Why I think Classical Musicians are Pre-Programmed to Be Runners

In the middle of a recent 10-mile run while on vacation in the Outer Banks of NC, I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing. I mean this was a vacation. A break from reality over a long weekend. At the beach. With good company. And I consciously brought with me my running shoes, running clothes, & fuel belt – all so I wouldn’t fall off of my training too much in preparation for an upcoming half marathon trail race.

So, I found myself running past the Wright Brothers Memorial knowing why I was running – to get the mileage in for my training – but pondering why I enjoy it so much and why it feels so natural to me now. And this is when it hit me. Since I was 4 or 5 years old, I have been playing a musical instrument of some kind and, therefore, preparing for recitals and concerts. If I didn’t put in enough hours practicing the music for these performances, I would be completely unprepared and would likely fail. If I procrastinate (which I am very prone to do) and try to cram all the practicing into a short period of time just before the performance, pain will ensue because I have not trained my muscles properly and built up the requisite calluses & scar tissue necessary to play pain-free. The exact same thing can be said of training for a road race – especially the longer distances, such as a 10K, half marathon, and marathon. If you don’t get enough mileage in the weeks & months leading up to a race, it’s going to hurt and you run the risk of injuring yourself and possibly not even finishing the race.

Here’s my list of reasons why I think all classical musicians should be runners:

  1. Discipline. We already have it. We have spent hours and hours alone in a practice room playing those passages over and over again. Just need to have the patience to start out at a slow pace and build it up from there. Dial back that metronome.
  2. Stamina. Running non-stop for 2+ hours has greatly improved my stamina behind the marimba in practice and performance. Whether you are a percussionist, conductor, string player or whatever, your “instrument” is physically demanding. Nothing wrong with a bit of aerobic conditioning.
  3. Mental Practice. Being out on the road running for 30 minutes/an hour/2 hours is a fantastic opportunity to do some practicing away from the instrument. Some people I talk to think that all the time I spend running takes away from my practice time. No reason it should. Just spend that time “playing” through a piece in your mind or memorizing a certain passage.
  4. Inspiration. This is an extension of mental practice. I have come up with several seeds of ideas and themes for compositions while on a run. For instance, the main theme of the first movement of my Vibraphone Concerto came to me while on a long run in Oklahoma. I also wrote a middle school band piece called Downtown Dash that was inspired by a 5K race I ran.
  5. SWAG. I don't really have a musical correlation for this one, but who doesn't like getting free stuff?! Race shirts, running socks, gel, coupons, and for the longer races a medal. Good stuff!

I only started running about 3 years ago, but I quickly caught the “bug” and now I absolutely love it. Training for my first full marathon (the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.) will start in mid-July (ugh) and will continue for 17 weeks until race day on Halloween 2010. I have several performances in the middle of the training, including one in Wisconsin that’s two days before the main event. I have met so many great friends in the running community, but hardly any of them are musicians. My charge to you is to get out on the road or trails and run. You might find that it’s exactly what was missing from your life and that you’ll become a better musician as a result.