Before I ran my first marathon -- OK, before I ran my marathon, period -- I prepared. I committed to a training regimen. I quit smoking. And I made a couple of mix tapes.
Yes, tapes. This was 10 years ago, before iPods. It was also before race officials got so strict about personal stereos and disqualified runners who snuck them onto the course.
A Walkman might have been against the rules, but lots of runners used one, and officials looked the other way. And thank goodness they did. Music had kept my feet moving and my mind occupied during all those long training runs. Twenty-six point two miles with only my own thoughts for company seemed like more than I could bear. I knew me. The sound of my labored breathing would become a mantra: It's too far, give it up, it's too far, give it up ...
But when the music is right, it's hard to keep still.
Music and motion go together. Imagine a silent aerobics class. We pretend that we aspire to walk to the beat of a different drum, but that's not how we're wired. The next time a marching band crosses your path, try and walk out of time with it. Can't be done. Our feet follow the rhythm.
So I loaded up my tapes with the Stones. Steppenwolf. Springsteen. The Go-Gos.
But to last the hours it would take me to finish a marathon, I was going to have to motivate more than my feet. I needed something to move my soul as well, to tug me along by the heartstrings. I turned to movie soundtracks -- and no, not "Chariots of Fire," which would be fine if you wanted to run in slow motion. Instead, I used "Apollo 13." And for a piece that evokes steady progress and relentless ascent, you can't beat the barn-raising scene from "Witness."
I've heard the arguments against using an iPod while running, and most of them make sense. It's safer not to. The marathon route is dotted with wonderful musical acts. Good thing the modern MP3 player comes with an off button.
But I don't buy the objection that listening to your own music kills any sense of community with your fellow runners. If you keep your volume at a sensible level, you can hear the other runners just fine -- as well as the crowds who turn out to cheer and yell helpful advice, like "Keep focused! Keep focused! Keep focused!" Thank you.
Besides, the community you're joining is not just the people who are running the marathon, nor the people who have ever run a marathon. You're connecting to a river of humanity, all the people across all the ages who overcame long odds to accomplish something they thought was beyond their ability.
And for that, you need Beethoven.
Last year the rules changed, but unless you were already registered you probably never heard about it. Personal music players are legal now -- still strongly discouraged, but legal. No one will threaten disqualification should an incriminating photo show a telltale ear bud after the race.
I'm not running this year, but more than most years I wish I were. To those who are, good luck on Sunday. You can borrow my iPod if you want. Keep focused.
Eric Ringham is commentary editor for MPR News.