How to Build the Perfect Running Playlist

Updated 08/30/17
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Finally, January is over. February is a short month, which means it's basically spring (at least that's what we're telling ourselves here at Byrdie HQ). Now is prime running season as people will be pounding the pavements in training for all the upcoming marathons; honestly, you'll start to spot them everywhere.

It's inspiring, and while a 26.2-mile race isn't for everyone, running is a cheap form of exercise. It's also crazy how quickly it starts to feel easier—at first you huff and puff and wheeze like a cat with a hairball, but stick with it and a few jogs down the line, you'll start smashing those personal bests, we promise. Music helps (it drowns out the heavy breathing and feet pounding, for starters), but a happy tune can also help you run further and faster.

We called on Nike+ Run Club Coach Rebecca Gentry to share her tips on building the perfect running playlist whether you're running a 5k or 26.2 miles. Keep scrolling for her top tips and tricks, plus our pick of the best running headphones.

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Music or, let's be honest, distraction, is super important to keep those feet moving when you are running. Any distance, any duration, any speed can be enhanced with the right tunes playing in your ears but finding those beats can be pretty mind-boggling.

Whilst running along to your latest favourite tunes is fun, they may not necessarily be the right beats to motivate you through the tough moments of a training run: Bieber won't actually be there singing "Sorry" if you don’t make your PB. So where to start? Make a beeline for upbeat songs and remixes for sure, but working out which of those have beats per minute matched to your cadence (steps/strides per minute) is key.

If you're not sure what your cadence is head out for a jog. Once you're warmed up, get into your natural rhythm. Count your left leg for 30 seconds. Multiply this by four and that's your cadence or SPM.

Spotify has one of the best methods for personalising your playlist on its app. Once you enter the app, head to Browse and scroll down to click on the Running section. There you'll see Recommended for You; click on that and it will prompt you to start running. The app then measures your steps and tempo and puts together a playlist to match it. The tunes will have a BPM suited to your cadence and will certainly be personalised to keep you running the distance.

If you're more of a music lover and would prefer to select tunes yourself, then finding the songs online under the BPMs would be best.There are plenty of websites that tell you the BPM of nearly any song out there like jogtunes.com and songbpm.com.

It takes time to craft the perfect running playlist, but it doesn't really need to change per distance as they all have the same structure: 1) getting out there, 2) running for the duration, and 3) coming back down to normality!

I would always list the motivational, pop and lyrically catchy tunes at the start to keep your enthusiasm for the run up during the first 10 minutes. This is when your heart rate adjusts to beating faster and most people find this uncomfortable.

For the middle of your run, when you're getting into your stride and feeling more comfortable, you want those deep house, EDM beats pumping—the kind of tunes you can get lost in, sort of like running meditation—here you almost want to forget about the run and just cruise along. Those heavy inspiring beats need to keep going all the way to the end. I am a firm believer in the beats continuing long after your finish time goal as you never know what will happen on that run, you may have to go slow for a bit and the last thing you want is those inspirational beats dying off—so make sure your playlist is much longer than you expect to run.

I recommend creating a cool down playlist, I switch to this on the road home. It contains much slower soothing tunes (a whole lot of Bob Marley), which I also use while stretching.

Keep scrolling for our three favourite running headphones.

Betron B650 Noise Isolating Earphones $28
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Urbanears On-Ear Headphones $50
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Beats by Dre Powerbeats2 Wireless In-Ear Headphones $170
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Head over to our sister site, Who What Wear, for 17 gym essentials for girls who won't stop working out this month.

What music do you love running to? Share your favourite tracks in the comment box below.

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