Power jam quandaries

Let’s revisit one of my favorite topics: the power jam.

A good power jam can turn your nightmarish slog of a run into a triumph of the human spirit. One minute you’re trudging through a haze of exhaustion, drizzle and Robitussin side effects. Then Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her” comes cranking out of your headphones, and you’re pumping fists, high-fiving strangers and darting through traffic like you’ll take the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

But finding that perfect power jam is no easy task. First there are the decoy jams. These wolves in sheep’s clothing seem like they would go great in a training montage. You hear a thumping bass line, a sick guitar riff or an isolated lyric summoning shorties to the dance floor. You let down your guard and take your sweet new jam out on the town. What could possibly go wrong?

EVERYTHING, that’s what. Decoy jams come in all styles, tempos and genres, but none will take you past the first 10 steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The trick is they always seem like they’ll make good power jams until subjected to an actual trial run. Exhibit A: “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden. It’s got the word “run” in the title and some hot guitar licks. But then suddenly you’re out on the trail alone at dusk with a male vocalist growling the word “rape” into your ears, and you kind of just wish you had cued up Lady Gaga.

So after being burned time and time again by Iron Maiden and their ilk, allow me to warn you of:

The top five bad power jams that initially seem like good power jams:

5. “Run to the Hills,” Iron Maiden

Reason: Note the aforementioned content reasons. With all due respect to the song’s ostensible Native American awareness-raising, it’s off my power mix.

4. “Seize the Day,” Newsies Soundtrack

Sample Lyric: Open the gates and seize the day
Don’t be afraid and don’t delay
Nothing can break us
No one can make us
Give our rights away
Arise and seize the day!

Reason: Lyrics aside, you just can’t run to this. You can, however, kick up your knickers, slap on a paperboy cap at a jaunty angle and do a quick choreographed jig through the streets of any major urban area. But I know from personal experience this can startle a meth-head into physical violence.

3. “Hope,” The Descendents

Sample Lyric: Why can’t you see you torture me
You’re already thinking about someone else
When he comes home
You’ll be in his arms and I’ll be gone
But I know my day will come
I know someday I’ll be the only one

Reason: As in “Run to the Hills,” the rhythm is almost perfect, and the title sounds triumphant. Then the content kicks in, and you realize you’re still bitter your ex-girlfriend left you for a dude and tired of hearing your entire life framed as a character-building experience. Why even bother with running when all you really want to do is lay around in your underwear drinking Bud Light Wheat and watching Jurassic Park 3 for the 40th time?

2. “The Stars of Track and Field,” Belle and Sebastian

Reason: I’m sorry, was I writing something here? I must have drifted off for a secondzzzzzz…

1. “Start Today,” Gorilla Biscuits.

Sample lyric: Well there’s no time like the present and I’d like to hang out but who doesn’t.
I’ve made enough mistakes for this lifetime.
Now I’m here to make amends.
Next time I’ll try, for the first time in my life.
It won’t pass me by. Procrastinate it can wait, I put it off.

Reason: Too. slow. And then too fast! Before I started running, I considered this a Grade A power jam. Then I realized it only motivates me for two activities: making my bed and doing windmill kicks in my underwear. Maybe it would work for interval training…. provided you’d like your intervals to fluctuate between complete lethargy and a Four Loko-style heart murmur.


Well, that’s all for now, but stay tuned: I’m sure my iPod will insist I add more. This qualitative research project was conducted in the field, and I’d appreciate your help extending my database in order to warn others. I can’t fight the fight against the decoy jam alone.