Last updated on December 17th, 2021
I’m sorry–what? You don’t like musicals? That’s what I thought…until I started listening to the original Broadway cast recordings (OBCRs) of some popular shows.
How can I say this without sounding ignorant? Aw, heck, I don’t care how I sound: Before I saw my first musical last year, I thought I didn’t like them. [Pro tip: Try the broccoli before you say you don’t like it, dummy.] And guess what I found out when I gave musicals a chance? All musicals are NOT fluffy, costumey, razzmatazzyjazzy, and sequiney. Some champion the striped polo shirt, casted forearm and real-life problems (“Dear Evan Hansen,” how I love you!). Once I gave them a chance, I discovered that musicals can be hilarious, profound, deep, and informative. They can also be very addicting–in a good way. Like running.
There are some awesome songs on these OBCRs. Even if you haven’t seen the show and have no idea what it’s about, listening to the songs will tell you the story (and make you start saving your money to see the show!). Turns out the tale of the American Revolution can make 15-mile runs fly by (Thank you, “Hamilton”!). You’ll get caught up in the story–what’s Eliza going to do NOW???–swept away by the music–holy crap, did I just hear myself rap “Brah, Brah, I am Hercules Mulligan”?–and you’ll probably even find yourself dancing as you run. Just don’t twist your ankle.
I should tell you that I’m not a serious runner, so take all my running “tips” with a grain of salt and a Gatorade. I’m not going for the fastest time in a half-marathon. I just want to finish and feel good enough to enjoy a big cheeseburger, fries and a tall, icy Diet Coke afterwards… without having “digestive issues.” When I’m training for a race of any distance, but particularly longer ones, distracting myself is key. It makes time go by really quickly. That’s where musicals are so helpful. You get interested in the story, and this keeps your mind off the uncomfortable bunion on your right foot or your extensor tendonitis flaring up (not that I’d know anything about that).
Here’s my rundown (in no particular order) of the best musicals, and the best songs in those musicals, to enjoy on a run.
- Defying Gravity
- What Is This Feeling?
- Dancing Through Life
The classic good vs. evil story lends itself to some surprisingly upbeat tunes. “Defying Gravity” is so motivating and inspiring, you might shave a minute off your mile time when Edina Menzel sings about how “Nobody in all of Oz/No wizard that there is or was/Is ever gonna bring me down!” I dare you not to go for the high note. If you’re mad at someone, singing the celebratory “What Is This Feeling?” (which is about “unadulterated loathing”) will put unexpected pep in your step, and Kristin Chenoweth’s delivery in “Popular” will make you smile. But “Dancing Through Life” takes the cake. You can’t have a bad run when you’re listening to such fun songs. It’s just not possible.
- My Shot
- Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)
Alexander Hamilton knew what it was like to be working toward a goal (just like you getting in your miles). The man was non-stop. And Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “My Shot” tells the story of Hamilton’s determination to start a new nation and leave a legacy. As you cross the halfway point in your 9-mile training run, you can sing “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy and hungry/I am not throwing away my shot.” In “Yorktown,” you’ll get onboard as Hercules Mulligan kicks some serious butt (“Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction/When you knock me down I get the f**k back up again”). This battle cry can motivate any runner, going any distance, any day of the week.
3. Dear Evan Hansen
- Sincerely, Me
- You Will Be Found
Snapping your fingers might not be considered cross-training, but it’s not gonna hurt your time, either. You’ll be snapping ’em shamelessly if you listen to “Sincerely, Me” while you run (who cares what other people think?). This song is so fun–and funny–that you might even forget you’re exercising. On a different note but equally inspiring, “You Will Be Found,” though it starts out slow, builds to such a crescendo that runners will feel like they’ve just won an Olympic gold medal by the last note. Thank you, Ben Platt, for the encouragement! I AM found! Right here at Mile 10!
4. The Book of Mormon
- I Believe
Smiling while running isn’t illegal. So listen to “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” and “Trust that the Lord is mightier/And always has my back.” It’s uplifting and lighthearted, and yes, those are doorbells in the background. It’s fun to substitute your own running-related lyrics into the songs…for instance, you can sing “I believe/That my left knee feels fantastic right now/I believe/That The Habit is my destiny for lunch today/I believe…” There are endless possibilities here. Have fun with it.
- What Baking Can Do
- When He Sees Me
- It Only Takes a Taste
I know, I know–a song about baking a pie doesn’t seem that inspiring, but thinking about “sugar, butter, flour” might get you to the end of a run faster than the promise of a previously frozen Gatorade. Plus, Jessie Mueller’s voice is lovely. “When He Sees Me” is sweet, and Kimiko Glenn’s cute southern accent is as irresistible as a slice of Dutch apple pie. “It Only Takes a Taste” might get you groovin’ a little faster, and, even better, it’ll cue you to refuel, an important part of running any distance! Is it time for some Chomps or Gu? Thanks for the reminder, original Broadway cast of “Waitress”! Just one more reason to listen to musicals on a run.
6. Mean Girls
- Revenge Party
- I’d Rather Be Me
Oh. My. God. You. Guys.
This musical is perfect for solo runs. Yes, you may feel like you’re back in high school, but this time you’ll do things differently…better! Your whimsical, fun-loving hatred of queen bee mean girl Regina George will fuel your run better than a double shot of espresso. Mile 1, you’ll hear “A Cautionary Tale” (which will crack you up for many reasons, but especially because “You can’t buy integrity at the mall/it’s not for sale”). Before you know it, you’re at mile 4 cheering for Janis, Cady and Damian getting back at Regina in “Revenge Party.” Here are a few classic lines: “It’s a revenge party, a party that ends/with somebody’s head on a spike.” Later, when Regina flaunts her relationship with Aaron, Cady sings: “I can’t even watch when she touches his hair/and I’ve watched a snake eat a cow.” Classic.
Around mile 4 or 5, you’ll LOVE the anthemic “I’d Rather Be Me,” when Janis–the cool “weird” (decent/nice) girl–puts everyone in their place. Triumphant, victorious…energizing…liberating–just like your workout.
I dare you to listen to “Mean Girls” on a run and be grumpy afterwards. You can’t. It’s just not possible.