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These beats help move Grandma's Marathon runners' feet

Once Laura Johnson hits the 26-mile mark of Grandma’s Marathon, she plans to queue up a specific tune by a specific Colorado-based indie folk band.

“How it Ends” by Devotchka has become her favorite finale as she has trained to run her first marathon. The song features the wobbly vocals of Nick Urata and a spare piano that swells to an orchestral pop sound.

When Johnson trains, her husband bikes alongside her with their 2-year-old pulled behind in a Chariot bike trailer. As her run winds down, she has him play the song on his phone.

“I’ve gotten used to it being my strong finish song,” she said. “Mentally, it gets me in the finish mode.”

The News Tribune asked its running readers to share training music playlists and received responses ranging from Earth, Wind & Fire to John Williams’ theme from “Jurassic Park” to, well, nothing.  

Johnson’s pick crops up regularly on her Avett Brothers Pandora radio station alongside the likes of Mason Jennings, Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers and Alison Krauss. Pandora is an Internet-based radio station that collects what individual listeners like and don’t like and suggests new music based on those responses.

The Avett Brothers lead Pandora to the music Johnson favors both for running and casual listening, she said.

“It’s a fantastic mix of indie rock, folk and bluegrass that, for whatever reason, gets me in the running spirit,” Johnson said. “They’re pretty mellow. My husband described it as the anti-running mix. You envision yourself sitting in a dim bar and drinking a PBR. I’ve tried (other stations) … I just couldn’t get into it.”

Tim Wright, on the other hand, will listen to almost anything.

“I’m almost ABC — Anything But Country — but there is some old school Brooks & Dunn and Bellamy Brothers and Alabama,” said Wright, who was raised in Solon Springs and now lives in Sauk Rapids, Minn.

His eclectic taste runs from the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” He’ll crank ABBA, Fleetwood Mac and Rage Against the Machine, depending on the length of his training run, the weather and the time of day.

“Music has been a huge part of my life,” he said. “I appreciate how hard it is and how unbelievable these musicians are. When you’re on a run, that type of thing inspires me: How they put a song together, how Fleetwood Mac harmonizes, that’s the kind of thing that motivates me.

“(Also) it can be distracting,” Wright said. “It gets me in a different place or a different mood.”

Wright runs about six marathons a year with finishes that have allowed him to qualify for Boston Marathon. This year will be his 14th Grandma’s Marathon — a personal favorite course.

Emily Butler, of Andover, Minn., is a pop music fan, both on and off the training course. Her list includes artists such as Katy Perry, Gym Class Heroes and OneRepublic. She’s running her second half-marathon Saturday.

“For training, I pretty much can’t do it without music,” she said. “I can’t zone out enough without it.”

Kyle McMillan of Duluth loads his playlist with songs that are inspirational for personal reasons, he said via email. A lot of his picks fuel dramatic scenarios.

“Wipe Out” by The Surfaris takes him back to a scene from “The  Sandlot.” “March of the Swivelheads” by The English Beat makes him think of the character Ferris Bueller using trampolines as he races to his parents’ home, he said.

“ ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen for each time I pass a runner that has hit the wall,” McMillan said. “ ‘Run, Freedom, Run!’ from the musical ‘Urinetown,’ because I’m a theater guy and swinging gospel music gets my heart pumping. … The theme to ‘Jurassic Park’ by John Williams, which gets you in the frame of mind to outrun a pack of velociraptors.”

McMillan is running his seventh consecutive Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday.

Marathon officials banned the use of headphones in 2007, in compliance with USA Track & Field’s no-headphone rule. It was mandatory for sanctioned road races that year because of safety concerns.

That ban was lifted in 2009, but “Grandma’s Marathon-Duluth, Inc., strongly encourages a headphone-free environment during the running of Grandma’s Marathon, the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon and the William A. Irvin 5K,” according to its website.

No music is preferable to Jim Chaffee. He’s a purist. The Duluth construction worker, who will run his sixth half-marathon, said he hears enough banging all day.

“I love music, but the last thing I want to do is listen to more clutter while I’m training,” he said. “I never listen to any music. I take in my surroundings along with unwinding from life’s everyday stress. Duluth doesn’t need a music distraction for me.”

Even some of the heavy listeners will set aside the running mix on race day. Butler will set aside her headphones. So will Wright.

This is Johnson’s first — and last, she said — 26.2-mile race. She has run half-marathons and 5K races in the past. She’s never used music to get through a race and isn’t sure she will be plugged in for the whole course. She might just save it for the home stretch.

“I think I’m going to have my music with me on race day and then decide then if I want to listen or if I don’t,” she said.

Johnson said she enjoys the sounds from the spectators along the course.

“It’s so special,” she said. “I don’t want anything to take away from that.”

What are they listening to?

The News Tribune asked running readers to share running playlists. Picks came via Facebook, email and Twitter and included responses ranging from “Jump” by Van Halen to podcasts to the “Mama Mia” soundtrack.

Here’s the list:


“Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” McFadden & Whitehead

“Angry White Boy Polka,” by Weird Al Yankovich

“Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen

“Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line

“Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson

“Enter Sandman” by Metallica

 “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

“Feel Again” by OneRepublic

“The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes

“Get Up Offa Dat Thing” by James Brown

“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

“Hall of Fame” by The Script

“Hillbilly Bone” by Blake Shelton

“How Far is Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys

“How it Ends” by Devotchka

“Howl” by Florence and the Machine

“Ignition” by R. Kelly

“Jump” by Van Halen

“Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine

“Lifelines” by Florence and the Machine

“Lisztomania” by Phoenix

“Lose Yourself” by Eminem

“March of the Swivelheads” by The English Beat

“Mercy.1” by Kanye West, etc.

“Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men

“Mr. Roboto” by Styx

“My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” by Fall Out Boy

“The Next Episode by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg

“Pause” by Pitbull

“Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa

“Remember the Name” by Fort Minor

 “Roar” by Katy Perry

“Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect

“Run, Freedom, Run!” from Urinetown

“Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne

“Sabotage” by Beastie Boys

“Shining Star” Earth, Wind & Fire

“Space Jam” by the Quad City DJs

“Start Me Up” Rolling Stones

“Theme from Jurassic Park” by John Williams

“Time to Run” by Lord Huron

 “Wipe Out” Sufaris




Al Green

The Avett Brothers


Bon Iver


Def Leppard


Fleetwood Mac

Girl Talk

Whitney Houston

Marvin Gaye

Alison Krauss

Gordon Lightfoot

The Lumineers

Modest Mouse

Mumford & Sons

The New Pornographers




Stone Temple Pilots

James Taylor

The Temptations

Van Halen


Kanye West

Stevie Wonder


Miscellaneous mentions

“Chariots of Fire” soundtrack

“Mama Mia” soundtrack


Techno music

No music