Thursday, September 16, 2010

Higher Ground

Some songs stick with you. Maybe you associate a song with your first kiss. Or perhaps a certain tune reminds you of childhood memories. While I don't listen to music frequently when I run, there are certain songs that I always tie to running.

There are a multitude of songs that reside on my running playlist, but there is one that towers above all the rest. That would be the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Higher Ground'.

Every time I hear the opening barrage of drums from 'Higher Ground', I find myself wanting to hit the road and run hard. If there was ever a song designed to make one want to kick it up a notch or two, it's this one.

'Higher Ground' is a relentless uptempo assault that can power you through some tempo running, an interval at the track, or a lengthy surge out on the road. Coupled with the driving tempo this tune cranks out are lyrics that serve as a catalyst for pushing a bit harder or running a bit faster all in the service of reaching 'higher ground'.

But, the primary reason why this one holds a special place in my heart and permanent residence at the top of my running playlist is because it is tied to memories of the first race I won back in days of yore.

About an hour before my race, I fast forwarded to 'Higher Ground' on my bootlegged tape of Mother's Milk on a battered yellow Sony 'Sports' Walkman. I listened to this track about six times before what could have been my last track race of the season.

Placing first or second place in this race (a 2 mile war of attrition) was the only way to extend my season. I had never won a race and only placed second a few times in the past.

I toed the line feeling strong and ready to go after this race with a vengeance. But, everyone else in the race was in the same position as me. Effectively, it was win or go home.

The race unfolded and I was comfortable hanging out in the middle of the pack within striking distance of 1st or 2nd place. I had trained well for this race and was peaking at the right time, but placing second let alone winning a race was relatively unfamiliar territory for me.

Whether it was peaking at the right time or confidence borne from listening to 'Higher Ground' before the race, I made my first (and only) move with about 1000 meters to go and pulled into first position. With the rest of the pack breathing down my neck, lyrics from 'Higher Ground' were stuck on repeat in my head, 'Nobody's gonna bring me down. Til I reach the highest ground.'

Much to my surprise, I held everyone off and placed first qualifying for the state championship for 2 miles. I can't promise 'Higher Ground' will help you win a race, but this stellar tune has never failed to help me get through that extra mile or push through fatigue for a few more minutes. BTW, listen to Stevie Wonder's original's fantastic as well.

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