Find your track with podcasts

Runners say the fast-growing medium helps their performance and enables multitasking

Listening to music while working out can enhance performance, as songs are motivational and provide tempo. Podcasts, while slower, can also aid runners and offer an alternative to music. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Listening to music while working out can enhance performance, as songs are motivational and provide tempo. Podcasts, while slower, can also aid runners and offer an alternative to music. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

James Lopez Chua used to listen to songs by Justin Bieber and Destiny's Child during his hour-long runs six times a week.

But, during Phase 1 of the circuit breaker in April, the 23-year-old realised that he could make better use of those six hours and switched to listening to podcasts about self-improvement.

"I'm a productivity monster. I need to make sure my day is as efficient as possible and, if I can kill two birds with one stone during that one hour, I will," the project executive at a production house told The Sunday Times. "I realised that I wanted to make full use of my time and start learning more stuff.

"In that one hour, I can be listening to senseless music or I can be actively learning. When I'm listening to podcasts while running, I will be thinking more about the learning points of the podcast so my brain is constantly processing information rather than brainlessly moving, so I think that's more productive."

Podcasts are a fast-growing medium that provides runners with an alternative to music, which is known to enhance performance.

With podcasts accompanying him, Chua will attempt to complete 175km in three weeks for the sold-out The Straits Times Virtual Run (STVR) 2020.

The STVR has two categories - 17.5km and 175km. The race period for the 17.5km run is Oct 9-18, while the 175km run is from Oct 19-Dec 17. Runners can record their distances over several sessions.

"I always like challenges, so I'd rather push my body and complete the distance in the shortest time possible than prolong it," said Chua, who has recommended friends to listen to podcasts while they are running. "Self-improvement is for everyone, so why not recommend something that might help them in a small way."

One of the people he has influenced is final-year business student Lin Guixin, 23, who used to listen to upbeat songs during her weekly runs. Now, she listens to financial podcasts like Snacks Daily and they help to take her focus away from running, making it a less painful process.

National track athlete Melvin Wong, 37, agreed that podcasts are a good distraction, as he thinks about the conversation or topic instead, and are especially helpful on long runs.

"I won't get mentally burnt out by only thinking of trying to complete the run as soon as possible," said Wong, who represented Singapore at the 2015 SEA Games in the 5,000m and 10,000m.​


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For architect Jonathan Lin, 35, music is too distracting, especially during his 10-12km runs, so he switched to podcasts four years ago. He said: "When I run longer distances, I want a consistent pace and don't want sudden changes in beat to affect my running. Podcasts are consistent and help me focus more on my breathing."

But some runners are sticking to music, as they prefer not to have their mind engaged while running and feel motivated by the tempo and lyrics of songs.

Dr Gwen Lim, 39, found podcasts too distracting.

"I was trying to listen to what the speaker is saying and concentrating on my run at the same time but I just can't do two things at once... Music puts me in the zone and makes my runs more interesting," she said.

Research engineer Muhammad Adri Abu Bakar, 29, who will run 175km in the STVR, said: "Running is a way for me to get away from having to use my brain. It's a way to not have to listen to or think about anything."

His playlist differs based on the type of run he is doing. He usually listens to electronic dance music during tempo runs and upbeat pop songs when he wants to relax during long-distance runs.

When he is trying to achieve a target running cadence, he listens to songs at 180 beats per minute.

Microbiology lecturer Kevin Tan, who runs three to four times a week, added that besides rhythm, the lyrics of songs spur him on during his runs as well.

Empire State Of Mind reminds the 51-year-old of his time working in New York City 10 years ago, when he would run in Central Park with his wife and friends.

"I'm reminded of when I was fitter," he said. "I get renewed energy listening to it as it reminds me that if I could do it then, I can do it now."

Sport and exercise psychologist John Wang, a professor at the National Institute of Education, said music can enhance performance by 10 to 15 per cent. This can be achieved through motivation from lyrics and matching running speed to the beat of the music.

Prof Wang added: "Music can enhance or create images in your mind, so listening to a particular piece of music can bring about certain emotions and images in people's minds that enhance performance.

"Music also serves as a distraction so if you're exerting a lot of effort, you might be in pain and you feel like you can't go on any more. By listening to music, you will forget about your pain and suffering because you will shift your attention to the music."

But he noted that the same can be achieved with other forms of audio, including podcasts.

He said: "As long as there's sound, it'll be the same because any sound can create images that have the same effect."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2020, with the headline 'Find your track with podcasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe