1. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run
No man has ever been as adept as The Boss at capturing the feeling of escape in rock music. Propelled by the ace rhythm section of the E-Street Band, “Born to Run” is Springsteen’s most enduring anthem—a call to arms (and legs) for tramps like us with an instinctual need to put our motors to use and flee.
2. Eminem: Lose Yourself
Marshall Mathers penned “Lose Yourself” to motivate aspiring rappers like the one he portrayed in 8 Mile, but his rousing words ring just as true for athletes hoping to achieve greatness. Eminem’s take on the classic message of giving 110 percent sticks because of his undeniable conviction—and that aggressive beat, of course.
3. Bill Conti: Gonna Fly Now (Rocky’s Theme)
Conti’s iconic, trumpet-laden Rocky theme may be coated with several layers of cheese, but the song is no less effective at doing its job—instigating its listeners to rise above adversity and kick some ass—because of it. If there’s a song better suited for an inspirational montage, we haven’t heard it.
4. Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream
Petty has roughly 371 songs in his repertoire that espouse the virtues of chasing your dreams, but none hammer the point home as well as “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and that’s largely due to its simple lyrics and no-frills chorus. And with a bluesy guitar riff that constantly sounds like it’s racing toward the finish line, the song acts as a de-facto running buddy.
5. Kanye West: Stronger
Undeniably huge with industrial-sized synthesizers and a vocal sample lifted from techno titans Daft Punk, “Stronger” is relentless. With a credo for a chorus that every competitor can get behind—“That that don’t kill me can only make me stronger”—West crafted a song to help us push through pain and complete that last, toughest mile.
6. Cake: The Distance
Cake’s ‘90s hit is ostensibly about a lonely racecar driver, but its lyrics freakishly describe what every runner who’s ever churned through a marathon has felt by the midway point: “They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank, fuel burning fast on an empty tank. Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns, their prowess is potent and secretly stern.”
7. Outkast: B.O.B.
“B.O.B.” blasts off at 154 beats per minute and never lets up, twisting through an amalgam of styles (from hip-hop to jungle to metal to gospel) while MCs Andre 3000 and Big Boi try to fit in as many words as they can before they self-combust. A song about the end of the world that sounds like the end of the world, is there any other track more appropriate for one last sweat session on Earth?
8. U2: Beautiful Day
Filled with equal moments of early-morning tenderness (for your dash at dawn) and emotional triumph (for your victory lap), U2’s stirring song is the perfect soundtrack for a jog outside on—you guessed it—a beautiful day. Bonus points for this Bono line, in which the singer acknowledges that sometimes we just need to run: “You’re on the road, but you’ve got no destination.”
9. Elvis Costello: Pump It Up
Driven by a steady, albeit frenzied backbeat that veers from awesome into straight-up nauseating territory by the final coda, “Pump It Up” is the pub-rock equivalent of an alarm clock: It keeps going and going, employing the same repetitive organ hook until you’re prompted to get the hell up and hit the pavement. If only every song could be so motivational.
10. The Darkness: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
The Darkness’ lone U.S. hit is unabashedly corny, showcasing cringe-worthy falsetto vocals, glam guitars, and at least 10 too many mentions of the word “touching”—but no one can deny how hard it rocks. Crank it at parties and it’s impossible not to bust a move; crank it to start your afternoon run and it’s impossible not to break a sweat.
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