musical motivation from Nicki Minaj’s “Megatron,” James Brown’s “The Payback,” Kamasi Washington’s “The Rhythm Changes,” Biz Markie’s “The Biz Is Goin’ Off” and more.
Knox Robinson — one-time editor-in-chief of The Fader magazine and now co-founder of the Black Roses NYC running crew — is a longtime writer buddy who’s now run over 25 marathons, embracing his life’s act-two calling as a running coach. He mentioned years ago to Runner’s World magazine (Knox once graced the cover), “I have a playlist of spiritual vibes and astral jazz, sax with sitars and harp—Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Carlos Santana. Basically, it could either be spiritual jazz or low BPM stuff like trap music.” Use whatever works for you.
Building an effective playlist for pumping adrenaline and staying motivated is subjective. But the best strategy involves choosing picks that set a comfortable pace—and at least one power song for picking up speed. Personally, I survived the final half hour of my marathon with the 168 BPM “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz on repeat. The footfalls of my average running pace match that song’s bass and snare drums exactly, helping me avoid slowing down.
Regular running will reveal your own perfect match through routine. My own playlists alternate hip-hop and R&B songs with a varied range of beats per minute. Using two songs that you know total 10 minutes can be helpful for timed runs without the aid of a smartwatch or app. Nearly any music you love hearing can help motivate you to stick with it, especially beats with a driving pulse. More of my favorites include Nas’ “Made You Look,” The Roots’ “Thought @ Work” and Azealia Banks’ “212.”
My New York Road Runners‘ stats say I placed 274 out of 308 in my age group (50-54) during my most recent 10K. I definitely run my own race without feeling competitive, and I suggest you do, too. I typically average a mile every 10 minutes — and I’m fine with that. A misconception about running culture might be that runners are constantly shooting for new personal bests, obsessive over stats. Not this runner, and in fact, not many runners. It’s entirely permissible to bring whatever attitude you want to the practice.
With my lifelong health in mind, I have a long-range intention to run many marathons. Not over 25 of them, no, but one for every decade until my 70s. With the 2024 New York City marathon around the corner, I’ve got some training to do, beginning with runDisney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend in early November. Never underestimate the encouragement of a wave from Minnie.
Disney provided complimentary travel and accommodations for the writer of this article; all opinions are his own.
Miles Marshall Lewis (@MMLunlimited) is an author and Harlem-based cultural critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Rolling Stone and many other outlets. Lewis is currently finishing a cultural biography of comedian Dave Chappelle, his follow-up to Promise That You Will Sing About Me: The Power and Poetry of Kendrick Lamar.
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