The Best Running Playlists

Every now and then, runners encounter a wall that requires a little extra motivation to break through. Whether that’s the infamous 20 mile mark of the marathon, that local neighborhood hill whose steep grade is notorious amongst local runners, or anything in between. A good, upbeat song can be just what you need to break that wall or conquer that climb. And a good playlist can often make or break a run. Many runners can’t run without it. There is the Rock and Roll Marathon Series known for having live bands at every mile to serenade you and fill your eardrums with motivation but others may want a more personalized playlist. Music is one of those things that often comes down to personal preference and taste, not unlike many other things in the realm of distance running, but this article will offer playlist suggestions ranging from the tried-and-true classics to songs you might not immediately think of when constructing a running playlist. Here are my go-tos! 

The Classics

Now these songs are hallmarks on any running playlist and would be borderline criminal to not mention in this article. While you won’t get any originality points for adding these to your playlist, these songs have withstood the test of time!

Songs that would fall under this category include:

“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor ( Speaking of Survivor, the song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child would make for another good choice as would “Beat It” by Michael Jackson cause after all, no one wants to be defeated.

On the topic of Rocky and the songs it conjures up, while often overshadowed by “Eye Of The Tiger” other additions worth adding are “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti and, even if just for the beat, “Up The Mountain” by Vince DiCola. Other classic rock anthems that also work well in your running playlist include “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones, “Land of Confusion” by Genesis, “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, “Run To You” by Bryan Adams, and Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell”, which many say is perfectly calibrated to the runner’s rhythm, making for a great pump up song near the finish line building up for that finishing kick your about to unleash. For the same reason, I’d also save “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin for somewhere near the finish line as well. 

Other songs that make for good go-tos on your running playlist include “I Can See For Miles” by Styx, “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi, “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran, “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by The Scorpions, “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, and “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC. If Thunderstruck particularly struck a chord with you in that last grouping, I’d also recommend “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead.

While not a classic in the musical genre sense, another cornerstone on any running playlist would be “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus for obvious reasons as hinted at by the title. Likewise, if just the title of the song serves as any indication, then another consideration for your playlist should be “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson ( Also simply for the beat alone and how it just screams hype song, “Sandstorm” by Darude is worthy of a slot on your playlist. It’s the kind of song you’d hear as a WWE wrestler enters the arena or as a closing pitcher walks out of the bullpen towards the pitcher’s mound, the crowd is instantly put on notice that it’s about to go down, the same applies as you crank it up in your headphones during your race. Other suitable choices include “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd and “The Man” by Aloe Blacc.

Feel-Good Songs

Sometimes while out on the run, the last thing we want to think about is the run itself. That’s when an all-around feel good song comes into play, whether it is an uplifting song to make you feel good about yourself or something with a catchy tune to take your mind off the pain of being in the hurt locker. Remember in 1998 when we all caught the Dreamer’s Disease? “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals serves as a reminder that you got the music in you, even at mile 20.

Other songs that would fall into this category include:

“Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, “Lights” by Ellie Goulding, “Lions Inside” by Valley of Wolves,  “High Hopes” by Panic At The Disco, “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder, “Firework” and “Roar” by Katy Perry, “Good As Hell” by Lizzo, “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, and “Confident” by Demi Lovato. Sometimes you just need a song that makes you feel like you can do anything such as “I Can Lift A Car” by Walk The Moon or a song that really puts you in the run instead of distracting you from it, in which case a song like “Float On” by Modest Mouse or “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons would make for good choices. Other Walk The Moon songs that would make good additions to your playlist include “Anna Sun” and “Shut Up And Dance”. As far as catchy tunes, look into “Dance Monkey” by Tones And I as well as “Harder Better Faster Stronger” by Daft Punk ( If electronic isn’t your jam, then an alternative to the hit Daft Punk single would be “Stronger” by Kanye West. 

Rap and hip hop have plenty of solid choices for a running playlist, such as “Lean On” by Major Lazer (or the remix by Ty Dolla $ign), “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, “Lose Yourself” and “Till I Collapse” by Eminem, “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sorry For Party Rocking” by LMFAO as well as “Let’s Get It Started” by The Black Eyed Peas along with “Raise Your Glass” and “So What” by Pink. With rap and hip hop music in your running playlist, it hits on two notes in particular. First is it adds a certain grit to the playlist in addition to seemingly transporting you to another world, taking your mind off the run and pain accompanied. Given the genre, that other world may often be the club (“Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida anyone?) but with some of the other feel-good songs we have highlighted, it can transport you to wherever your happy place may be.

There are even some pop songs that capture that gritty feeling as well, inspiring through the mantra of rise and grind. Such examples include “Glitter & Gold” by Barns Courtney, “Work Bitch” by Britney Spears, “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Genie In A Bottle” by Christina Aguilera, and “Vogue” by Madonna. For real gritty tracks, you can always opt for metal as well with songs like “Monster” by Skillet. 

While there are many choices for songs to add to your running playlist, it comes down to both personal preference in addition to what you want to get out of your running playlist. You likely want motivation and music that you enjoy, which is different for each person. You may want a distraction from your run or something to help you focus on the task at hand. Remember that not all events are headphone friendly and that if you do have your headphones in at a race that you still need to be cognizant of volunteer/course marshal instructions and the race’s specific safety measures. We hope this guide was helpful in helping you construct a running playlist fit to conquer your goals. See you out there ready to rock the course and roll up those miles! 

brian comer running coach

Brian Comer is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Brian, check out his coaching page.