Sports doctor designs first musical half-marathon

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Ever since the advent of the first personal stereos in the late 1970s, runners at all levels have relied on earphones plugged in tight to deliver inspiring or distracting music as they pound out the miles.

The men's elite group race in the early morning sunshine during the 2007 London Marathon April 22, 2007. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Haile Gebrselassie, the Ethiopian who broke the marathon world record in Berlin this week, is famed for setting ever faster times by running to the techno pop song “Scatman.”

And now a British sports psychologist has brought years of research and work with international athletes to the world of mass participation running -- and designed a race in which music is an integral part of the course.

The inaugural “Run to the Beat” half-marathon takes place in London on October 5. And as well as the usual encouraging water monitors and emergency medical support teams, 17 live bands representing varying musical genres will be stationed along the 13.1 mile route.

“Music is like is a legal drug for athletes,” Dr Costas Karageorghis, of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University in London, told Reuters in an interview. “It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.

Karageorghis points to his latest research, due to be published in the U.S. periodical the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, in which runners listening to tracks by artists such as Madonna, Queen and the Red hot Chilli Peppers, not only ran further and longer, but also enjoyed it more, even up to the point of collapsing at the end of a training session.

“The synchronous application of music resulted in much higher endurance while the motivational qualities of the music impacted significantly on the interpretation of fatigue symptoms right up to the point of voluntary exhaustion,” he said of his findings.

The bands accompanying the 12,000 athletes at the Run to the Beat event will play scientifically selected music designed to “create an inspirational atmosphere for competitors that will lift their performance to new levels,” organizers say.

Among acts at the start of the race will be Imperial Leisure, a 10-piece band playing a blend of ska, rap and rock music, while The Royal Artillery Band will be stationed outside an army barracks a few miles on, playing tunes such as the Raiders March, made famous in the Indiana Jones films.

Karageorghis, who is also a keen jazz pianist and former sprint runner, says he is determined not to stretch or educate the athletes musically as they run their course.

He is after simple strong rhythms, a tempo which would ideally coincides with a runner’s pace -- Gebrselassie’s favorite “Scatman” has tempo of around 135 beats per minute -- and lyrics which “inspire by association.”

It’s no accident that the famously tough training scenes from the blockbuster boxing film Rocky III are set to “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, he says.

And little surprise, then, that his recommendations for training tracks ahead of the race include “Gotta Get Through This” by Daniel Beddingfield, “The only way is up” by Yazz, and -- of course -- “Run to You” by Bryan Adams and the theme tune “Chariots of Fire.”

Editing by Paul Casciato