Step By Step: My bad rock soundtrack is an exercise in distraction

Okay, my taste in music may not be great, but even Theory of a Deadman can help alleviate the mind-numbing boredom of running

Running on empty: Damian Cullen finds running monotonous without his headphones. Photograph: Alan Betson

Running on empty: Damian Cullen finds running monotonous without his headphones. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A few years ago my car was broken into. The few dozen CDs I had hidden in plain sight were, apparently, too tempting to resist. Driver’s window broken. Compartments opened. CD cases checked.

Nothing was taken.

It’s still a running joke in my household: apparently, the biggest surprise was the thief didn’t leave behind some music for me to listen to.

Admittedly, I have terrible taste in music. This wasn’t always the case, but somewhere along the way my path strayed from rock and skipped into a little of everything.

It’s safe to say my taste is varied: currently the most frequently played tune on my phone is the new-age classical piece All of Me by Jon Schmidt, a Colorado-based pianist. The second most frequently played is Bitch Came Back by Canadian hard rock band Theory of a Deadman.

That’s right. Varied.

Both songs work as the perfect accompaniment to exercise.

There are hundreds of websites ready to give you the “Absolute Ultimate Complete Top 100 Songs to Listen to While You Run”. They point to the motivational benefits of music: the beat of the songs fitting neatly with the pace of the run. But that’s not the benefit of wearing earphones while exercising. At least, not for me.

I decided to go for a jog last weekend along a quiet country road; my first foray into the real world of running (outside a gym) since I began this recent fitness pursuit/struggle.

Naturally, I drove the half-mile to the starting point.

It was a learning experience. My earphones are seemingly specifically designed to discourage physical exertion by the wearer. Any movement beyond walking pace causes the earpieces to dislodge annoyingly from where they are supposed to sit snugly, causing a ridiculous amount of flustering while trying to maintain an already pathetically slow pace.

I have spent much of my life fighting with earphones, whether untangling them or wondering why one earpiece is faulty by the time I’ve left the shop, while the other one is, apparently, indestructible. (While we’re on the subject: to anyone on a treadmill, wearing headphones makes your farts silent only to you.)

The lack of music didn’t spoil the run: it did, after all, take part in a beautiful part of the Irish countryside. But it did mean the endeavour quickly became an effort, and then a struggle, each step bringing with it heavy breathing.

This is because running is mind-numbingly boring. It’s wonderfully effective, on a treadmill, in a park or on a road, but it’s also monotonous and uninteresting.

Fitness columns are not supposed to point this out. It’s like wondering aloud about the lack of clothes worn by the emperor.

But this is where headphones are a godsend. Music is a distraction. It lowers the perception of effort. Eureka. Of course, it doesn’t have to be music at all, as radio and podcasts also fit the bill. You lose yourself in the discussion, and before you know it, 10 or 15 minutes have passed without you noticing. And that keeps you going for another 10 or 15.

My mind is a suspicious beast and it now scowls if I even think about exercise, reminding me that my calf muscles are still not talking to me since the last session.

The downsides of wearing earphones, shorts and runners include damaging your eardrums (don’t have it on too loud) and being a danger to traffic (try not to wear earphones anywhere that the music might drown out the din of an 18-wheeler).

However, anything that can fool the mind into thinking the body is actually not exerting itself as much as it is, has to be a winner. I’ve looked it up. I’m a “dissociator”. And, according to at least one opportunistic thief, tone deaf.

Damian’s stats

Age: 39 Height: 6ft Weight: 15st 2lb (minus 1st 5lb) BMI: 28.6 (-1.8) Fat: 27.4% (-2.2)

Figures in brackets indicate change since March 10th, 2015, when Damian started to change his diet and exercise habits, and to write this column.

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