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Spotify ช่วยให้ฉันทำงานได้เร็วขึ้นและนานขึ้นได้อย่างไร

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When I was a kid, running was little more than a breath-stealing punishment invented by PE teachers. I accepted it as my main form of exercise a decade ago thanks to a grab bag of influences: friends who loved running; a sister who took up marathons; a Couch to 5K app; the hugely persuasive 2009 book on how we evolved for distance running, Born to Run. Above all, I realized that it didn’t look dumb, and was not in any way cheating, if I ran at barely faster than walking speed.

Why do I stick with it in 2021, though, hitting a consistent 25 miles a week, when many of those friends quit running years ago? Why am I taking my runs to the next level with nose-breathing, even gladly running in a mask for the duration of the pandemic? It isn’t just that running shaves off pounds or that endorphins are one hell of a drug. No, what really makes me lace up my shoes these days, even when the weather is dismal and I’m full of don’t wanna, is…music. Specifically, music that I have spent more than a year curating for my ideal running cadence.

Before every run, I fire up one of two mega-playlists on Spotify. I grab my trusty Bose SoundSports, stick my iPhone in a running belt and I’m suddenly keen to get going. These two playlists don’t just start me up. They keep me running faster and further than any other, and I have data to back that up. My workout apps reveal that if I listen to other music, or podcasts, or audiobooks, I rarely run faster than an 11-minute mile, and I will tap out after fewer miles on average.

The making of these magic playlists was a musical journey that has lasted almost as long as my running adventure. I’m just as proud of the result as I am of my races, from the first 5K to the San Francisco marathon. Hell, I’m more proud of the playlists. I remain laughably distant from the fastest runner in my age group. But when it comes to achieving musical bliss while pounding the pavement, I will take on all-comers.

Finding my BPM

Back in 2010, I assumed — as many runners assume — that inspirational lyrics and a thumping beat were all you needed. I’d make iTunes playlists with names like “Running Most Wanted,” then wonder why they didn’t fit the bill. Basic bangers like U2’s “Beautiful Day” or Springsteen’s “Born to Run” were great if I wanted to sprint. But in trying to find a consistent pace for the long haul, they would sometimes be de-motivational: sound and fury that may have matched my heart rate, but failed to sync up with my feet.

In 2016, after I’d switched from iTunes to Spotify, a friend sent a hypnotic dance track that randomly led to running perfection. “Begin By Letting Go,” by the London-based DJ known as Etherwood, spoke of shrugging off all the worries that grumbled around in my brain as I stepped reluctantly out of the front door. The spare piano track and humming bass soothed me into Zen-like trance. The tripping beat matched my short-but-rapid forefoot strides. And the break gave me a chance to slow down and check myself for aches and pains before picking up again, more joyfully insistent than before.

Nothing in “Running Most Wanted” had ever come close to this feeling, like I was floating down the street and could keep going at this pace forever. The mind craves novelty, of course, so you can’t just listen to the same track over and over for the length of a multi-mile run. (Believe me, I tried.) But Spotify does a pretty good job of playing similar tracks automatically when you’re done, and slipping more of them into your Discover Weekly playlist.

Few of its suggestions worked for me. Most were a tad too slow, or distractingly discordant. But they did clue me into the fact that Etherwood’s beat was Drum & Bass, or D&B — a genre I’d enjoyed dancing to in clubs, when I occasionally went to them, in the late 1990s. Turns out the Beats Per Minute of all D&B is in the range of 160 to 180 BPM. Etherwood’s trance-like tunes tend to sit at the top of that range.

A D&B DJ had accidentally become my running coach.

One hundred and eighty beats per minute. Why did that ring a bell? Because years earlier, I’d been told the ideal cadence for runners — the number of times your feet hit the ground in a minute — was 180. I’d just never bothered to time it, but I guess I had now. A D&B DJ had accidentally become my running coach.

Doing a 180

To mention this cadence is to step into running world controversy. Experts have recommended 180 strides a minute for years, ever since running coach Jack Daniels sat in the stands at the 1984 Olympics and clocked the cadence of runners at a minimum of 180. A newer study of elite athletes, the top 25 runners at the 100K world championships, found they ran at an average of 182 strides per minute.

As a recent backlash against the rule of 180 pointed out, the key words are “minimum” and “average.” There is no one-size-fits-all cadence. Elite runners will also bump up their cadence during a race, going faster by taking more steps rather than increasing stride length. Women tend to have a faster cadence than men. So 180 is not a hard and fast rule. Your stride and your situation may vary.

But there is evidence that barefoot runners — or those who chose minimalist shoes after the Born to Run book sang their praises, as I did — find a 180 cadence to be the sweet spot. In Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human, English academic and longtime barefoot runner Vybarr Cregan-Reid goes to the Harvard-affiliated National Running Center, who clock him at 178 strides per minute.

Shorn of the padding that lets us take long, sloping strides — overstriding, coaches call it — we seem to revert to a singular form. We stop landing on our heels. We bounce along on the balls of our feet like human gazelles. Our torso is gently angled so we’re falling forward, while our arms move loosely a minimal distance from the body, tracing a line from “hips to nips” as a friend memorably put it. It makes sense that we, the only species to excel at distance running, evolved this most energy-efficient style and the fast cadence that comes with it.

But how do you make sure you’re doing it? How do you keep your mind on your cadence and your cadence on your mind? Serious runners count their strides and look at a stopwatch. That doesn’t work for amateurs like me. I want to look at the world, not at my watch. I want my body to naturally follow the beat, giving my brain a much-needed break.

Now I’d discovered a genre of music that could potentially induce the same combination of hypnosis and perfect cadence as “Begin By Letting Go” — but only in one song out of 10. Many recent D&B tracks, it turns out, shade into dubstep — a clunking, whirring, wah-wah-wah-ing genre that is really not good at getting you in the Zen zone.

I started the playlist “Drum & Bass & Run” in 2019, coming up with a dozen or so tracks that put me in the zone. But I knew I was only skimming the surface of a vast sea of 180 BPM tracks. I wanted them all, so that all my runs would be powered by the same driving beat; I could listen on random and never get bored.

But I’d have to methodically work through Spotify’s hundreds of drum & bass playlists, pick my favorites and put them to the test over the course of many runs. Did I really have the time? What I needed, it turned out, was a year where running and music became an urgent means of escape from lockdown.

In February 2020, an Arizona DJ named Mija released a haunting D&B track, “Digressions,” with equally haunting timing. Its chorus — “love me from a distance / touch me from a distance / want me from a distance / keep me at a distance” — made it a natural quarantine anthem. When Discover Weekly thew “Digressions” at me, it turned running into therapy sessions where I worked out all my fears of a collapsing world.

Thanks to the YouTube comments (the first time I’ve ever written those words) on “Digressions”, I discovered the name of the subgenre I most wanted: liquid drum & bass, also known as liquid funk. Big shout-out, then, to Spotify user 1253842, whose 1,400-song strong Liquid Funk playlist formed the core of my running research. I also combed other subgenres, delighted especially by Brazilian D&B; I defy you not to run for joy when the Sambass kicks in.

Anyway, here it is, all 745 songs of “Drum & Bass & Run.” Not as long as 1253842’s playlist, but all have been tested for perfect cadence. All are in the 180 BPM zone. There’s not a clunker or a downer in the lot. The first few dozen of them are the most wanted ones, the tunes that can’t help but get me jogging in that difficult first mile when I really don’t wanna.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the cost of all this research was that my Discover Weekly became a trash fire of dubstep-style D&B. I have eclectic music tastes, Spotify! It was time to retrain the algorithm.

So for my second running mega-playlist, “Run Rhythm,” I set out to find music clocked at 90 BPM. Which is, for all intents and purposes, the same cadence as 180. You’re just hitting the ground twice per beat instead of once. This was a little harder to nail down, as Spotify playlists called “90bpm” — of which there are at least a dozen — are not entirely accurate. Sites like getsongbpm.com were useful in fact-checking these playlists, while jog.fm lists popular workout tracks by their BPM.

Here, once again, every tune needs to be tested in the field. Kanye’s “Gold Digger” and Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” are both great tracks, for example, and both technically clock in at 90 BPM. But something about the beat makes them less ideal for running, in my experience: One’s a little choppy, the other too heavy on the cymbals for the cadence to come through clearly enough. (And I say that as a Queen superfan.)

That said, the sheer variety of tunes that worked was astonishing. Who knew AC/DC and Sia had 90 BPM running hits in common? A-ha and Led Zeppelin? ELO and Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C.? The Moana soundtrack and Eminem? (I chose the instrumental version of “Lose Yourself,” which ironically made me more mindful as a runner without the lyrics about mindfulness.)

Because I am an obsessive, I also went back and checked the BPMs on my old iTunes “running most wanted” playlists. Not a lot were in the 90 BPM range, but when I had accidentally found the right beat I felt vindicated. Oh, so that’s why Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” and Cake’s “The Distance” always felt like great running tracks. It seems to have been a particularly popular beat in the 1980s (See: “Africa,” “Love is a Battlefield,” “In Your Eyes,” “The Boys of Summer,” “Juke Box Hero”) but crops up in other decades unexpectedly. I never thought of The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” or Coldplay’s “Yellow” as great running tracks, but here we are. (Not all of these songs are 90 BPM on the nose, but it’s usually fine if they’re within 5 BPM in either direction.)

The music curation quest will continue so long as I find new 90 or 180 BPM tunes to try out on my runs. There are 4 billion playlists on Spotify, the company says, so I may be some time. Every so often I wonder whether I should switch to Apple Music, but Apple doesn’t reveal how many user-generated playlists exist on the younger service; it’s likely to be much lower.

My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier. If Spotify had been available during school PE, maybe I would have found out sooner what a blissful Zen-like activity running can be.

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